The Lost Island of Kumari Kandam

The legend of Atlantis serves as a life purpose to many mystery seekers and conspiracy theorists. The story that an advanced civilization inhabited an island, which ultimately sunk, is enticing for obvious reasons. It gives individuals a very seductive hope that they will discover amazing technology and/or posses immense knowledge that will make them more evolved beings. To some others, it fulfils the belief that things larger-than-life do exist.

While Atlantis is of Greek origins and was largely developed in Plato’s fictional works, Timaeus and Critias, the widespread mystery around its existence lives in firstly, the fact that Plato used to centre some of his stories around old truths and actual events, and secondly, the fact that Plato’s literary works are famous and have been established as a compulsory part of everybody’s school and/or university syllabus. The latter being even more so because of war and colonialization. Therefore, it is not unusual that legends of other such sunken islands remain unheard of, especially when their only proof of existence lies in words that have been etched in literary sources of another culture.

Some of the other hypothesised submerged islands are Hyperborea, Terra Australis, Meropis, Mu, and Lemuria. In the 1890s, Tamil writers and scholars heard about the possibility of the existence of the continent called Lemuria or Limuria (which sunk due to rising sea levels) in the Indian Ocean, connecting India to Madagascar and Australia and thereby explaining the previously unexplainable evidence of common flora and fauna in all three regions. These Tamil scholars connected it to the statements made in ancient Sanskrit and Tamil works recording the sinking of a huge expanse of Pandyan land.

The text Iraiyanar Akapparul is attributed to the poet Nakkeerar who wrote it towards the end of the 1st millennium CE. In it, he informs the reader about the loss of land in the Pandyan kingdom due to a tsunami or water-related calamity. He also mentions the loss of an immense amount of knowledge gathered in the first two Sanghams due to the sinking of the lands on which they were held. Sanghams are huge gatherings/academies of learned scholars, poets, writers, and other intellectuals in cities in the Tamil dynasty. The first Sangham was said to have been presided by Gods like Shiva, Murugan, and Kubera, and over 549 poets in Tenmaturai. It flourished for 4,400 years. The second Sangham flourished for 3,700 years in Kapatapuram and was attended by 59 poets. The narrative mentions that the precious knowledge gathered during these two Sanghams was ‘seized by the ocean’, and therefore only that which was gained in the third Sangam could be passed on to the coming generations — the rest was lost forever.

Iraiyanar Akapparul does not mention the size of the land that was deluged. A 15th-century work called Silappatikaram talks about the size in units that are no longer understood by common man. It says that the land that was lost lay between the Pahruli river in the North to the Kumari river in the South. Located to the South of Kanyakumari, it was 700 kavatam (unit of measurement) and it was divided into 49 territories, which were classified under 7 categories:

1. Elu kurumpanai natu (“Seven dwarf-palm lands”)

2. Elu Maturai natu (“Seven mango lands”)

3. Elu munpalai natu (“Seven front sandy lands”)

4. Elu pinpalai natu (“Seven back sandy lands”)

5. Elu kunakarai natu (“Seven coastal lands”)

6. Elu kunra natu (“Seven hilly lands”)

7. Elu teñku natu (“Seven coconut lands”)

In many commentaries on ancient texts like the Tolkappiyam, medieval writers like Perasiriyar and Ilampuranar, have made scattered mentions about the deluge of ancient lands to the south of Kanyakumari. Other ancient texts like the Purananuru (belonging to the periods between the 1st century BCE and the 5th century CE) and the Kaliththokai (6th to 7th century CE) record the loss of Pandyan territory to the ocean. In this account, the Pandyan king claimed an equal amount of land from the Chola and Chera kingdoms, to compensate for the land lost.

Apart from these references to lands lost to the South of Kanyakumari, several other ancient accounts claim the loss of unspecified Indian land to devastating floods, ravaging seas, and torrential oceans. Hindu mythology re-iterates the survival of many Tamil Hindu shrines — like the temples of Kanchipuram and Kanyakumari- through catastrophic floods. The legends of temples under the sea, like the legend of the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram, are based on these accounts.

The Sanskrit Bhagavata Purana (500 BCE — 1000 CE) tells the story of Manu/Satyavrata, the Lord of Dravida — of how he survived an apocalyptic flood after building a boat as guided by God (parallel’s Noah and his Ark), and being lead to safety after Lord Vishnu takes the form of a fish that pulls the boat through the turbulent flood waters. Manu is mentioned in the Matsya Purana (250–500 CE) as well. There have also been mentions of the deluge of an ancient Chola port city, Kaverippumpattinam, in the Manimeghalai (6th century CE). But it is important to note that many of these accounts do not point to a particular location, or community.

With these accounts in mind, Tamil scholars tried to create a Tamil version of Lemuria — Illemuria — and then eventually moved on to Kumari natu when V.G. Suryanarayana Sastri coined it in 1903 in his book, Tamil Mozhiyin Varalaru. The term Kumari Kandam was first used in the 15th century (1350–1420), in a Tamil version of the Skanda Purana (by Kachiappa Sivacharyara). It is derived from the Sanskrit word, ‘Kumarika Khanda’. Many stories were written about Kumari Kandam, its legends, and the intellectual property that was lost when it sank.

Despite this excitement, the hypothesis of Lemuria was discarded as the theory of plate tectonics was accepted. According to this theory, India, Madagascar, and Australia belonged to the same super-continent, Gondwana, before splitting apart to become what it is now. This would explain the ecological conundrum that existed previously. Also, many other theorists claim that such a huge piece of land could never sink in the India Ocean especially without leaving behind a trace, as the Ocean is to shallow for that.

Reading the above may give one the sense that all the above historical research was for nought, but Kumari Kandam may not be as imaginary as one thought. Many theorists that criticize the existence of Kumari Kandam also claim that the land could have existed — but only in Mesozoic era, which is 240 to 65 million years ago. And if the Ancient Astronaut Theory is, in fact, true then Kumari Kandam could very well have been a cradle of civilization, but one that may not have been entirely Tamilian in culture.

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