CHENNAI: Long, long ago, there was a huge continent south of Kanniyakumari. So big was it that it spread up to Madagascar, an island near Africa, in the west and upto Australia in the east. So ideal was the land that it made possible for humans to evolve from lemurs (forget the monkeys, please!). The first language the evolved humans spoke was Tamil.
This may sound like a fairy tale. But if we go by the textbooks of the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) taught in all State board schools, this is what the students would believe to be the truth.
Despite the theory about ‘Kumari Kandam’ (referred to as Lemuria by English geologists) being more of a legend and not authenticated by historians, the State Education Department’s textbooks categorically inform the students that there existed such a continent, where Tamil is believed to have taken birth.
“The conditions were favourable for growth of living organisms only at Cape Comorin, which was submerged after the tsunami,” reads a line under the heading ‘The Continent Lemuria’ in the Social Sciences chapter of Class VI textbook.
If you are still baffled about how a tsunami can swallow a continent of its size, look at the Class IX Tamil book of the SCERT. It even has a map of this continent, depicting a ‘Meru malai’ and four rivers that were believed to have originated from this hill!
Historians say the State’s textbooks are teaching a theory on the origin of Tamil language with little evidence to substantiate it. “Kumari Kandam is a legend. Now, a legend may be partially rooted in history. In this case, its origin is unsurprising, considering the evidence of partially submerged structures off Mahabalipuram and Poompuhar, among other ancient port towns. However, there is no evidence of a submerged continent or land corresponding to the legendary Kumari Kandam,” says Michel Danino, member of the Indian Council of Historical Research.
According to him, Lemuria and Atlantis belonged to the same category of myth. The theory of existence of such a vast submerged continent was first put forth in 1864 by English geologist Philip Sclater in an article titled The Mammals of Madagascar. His theory was to explain the common features, like the presence of lemur fossils in Madagascar and India.
But later, the continental drift theory, which is now universally accepted and explains the occurrences of earthquakes, detailed the common features between the African, Indian and Australian landmasses. According to it, the land mass of India was attached to that of Madagascar and Africa before it got drifted by the plate tectonics. Hence it shares certain common geological features.
But the Tamil revivalists in the early 20th century adopted the theory about the existence of Lemuria and termed it as Kumari Kandam and Kumari Nadu. The first two of the Tamil Sangams, they declared, were conducted in this submerged land mass. A few literary references about the land swallowed by sea were cited to substantiate the theory. “There are references to a land called Kumari in Purananuru... This could have contributed to the legend of Kumari Kandam,” says Danino.
Rather than by archaeological research and evidence, the Tamil revivalists seem to have been driven more by the passion to glorify the Tamil civilisation and to show how it was much ancient and superior to other civilisations. With little evidence, the theory is now passed on as a fact to the next generation, much to the chagrin of Indian historians and archaeologists.
“Lemuria is not authenticated by Science and students should learn it as what it is – just a claim. Even without these claims, there is no doubt that Tamil is an ancient language. So such efforts to glorify the language are unnecessary. There is only a fine line between mistake and mischief. Whether this uncritical information is peddled into textbooks because of ignorance or for other purposes, is left for the people to decide,” says T K V Subramanian, retired history professor, Delhi University.
“It is not uncommon for certain structures to be mistaken for something else. But deliberation is required before such statements are included in textbooks,” says T Sathyamurthy, former superintending archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India.
According to Prof P D Balaji, head of the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, University of Madras, archaeologists are the experts as far as ancient history is concerned. “Problems like these arise when the task of writing textbooks is handed over to history teachers,” he said.
But there are a few academics who are not very critical of the Lemuria theory. “Theories like Lemuria might have been based on a particular research. I would say Lemuria is a conjecture or perhaps, an educated guess. There are many such theories. I do not wish to contest them,” says N Rajendran, general secretary of Tamil Nadu History Congress, who is also the professor and head of the Department of History at Bharathidasan University.
“Even in the case of Indus Valley civilisation, a lot of research needs to be done to establish that Tamil-speaking people have lived there. More so, in the case of Lemuria,” says V Jayadevan, retired professor of Tamil, University of Madras.
When contacted, State Council of Educational Research and Training director Rameswara Murugan said he has to discuss with the textbook committee before he can comment on the issue.
But here is a tricky objective question in the Social Science chapter of the Class VI textbook you might like to answer: The place where the evolution of man began: (a) Mediterranean countries (b) Asyria (c) Lemuria.
Africa is not even an option!