Tag Archives: Ramayana

The Legend of Hanuman: India Currents’ Exclusive Review

I light the lamp and pray to Hanuman,” Aur devta chit na dhariye. Hanumat se hi san sukh kariye.”

The phone rings. My grandson is on FaceTime. We are thousands of miles away but through the Legend of Hanuman series, we transcend the space-time continuum and are sitting side by side on a crescent moon, eating mangoes and taking turns gleaning takeaway points from each episode. 

The Legend of Hanuman is a 3D animated fantasy streaming television series based on the Hindu Epic Ramayana, created by Sharad Devarajan, Jeevan J. Kang, and Charuvi Agrawal for Disney’s Hotstar, under the banner of Graphic India. The series premiered globally on January 29, 2021, in seven Indian languages. The storyline narrated by Sharad Kelkar showcases the life of Hanuman and his metamorphosis from a mighty warrior to a legendary omnipresent powerhouse of good over evil. 

The artistic color scheme does not afford a sharp contrast but affords a vintage look akin to Amar Chitra Katha and Phantom comics. However, the animation is not as fluent as some Hollywood 2D animations like Donald Duck and Micky Mouse. Sugriv’s laughter is quixotic and Angad’s possessed evil eyes are quaint!

Everyone’s a critic in India. I think that comparisons to prior versions of Ramayana are not justifiable because Ramanand Sagar’s 1987 Ramayana was a Television phenomenon of the century. No wonder it was the most popular show during the pandemic because it conjures hope in distress. I remember life came to a standstill in the 80s, all over Inia, at 10 AM when the epic was aired. It was like an hour of holy pilgrimage. The portrayal was authentic even though the battle scenes were archaic! Legend of Hanuman is an attempt to appeal to wider global audiences who are familiar with the Avengers.

Vedic aphorisms between old Jambavan and Hanuman borrow conversation style from Kungfu Panda, Lion King, and Jungle Book. I watched it in Hindi and discussed the story with my grandson in India who calls it the “Leeegend” phonetically. The episodes that generated a lot of discussions were: “Indra’s Curse”The Mango and the Sun” and “Forgotten Truths”.

There are many easy to remember sayings:

The path of life changed in a moment.

Sometimes the egos overpower the soft relations of siblings.

Everyone shoulders their own responsibilities.

I am responsible for my own actions – Marne wale se bachane wala bada hota hai.  

Monita’s drawing of Hanuman eating a mango for her grandson.

The discussion makes it more meaningful. Although my grandchild is fluent in the Hanuman Chalisa and wears a Hanuman pendant under his SpiderMan Pajamas, the only stories he remembers are the ones where we incorporate incidents from the Avengers and relate them to our own life experiences. He confidently repeats the fables to his friends and lifts their cloud of unknowing: Hanumanji uprooted the entire mountain because his dadi had not taught him how to recognize Sanjeevani booti

My life flashes by me in a vignette. My mother chanted Hanuman Chailisa and went to the temple every Tuesday. When I was five years old, I frequented the  Durgiyana Mandir in Amritsar with my great-grandmother. When I was ten, we prayed at the Sri Hanuman temple in Jalandhar, and at fifteen, the Hanuman temple on Sion Trombay Road in Chembur was our refuge. Married at twenty and in Jaipur, I found Khole Ke Hanumanji. In my thirties, I started frequenting the Jagruteshwar temple in Vashi Gaon and the 33 feet  Bhakt Anjaneya temple in Nerul similar to the one in Thiruvananthapuram where they offer garlands of udad daal vadas as prasadam. At forty, when my mother came to visit me in the US, she dreamt of a standing Hanuman deity in Alabama. Sure enough, we found him in Birmingham Hindu Temple  When I was fifty, we found Flying Hanumanji at the Neem Karoli Ashram, in Taos, New Mexico on Hanuman Jayanti. In my sixth decade, I painted a kalamkari painting of Hanuman so that I can share the story with my grandson and ask him if the sun really tastes like a ripe mango? In my home temple, I have a small Panchmukha Hanuman idol. 

So as you can see, I did not write this review on a whim, I have spent several lifetimes preparing for this.

