What is Kumari Kandam? A mythical continent or lost reality?

What is Kumari Kandam? A mythical continent or lost reality?

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Kumari Kandam refers to a mythical lost continent with an ancient Tamil civilization, located south of present-day India, in the Indian Ocean. Alternative names and spellings include Kumarikkantam and Kumari Nadu.

In the 19th century, a section of the European and American scholars speculated the existence of a submerged continent called Lemuria, to explain geological and other similarities between Africa, Australia, India and Madagascar. A section of Tamil scholars adapted this theory, connecting it to the Pandyan legends of lands lost to the ocean, as described in ancient Tamil and Sanskrit literature. According to these writers, an ancient Tamil civilization existed on Lemuria, before it was lost to the sea in a catastrophe. In the 20th century, the Tamil writers started using the name “Kumari Kandam” to describe this submerged continent. Although the Lemuria theory was later rendered obsolete by the continental drift (plate tectonics) theory, the concept remained popular among the Tamil scholars of the 20th century. According to them, Kumari Kandam was the place where the first two Tamil literary academies (Sangams) were organized during the Pandyan reign. They claimed Kumari Kandam as the cradle of human civilization and the place from where all human beings ultimately migrated to various parts of the world.

According to the Kumari Kandam proponents, the continent was submerged when the last ice age ended and the sea levels rose. The Tamil people then migrated to other lands, and mixed with the other groups, leading to the formation of new races, languages and civilizations. Some also theorize that the entire humanity is descended from the inhabitants of Kumari Kandam. Both narratives agree on the point that the Tamil culture is the source of all civilized culture in the world, and Tamil is the mother language of all other languages in the world. According to the most versions, the original culture of Kumari Kandam survived in Tamil Nadu. An interesting and mysterious fact supporting the above theory is that of a section of indigenous Australians being able to speak fluently in Tamil or its dialects. Genetic similarities have also been identified between Indians and native Australians.

Multiple ancient and medieval Tamil and Sanskrit works contain legendary accounts of lands in South India being lost to the ocean. The earliest explicit discussion of a Katalkol (“seizure by ocean”, possibly tsunami) of Pandyan land is found in a commentary on Iraiyanar Akapporul. This commentary, attributed to Nakkeerar, is dated to the later centuries of the 1st millennium CE. It mentions that the Pandyan kings, an early Tamil dynasty, established three literary academies (Sangams): the first Sangam flourished for 4,400 years in a city called Tenmaturai (South Madurai) attended by 549 poets (including Agastya) and presided over by Gods like Shiva, Kubera and Murugan. The second Sangam lasted for 3,700 years in a city called Kapatapuram, attended by 59 poets (including Agastya, again). The commentary states that both the cities were “seized by the ocean”, resulting in loss of all the works created during the first two Sangams. The third Sangam was established in Uttara (North) Madurai, where it is said to have lasted for 1,850 years.

Nakkeerar’s commentary does not mention the size of the territory lost to the sea. The size is first mentioned in a 15th-century commentary on Silappatikaram. The commentator Adiyarkunallar mentions that the lost land extended from Pahruli river in the north to the Kumari river in the South. It was located to the south of Kanyakumari, and covered an area of 700 kavatam (a unit of unknown measurement).

In 1864, the English zoologist Philip Sclater hypothesized the existence of a submerged land connection between India, Madagascar and continental Africa. He named this submerged land Lemuria, as the concept had its origins in his attempts to explain the presence of lemur-like primates (strepsirrhini) on these three disconnected lands. In 1885, the Indian Civil Service officer Charles D. Maclean published The Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, in which he theorized Lemuria as the proto-Dravidian urheimat. In a footnote in this work, he mentioned Ernst Haeckel’s Asia hypothesis, which theorized that the humans originated in a land now submerged in the Indian Ocean. Maclean added that this submerged land was the homeland of the proto-Dravidians. He also suggested that the progenitors of the other races must have migrated from Lemuria to other places via South India. This theory was also cursorily discussed by other colonial officials like Edgar Thurston and Herbert Hope Risley, including in the census reports of 1891 and 1901.

A similar report of a lost underwater continent has been reported in the National Geographic. In a study published in Nature Communications, a team of South African researchers have described the discovery of 3-billion-year-old zircon crystals on Mauritius. But the volcanic island itself is only some 8 million years old, so how is that possible? The ancient minerals, found on the island’s beaches, were likely ejected by volcanic eruptions from far below. Their age suggests the zircons once belonged to a continental crust much older than the recently formed island itself. This means that deep underneath the surface of the Indian Ocean and right under Mauritius, there was once a small continent. Mauritia, as the researchers have proposed to name it, was only a quarter of the size of Madagascar and has been buried under volcanic material for millions of years. Mauritia acted as a buffer zone between the western Indian subcontinent and eastern Madagascar, and was fragmented by numerous tectonic and volcanic events that occurred in that region since the early Cretaceous period. The early Cretaceous period happened some 146 to 100 million years ago. Dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex and sauropods were wandering around the early continent of Gondwana — now South America, Africa, India, Antarctica, and Australia. As Gondwana changed shape, causing India and Madagascar to move apart some 180 million years ago, Mauritia broke into smaller and thinner pieces.

Whatever be the name – Kumari Kandam, Mauritia, Lemuria or Gondwana, all the above reports indicate the presence of an underwater continent connecting India, Australia, Madagascar and Africa, with possible extensions to South America and Antarctica. A lot of research is yet to be done, lots of facts to be unravelled from the depths of the Indian Ocean and history waiting to be revealed; the past, which may change the future of the entire human race.

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