Make Gulf of Mannar a sacred site, say conservationists
Trevor Grundy (12 Dec., 2008)
London (ENI). The Alliance of Religions and Conservation, known as ARC, is backing a call for the United Nations, the World Bank, non-governmental groups and conservation bodies to recognise the Gulf of Mannar - between India and Sri Lanka - as a World Heritage Sacred Site.
The gulf is one of the world's last remaining intact ecosystems and home of the Ram Sethu, which was known as Adam's Bridge during the time of British colonisation.
Legend has it that Adam, the first human being according to the sacred texts of Christians, Jews and Muslims, walked on the bridge, a chain of limestone shoals, not long after the dawn of Creation.
"This is the one place in the world, other than the Garden of Eden, where we can say, 'this is a sacred site which reminds us of our relationship and our responsibility with the rest of creation'. It is mythologically and ecologically about as sacred as you can get," said Martin Palmer, secretary general of ARC, a secular body that helps the major religions of the world develop their own environmental programmes.
"The Gulf of Mannar should be nominated as one of the very first internationally significant Sacred Sites along with the Sacred Mountains of China and other such hugely holy and hugely ecologically places," Palmer told Ecumenical News International.
Palmer spoke in late November at a two-day meeting to support a World Campaign to Save the Gulf of Mannar, a shallow stretch of water separating India from Sri Lanka.
Some 100 ecologists, academics, scientists and religious leaders from around the world who met on 25 and 26 November had sought to provide enough multi-disciplinary evidence to persuade the governments of India and Sri Lanka to ask the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to designate the gulf a World Heritage Site.
A conference spokesperson said that despite its important ecological and cultural significance as one of South Asia's largest biosphere reserves, the Indian government aims to build a shipping channel - the Sethusamudram Ship Channel - through the gulf, threatening endangered plant and animal species there, as well as the livelihood of local fisherfolk. The project is currently part of a legal battle in India's Supreme Court.
Located on the south eastern tip of the subcontinent, the Gulf of Mannar has more 3600 species of flora and fauna, making it one of the richest coastal regions in Asia.
Palmer noted, "At the moment, we are in a classic struggle - to use Christian terminology - between God and Mammon. It's a historic struggle between those who see the world as a struggle upon which a drama of cosmological significance is played out, and those who see the planet as a large supermarket to be raided."
Millions of Hindus believe that the bridge was lifted up to allow Lord Rama to cross from India to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife who had been imprisoned by a demon king.
In an interview with ENI, Anil Bhanot, who heads the Hindu Council of Great Britain, said: "The call to make the Gulf of Mannar a Sacred Site pleases us enormously. It is, of course, a site sacred to Muslims as well as to Hindus and the call in London pleases us all because this is something that unites us all."
:: Alliance of Religions and Conservation: www.arcworld.org/