As far as my grandson is concerned, one day he will recognize my spin in the narrative but I hope he will comprehend that it was all in an effort to make him a devotee of Hanumanji! For this weighty reason, I give The Legend of Hanuman and A for effort!  I will certainly watch Season 2 with my family when the terrible battle ensues between Ravan, the King of darkness, and Rama, the Mahapurush.

Jai Sri Ram Jai Bajrangbali Hanuman!


Monita Soni, MD has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

Kecak: The Fire Dance of Bali

The barren arena has just a massive black lamp made of stone that dotted the center. No stage setup, no curtains, no extra lightings, no hint of any backstage music either. The arena of Pura Uluwatu in Bali, Indonesia is more like a mini open-air auditorium.

This is the stage for 50 dancers of the famed Kecak (pronounced as Kechak) Dance, a traditional art form of Bali in Indonesia. One is left wondering what kind of dance performance it would be!

A priest in a white garment walks into light of the solo lamp in the center of the circular place and you know the stage is set. The lighting of the lamp is a signal of commencement of the world-famous Kecak Dance of Bali. That stirs up all in their seats, craning their necks not wanting to miss any sight.

Chants of chak chak chak… faint at first grow stronger within seconds! Half clad men; more than 50 in number, dressed in black and white check patterned sarong, chanting chak chak chak, enter the stage. Slightly mind-boggling, it makes one curious – whatever does it mean?!

The men come in a disciplined rhythmic manner, take up their seats in concentric circles at the edge of this circular place chanting chak chak chak and swaying a bit. One by one the main artists make their entry dancing on their nimble feet. With expressive eyes and gestures with fingers, they convey their roles.

Pura Uluwatu arena in Bali, Indonesia.

Slowly the drama unfolds, the story takes shape and the characters evolve distinctly. The chant gets high-pitched whenever the scene climaxes and soon slows down to a murmur too and the men sway according to the same rhythm. 

If you are aware of the story of the Hindu epic Ramayana, you can name each character easily. No need for any lyrics, hymns, or dialogues. Just the mere rise and fall in pitch of the chant of chak chak gave us the overall effect of the drama including the climax and final closure.

The story, a small part of Ramayana: Rama goes hunting for a golden deer on Sita’s insistence. Lakshman stays back to protect Sita, but again on Sita’s insistence, Lakshman goes out to protect Rama. Meanwhile, Rahwana comes seeking alms in the disguise of a beggar. The moment Sita steps out to give alms, Rahwana carries her away to his kingdom.

Rama takes the help of Hanuman, the Monkey God. The drama is infused with humor with Hanuman’s entry. His tail is set on fire by Rahwana’s men and he keeps jumping around spreading terror; albeit with little humor. The dance takes the name Fire Dance from this scene.

While Kecak Dance can be seen in other parts of Bali too, it is at Uluwatu Temple the experience seems exceptional. With the sun setting in the background, the sun’s final rays created amazing silhouettes, and the torches borne by the artists reflecting their dramatic actions and gestures cast a magical spell! 

Chak chak chak… the sound haunts your mind long after the show is over. So, it meant the chatter of monkeys! A story told by the monkeys with no words or lyrics, just chak chak chak, hence sometimes known by the name Monkey Dance too.

Lord Ram in the Kecak Dance retelling of the Ramayana.

How Ramayana reached Bali

Hinduism reached Indonesia from India in the 1st century. The religion crossed seas from the Indian mainland through traders and Hindu scholars.

Ancient Chinese records of Fa Hien of 414 AD mention two schools of Hinduism in Java. Additionally, Chinese documents from the eighth century refer to the Hindu kingdom of King Sanjaya as Holing, describing it as exceedingly wealthy.

Another widely believed reason for the spread of Hinduism in Indonesia is that Indonesian royalty welcomed Indian religions and culture. The rulers first adopted the spiritual ideas of both Hinduism and Buddhism and soon the masses too adopted them. Hindu epics are part of the country’s culture. They believe Hindu epics promote values like loyalty, courage, and integrity of characters.

History of Kecak Dance

Kecak Dance was first developed in Bona, Gianyar during the 1930s. For the people of Bali, dance is a medium of expression of cultural values; they use it to convey their folk history and mythological stories. It is an important part of rituals associated with life, cremation, and death. They perform while praying for the prosperity and health of their community.

Kecak Dance is one of the nine popular forms of dances of Bali. The older version was more a kind of trance ritual. Male performers chanted chak-chak in chorus with different rhythms and pitches. Sanghyang Dance, another traditional dance of Bali, has chorus singers and girls dance in trance. It belongs to the broader classification of Wali Dance, a form of the sacred dance of Bali. The present-day Kecak dance version is a mix of Sanghyang dance and the original form of Kecak dance-themed on the mythological story of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.

It was the joint effort of an artist named Wayan Limbak and a painter from Germany, Walter Spies, that put Kecak Dance on the world map of dances. Their goal was to put up a performance for the public. 

Interestingly, since the 1930s, Kecak Dance has been performed by only men. It was until 2006 that women too began to perform this dance. Today Kecak Dance is performed not only in temples but also in cultural parks and in international theatres. However, it is most mesmerizing to watch in Pura Uluwatu in the evenings with a dramatic sunset as background!


Indrani Ghose is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India, and is passionate about travel, culture, cuisines, life stories, and bird watching. She blogs at isharethese.com. 

Bite-Sized Ramayana On Your Phone!

The re-run of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana, the late 80s hit serial, during the lockdown managed to engross diverse audiences.

However, this popularity is of no surprise since it began running again on the most widely available TV channels while the world was in lockdown, and the production of new shows and episodes came to a halt.

This time around, Ramayana was watched on the individual or even multiple TV sets in each household and some even watched it on their smartphone screens. Adding to this, the digital revolution has allowed for the Ramayana to go online.

TheRamayana™, a Virtual Museum of Indian Epic, Ramayana with 350+ written and audio short stories, perspective polls, and quizzes in Hindi and English.

The app contains a collection of comprehensive and illustrative guides and gives you multiple filters to select stories. Instead of proceeding in the story through a traditional narrative, the app gives the user freedom to explore various stories from unconventional and different narratives which can further be explored with the help of tags and lets the user eventually get engulfed by the universe of Ramayana.

It has 90+ of your favorite characters, 100+ essential landmarks and locations mentioned in multiple versions of Ramayana from Valmiki, Tulsidas, and Kamban which have been accurately connected to the current map of India for ease and to inform you about their historical significance and the 7 Kandas, all of which have a deep-rooted meaning and learning to obtain from.

The Ramayana has been designed in such a way that it is easy to use, it can be explored anywhere and anytime. The portability of this platform gives it an edge over other mediums such as books which allows the user to experience this epic saga while keeping up with technology. 

Pictorial representations have also been used along with the texts to keep diverse audiences engaged. With the expertise of creating informative and fun bite-sized stories has been used in the historical domain this time. The Ramayana transcends the boundaries of religion as the stories and guides in it have been entirely curated with an unbiased viewpoint. The content is backed by authentic sources and has been created after extensive research.

The team has also created and integrated audio versions in English and Hindi for pleasurable use and further plans to launch bite-sized guides for scriptures such as the Mahabharata, the Vedas, the Quran, the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, and more to reach out to a wider set of audience in the future.

The Ramayana is extremely easy to use due to its simple user interface. It will be available in both Hindi and English language. The mobile application is available on both Android and iOS platforms. 

Please visit http://www.theramayana.com for more details!


Bhuwan Arora is the founder of TheRamayana App. 

Sita, the Contemporary Indian Woman

In the fertile landscape of Indian writing in English, poetry is a less prolific genre. This is not due to a dearth of talent, but because poetry has generally been considered less likely to attract a popular readership. However, lyric poetry in Sita’s Choice is more relevant than ever during a public crisis. 

It is no accident that New Yorkers after 9/11 turned longingly to poetry. In today’s period of COVID 19 isolation, former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins has been reading his poetry live on Facebook. The musicality of the lyric form provides a sense of comfort in uncertain times and the shorter stanzas allow us to anchor for a short time in words that can transport us beyond our immediate devastation.

Sita’s Choice is Athena Kashyap’s second full-length collection of poetry. Kashyap grew up in India and currently teaches English at City College of San Francisco. In her foreword, Kashyap introduces the character of Sita in Valmiki’s version of the Ramayana and uses Sita to “explore issues facing women living in contemporary India.” Kashyap is not only drawn to Sita as the embodiment of a suffering wife but also to her role as a mother and her connection to the earth and the environment leading to  three thematic sections in her book: ‘Body’, ‘Seed’ and ‘Soil,’ following the opening section  titled ‘Sita Septet’

Sita’s ordeal by fire.

Kashyap is haunted by the mythological Sita’s decision at the end of the epic not to subject herself to another test of fire to prove her chastity. Instead of reuniting with her husband Rama, Sita chooses to return to the Earth, her mother.

This scene is evoked in the poem “Sita’s Choice,” in which Kashyap depicts this myth through a detailed description of Raja Ravi Verma’s painting of Sita being taken by Goddess Earth. In the poem that immediately follows “Letter to Valmiki from the Other Sita,”, we hear Sita’s voice expressing her disappointment in the poet Valmiki “It broke my heart, . . . the story as you told it.” Kashyap is thus reimagining Sita as a vocal woman, talking back to male figures of authority. 

Kashyap segues from the fire image to contemporary issues of dowry burnings in India in the poem “Fire Trials.” Instead of brides being killed, Kashyap recreates these women as asserting agency, packing their bags, and returning to their natal families.

In the section ‘Body,” Kashyap shifts her attention to many aspects of contemporary Indian American life, with an emphasis on the female body capable both of sexual fulfillment and degradation. From the joyous celebration of “Punjabi Wedding,” to scenes of hidden bodily trauma in “The Mirror” and “Crocodile Lake Revisited,” this section progresses to poems which bear witness to the indignities of women in India not having access to toilets in “This City is Claimed,” ending finally with the desolation of widows living in a peculiar limbo between life and death in “City of Widows.”

The sections ‘Seed’ and ‘Soil’ which follow offer many vignettes of women’s lives as mothers, from the onset of menarche in “Blood, Oil and Water” to the travails of pregnancy, birth, and the sleepless monotony of early motherhood.  In “The Leela Poems,” of the final section, Kashyap widens her focus to include experiences of farmers marching to Lalbagh, Bangalore to demand attention to their precarious lives. Leela is a servant and a migrant domestic worker in the city, subjected to myriad oppressions. But like Sita, the central figure in the collection, Leela longs to go back to the rice fields of her home in the village and is haunted by the longing for rich harvest.

Unlike a novel, a work of poetry does not follow a linear path of plot and character. Instead, this collection of poems is like a palimpsest, the poet’s own life layered with images of disparate women’s lives and traumas, yet gesturing at hope and fulfillment inspired by the mythological Sita.

Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


Sita’s Choice, Poems by Athena Kashyap. Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2019.

Finding the Light in Diwali

My childhood teacher Rammurti Mishra was, both, a yogi and a Western-trained psychiatrist. He liked to tell traditional stories like the Ramayana from a psychological perspective. He encouraged us to think of the characters and events as if they were parts of ourselves; he suggested that we might seek personal solutions by “actively imagining” the stories. The Ramayana tells the story of a perfect couple, Rama and Sita, who are separated by events and reunited through righteous and dharmic choices. Rama is regarded as a “Perfect man,” the personification of dharma; Ram Rajya has passed into popular parlance as a term for an “ideal government,” a kingdom where righteousness and light prevail.

For those unfamiliar with the Hindu epic Ramayana – Rama’s story turns on a great injustice: instead of affirming his ascendancy to the throne of Ayodhya, his stepmother Kaikeyi claims that right for her own son and banishes Rama into exile for fourteen years. Great sorrow befalls the people as a result of her selfish (though dharmically defensible) action, but Rama forgives her and accomplishes many good deeds while in exile. He restores order to the kingdom of the Vanar people, vanquishes the demon king Ravana, establishing a peaceful and just reign in Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka.  He defeats the rakshasas who have been tormenting the forest yogis, and restores life to the woman renunciate Ahalya. Most significantly, he rescues his beloved wife Sita, who had been held captive by Ravana. With his exile completed and wrongs set right, Rama can come home.

Throughout his exile, Rama repeatedly solves problems and resolves conflicts. He is light personified, you might say, and he has a clarifying, enlightening effect on his environment.

TulsidasRamayana tells us:

“When Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, it was a moonless night. The people illuminated their homes and placed lamps along the roads to light the way as he, with his beloved Sita and his most faithful brother Lakshman, walked slowly home. When Ram returned to Ayodhya, the light of his inner being overcame all inner darkness. No one lied or stole or harmed another with unkindness or ill will. There was no violence or discord in the city. Night-roaming predators remained in their lairs. Animals forgot their natural enmities; predators and prey became friends. The earth was rich in crops. Flower gardens bloomed extravagantly. Everyone’s heart shone with gladness, and everyone spontaneously cherished friends and neighbors as if they were dear family. Petty jealousies and conflicts disappeared like shadows at noon.”

On Diwali we recall Rama’s return and the pure, joyous state of the people. We clean and decorate our homes, we light lamps and eat festive foods, we give gifts to families and friends, we lovingly remember our ancestors. We banish the shadows of criticism and fear and bask in the light of the Lord’s presence.

But the light does not prevail undiminished forever, even in Rama’s kingdom. After a few idyllic years, suspicion and sorrow began to creep back into Ayodhya. Truth, purity, compassion and charity began to erode. Self-interest and callousness found new footholds. The animals began to quarrel. Crops grew less abundant. In the marketplace, innuendos arose, hinting at a dark side in Queen Sita’s relationship to Ravana. To pacify the people, Rama (knowing that the accusations against her were false) sent her back to the forest, breaking his own heart.

It is tempting to wait for another shining embodiment of light, like Rama, to appear and banish the shadows in our lives. We imagine such people in politicians, entertainers, and spiritual teachers. We may even be fortunate to know someone whose very presence “lights up the room” and makes everyone feel happy and harmonious.

I think that each of us has the potential to be such a person. Maybe if we work together we can come up with creative solutions to make the light stay, if not permanently, then a while longer. Let’s brainstorm the actions we can take, or refrain from taking (I’m looking at you, gossipers in the marketplace!), to nurture harmony and joy in ourselves, our families, and our communities. Every effort in that direction can be a step toward establishing Ram Rajya in our world, a world in which every day is Diwali.

Zo Newell is a writer and certified yoga therapist. Her first book, Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis was published in 2007 and its sequel, Flying Monkeys, Floating Stones: More Wisdom Tales, is slated for publication in spring 2020. She has written numerous articles for Yoga International exploring the interface of asana and Indian mythology. She holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University.

 

 

 

Draupadi’s Rage and Sita’s Sorrow

“It is an angry film. The film is a warning:” Sriram Dalton, on Spring Thunder (2018), a film that had a world premier at the Bay Area South Asian Film Festival. Spring Thunder, about the blood-drenched politics of uranium mining in Jharkhand, is like a punch, like a gunshot, like a blow by a hammer and a slash by a sickle. It might remind you of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925). Or Bandit Queen (1994), the film Dalton says inspired him to become a film-maker. There is rage in Spring Thunder, a film about how tribal land is being pillaged by greedy and murderous uranium contractors, while government officials are ineffectual, or corrupt. The film is an angry howl, reverberating with the rage of the dispossessed, the marginalized, the have-nots.

Sriram Dalton, Writer/Director of Spring Thunder

I heard the same rage in the voice of two women, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, who screamed at Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator moments before the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh: “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me.”

Nobody believed me.

By contrast, Dr. Kristine Blasey Ford, the professor “doing her civic duty” to speak out, was sorrowful, tearful, tremulous. But not silent. On the television screen, struggling to continue, the psychology professor narrated her story about how Kavanaugh tried to disrobe her, while his friend looked on and the young men laughed.

An image of the vastraharan scene in Naatak’s Mahabharata play came to me, with Dushasan dragging Draupadi to court and attempting to publicly disrobe her. The rage of Draupadi, according to Purnima Mankekar’s article “Television Tales and a Woman’s Rage: A Nationalist Recasting of Draupadi’s ‘Disrobing” was expressed by her vow to wash her hair in the blood of Dushasan’s thighs, upon which he had insolently invited her to sit. Draupadi’s rage was in contrast to the sorrow of Sita in the Ramayana, who would rather that the earth swallow her to hide her shame when a washer-man didn’t #believe her.

Yes, it’s all happened before. An attempt to disrobe a woman in the Mahabharat. Blaming the abduction victim In the Ramayana. 

At the Naatak play, the vastraharan was executed with the technical excellence one associates with Naatak, Yet I found myself troubled by the Sita-fication of Draupadi. I had seen Draupadi’s tears onstage, but these were not tears of rage as I expected, but of sorrow. “Draupadi is not to be portrayed as sorrowful, Draupadi is to be portrayed as enraged,” I remember thinking.

At the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford/Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is sorrowful and well-behaved. She keeps her rage from showing, because an enraged woman can be threatening, off-putting, too shrewish, too strident. Dr. Ford is like Sita, with her tears of sorrow, and her resolve to do her civic duty.

The women in the elevator are like Draupadi. They are enraged, and a little bit out of control. “I was sexually assaulted and nobody believed me.” The statement is like a punch, like a gunshot, like a blow by a hammer and a slash by a sickle. The statement is an angry howl, reverberating with the rage of the dispossessed, the marginalized, the have-nots.

The words are her unwashed hair covered in the blood of her sexual predator.

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents. She is usually quite well-behaved.

Cover Photo Credit: Naatak Facebook Page.

Journey to Land’s End

Legend has it that Prince Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, built a bridge from the Indian mainland to Lanka to rescue his wife, the Princess Sita, from the clutches of Ravana, ruler of the island. An epic battle ensued, ending with Ravana’s death and the coronation of his brother Vibhishana. When Rama returned to the mainland, so the story goes, Vibhishana asked Rama to demolish the bridge, which he did with one end of his mighty bow.Ruins of the old churchThe site where this event is supposed to have happened is venerated today as Dhanushkodi, or Bow’s End (Dhanush=Bow, Kodi=End) and this little spit of land, jutting out of the southern tip of India, is the closest point to the tiny country of Sri Lanka, the modern equivalent of the mythological island city ruled by Ravana.

We begin our journey to Dhanushkodi in the holy city of Rameswaram, about 15 miles away. Rameswaram bears several markers of Prince Rama’s journey, including places where he rested, coronated Vibhishana, and prayed. Most important is the main Ramanathaswamy temple which contains one of the 12 jyotirlingams, representations of the god Shiva, one of the members of the Hindu holy trinity.

Prayers to all 12 jyotirlingams are said to absolve a Hindu of all sins and end the cycle of death and rebirth to achieve nirvana. In addition, the main lingam is considered to have been created by Sita from sea sand for Rama to worship after her safe return from Lanka. Both Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi are extremely significant for the rites of absolution because Rama’s prayers to Shiva are said to have absolved him of the killing of the Brahmin Ravana. If Rama could be cleared of such a heinous sin, why not us mere mortals for our petty transgressions?Dhanushkodi map

The last five miles to land’s end are only accessible through private jeep and van operators and we opt to hire a jeep for the three of us, my parents and myself. We start at seven in the morning from Rameswaram and reached the checkpoint to Dhanushkodi in about half-an-hour. A rickety jeep awaits us, with the driver in a shirt and veshti, a piece of cloth tied around the waist and lower limbs. We climb in and hang on to the crossbar for dear life as the jeep wobbles and bucks its way through the sand dunes. The little town that serves the tourists to Dhanushkodi rapidly recedes, till within a minute we are all alone on a sandy path that is spanned by the sea on both sides.

Along the way the driver narrates the history of the town, and later Wikipedia research confirms he knows what he is talking about. As the jeep navigates its way through low shoals marked by the footprints of water birds, we learn that, once the district headquarters for the area, Dhanushkodi is a ghost town today, inhabited by just 350 fisher families after a massive tsunami completely wiped out the town in 1964, killing over 1,800 people and destroying every building. Today the area has been declared “Unfit for living” by the Indian government and deprived of electricity, running water and other basics for habitation. Despite the horrific effects of the tsunami, fisher folk returned to the area gradually, choosing to brave the elements to make a lucrative living off the sea. They live in thatched huts that they abandon every winter when powerful winds buffet the area, destroying the makeshift dwellings.Rain over Sri Lanka

As our jeep makes its way to the final beach, we stop near the water birds crowding the shallow waters and step out on to the sand, hiking our pants to keep them dry. In April there are mostly egrets and herons, but visitors in February have spotted visiting Australian flamingos, and there have been reports of some lucky encounters with dolphins.The author and her parents driving through the sea

On the way we have noticed heavy rains across the sea over Sri Lanka. The clouds eventually reach us and a little cloudburst right over our path cools down the temperature and makes the sweltering summer heat a little bearable. The pristine beach beckons and we notice a few earlier visitors making their way to the shore.

Some are dressed in the formal attire suitable for religious ceremonies, leading us to the conclusion that these are rites for deceased ancestors. After Kashi, a North Indian city significant for these rites, it is said that bathing at Dhanushkodi is a must for helping ancestors ascend to heaven.Remnants of the railway station

Enterprising locals have set up stalls for shell-based trinkets and we saunter over to examine them. On display are necklaces of shells and pearls, and little oval black and white stones representing the Shiva lingams so venerated in nearby Rameswaram. Some of the mother-of-pearl necklaces are embossed with rather professional designs and a conversation with the enthusiastic seller reveals that these were screen printed using computers in the city. We are delighted with this confluence of ancient trade and modern technology. Much to their credit, the fisher folk value education and all the children study in a local school, moving on to to higher education in the city when they are done.

The sea is a rich source of wealth for these folk and the living is rather easy, given that the waters are so shallow that one can walk about four miles across the water to an island visible nearby. Sri Lanka is just 15 miles away, as the pings from Sri Lankan cell towers can attest, but these fishermen stay out of trouble by hewing close to the Indian shore in their simple oar-propelled boats.

Alas, the fishermen in Rameswaram are not quite as prudent, and commercial trawlers have often strayed into Sri Lankan waters, prompting arrest and retaliation from that country’s Coast Guard, an understandable reaction. After repeated requests of intercession from various Tamil Nadu governments to rescue these foolhardy souls, the Indian central government has decided to put up a naval station nearby to discourage fishing beyond territorial waters.

Survivor of the 1964 tsunami

We take a dip in the placid and warm waters without any religious motives behind our splashes. A little exploration rewards us with conch shells, perfect miniatures of Panchajanya and Devadutta, martial conch trumpets blown by Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the epic Mahabharata.

Heading back, we stop at the fishing village, where we encounter one of the few remaining survivors of the 1964 tsunami, a toothless crone who was ten when the waves struck. She was rescued by her grandmother and lost her parents in the tragedy.

Ruins from that disaster still exist; a church facade here, a crumbling post-office wall there. Remnants of the railway station have been featured in the most common photos of Dhanushkodi and we stop the jeep there to take pictures and visit a little shrine which has a “floating stone” as its main attraction. The “stone” is not well protected and we get close enough to notice that it is in fact a coral fossil, which explains its buoyancy.

The floating stone

These are the stones that are supposed to have formed the top of the bridge that Rama built to Sri Lanka and, suddenly, the legend of the Ram Setu (Rama’s bridge) seems almost plausible, though geologists describe the underwater ledges of sandstone and conglomerates variously as coral reefs or limestone shoals.

Regardless of the veracity of the legends of the Ramayana, this is a magical place for both religious worshippers and nature lovers and we return from Dhanushkodi in our bouncy jeep well satisfied with our excursion. Future visitors will have an easier time with the construction of a motor road right to land’s end, but I feel rather sorry that they will miss out on our bouncy sand dune adventure. The road is planned for later in the summer of 2016, so hurry if you want to experience Dhanushkodi in its unspoiled glory.

How to get there: Rameswaram is accessible by rail and by road via NH 49. The rail journey goes right over a cantilever bridge below the famous Pamban Bridge and is a very convenient overnight journey but needs advance booking. For a road journey, visitors can fly in to Madurai and travel about 3.5 hours by car to Rameswaram.Pamban bridge

Where to stay: Rameswaram has had its share of budget hotels, but a few bigger chains are considering developing properties in the area. A Hyatt is supposed to be built soon, but for now here are a couple of recommendations – a budget hotel named Blue Coral Cottage for about Rs.1500 a night and Jiwan Residency, a budget luxury hotel for about Rs. 3000 a night. Both are very close to the water, though the Jiwan Residency is much more in line with visitors accustomed to professional hotel accommodations.
When to visit: Other than the winter months from November to January, when the area is too wet and windy to visit, any other time of the year is suitable.

Vidya Pradhan is a freelance writer and a published author of children’s books. She was the editor of India Currents from June 2009 to February 2012. She hosts the popular Safari Quiz Show every Saturday on 1550 AM in the San Francisco Bay Area.