The hypothetical lost continent of Lemuria and the controversies surrounding it

The correct information on the hypothetical Lost Continent of Lemuria, and the lost land of Kumari of the Tamil oral and literary traditions are important in the study of the origin of the Tamils/Dravidians.

As we have mentioned earlier there were many 19th century European geologists who believed in the drifting as well as the sinking of continents. One of those scientists who was a biogeographer, was Philip Lutley Sclater (1829-1913).

He observed certain flora and fauna, and the lemurs that were mostly present in Madagascar, and in other scattered islands of south east Asia, Sri Lanka and south Asia. To explain this phenomenon he wrote a famous paper on “The Mammals of Madagascar" which was published in the Quarterly Journal of Science in 1864.

In his desire to explain the puzzle of the presence of certain plant fossils and lemurs, the primates found only in India, Madagascar, but not in Africa or in the Middle East, Sclater proposed the following hypothesis that Madagascar and India had once been the parts of a large continent which had submerged in the Indian ocean:

“The anomalies of the Mammal fauna of Madagascar can best be explained by supposing that…a large continent occupied parts of the Atlantic and Indian oceans… that this continent was broken up into islands, of which some have become amalgamated with… Africa, some…. with what is now Asia; and that in Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, we have existing relics of this great continent, for which… I should propose the name Lemuria!”

Sclater was not the first to observe this phenomenon, and think of the possibility of the sinking of a continent. There was another French natural historian, Geoffroy St. Hilaire (1772-1844) who also thought of the possibility. But Sclater was the first to name the hypothical continent, Lemuria. This idea of a continent submerged into the Indian Ocean was the creation of the 19th century European scientists.

There is no reference to such a possibility in any scientific literature prior to 1864. This idea became obsolete and it was proven false in the 1950s and 1960s by the new science of plate tectonics. This is new theory of plate tectonics has proved that continents do not sink but they float and already are floating. The continents will continue to float however slowly due to the sea floor spreading.

In spite of the new scientific discovery, the concept of the Lost Continent of lemuria, like scientific Frankenstein, had appeared again and again to haunt the European scientists and confuse the Indian enthusiasts, particularly in South India, in their efforts in inventing or discovering their ancient history. But for some it provided great opportunities for formulating their theories of the origin man and races.

The Lost Continent of Lemuria and Occultists: Even though the scientific community had lost interest in the hypothesis of the Lost Continent of Lemuria as it was disproved, it created greater interest among the occultists like Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), who claimed to have attained the unique knowledge of esoteric cosmology, which according to her, cannot be attained through any religion.

She founded the Theosophical (theosophic-divine wisdom) society along with colonel Henry S. Olcott (1832-1897) in New York in 1875. They both travelled  to India in 1879 and established the Theosophical society in 1882 at Adaiyar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

After some controversies, Blavatsky left India for London in 1885. While in London Blavatsky wrote several books, and one of them was, "The Secret Doctrine" (1888) in which she explained the several stages of human evolution.

She called the evolutionary stages ‘Root Races’. For Blavatsky, the Lost continent of Lemuria and Atlantis were the places for the evolution of the ‘Root Races’. She claimed that humanity was at a stage to evolve the ’Fifth  Root Race’, the Aryan race.

One of her followers, W. Scott Elliot, in his book, 'The Lost Lemuria Showing the Distribution of Land Areas in Different Periods', published in 1904, confirms the evolutionary model of Blavatsky for the Aryan Root Race as follows:

“It may be remembered from previous writings on the subject that it was from the Fifth or the Semitic sub-race of the Fourth Root Race, that was chosen the nucleus, destined to become our great Fifth or Aryan Root Race.”

Race studies by the Occultists/Theosophists and their Impact in Europe and India:

The race studies by the occultists/theosophists fueled great debate in Europe and as well as in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries regarding the evolution of various human races in the Lost Continent of Lemuria and Atlantis, particularly the final emergence of the so called ‘Master Race’ that is supposed to rule the world.

Western colonial powers were very much  interested in the discussion of superior race which helped them to justify their empires and spread the notion that they were on a civilizing mission of the  inferior races of the world.

What is the master race? Max Muller’s (1833-1900) translations of the Hindu scriptures, particularly the ancient Rig Veda and the translation and publication in a set of fifty volumes of the Scared Books of the East, opened the ‘ancient wisdom’ to the West and introduced the concept of the ‘Aryan Race’
Max Muller was the first to mention the term ‘Aryan Race’.

For example in his lectures on the science of language delivered at the Royal Institute  of Great Britain in April, May and June of 1881, he mentions the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘Aryan Race’ several times. There were criticism regarding his use of the term, ‘Aryan Race’. He answered his critics that he only used the term ‘Aryan Race’ as a linguistic category (referring to the category of Indo-European languages), but not as an ethnic or racial category.

In spite of his explanation, the socio-political climate of the 19th and 20th century Europe, particularly of Germany, the mere mentioning of ‘Aryan Race’ had fostered further the belief that the ‘Aryan Race’ was the superior race destined to rule the world.

The research and discussion on the Root Race theories, particularly of the ‘Aryan Race’ by the occultists/theosophists like Blavatsky, Annie Besant and others provided further impetus in Europe to political leaders like Hilter. Hilter declared in his manifesto ‘Mein Kempf’ (My struggle), his theory of Aryan Race that is fit to rule the world:

“If one were to divide mankind into three groups: culture-founders, Culture-bearers, and culture- destroyers, then, as representative of the first kind, only the Aryan would come in question. It is from him that the foundation and the walls of all human creations originate, and only the external form and color depend upon the characteristics of the various peoples involved.

He furnished the gigantic building- stones and also the plans for all human progress, and only the execution corresponds to the character of the people and races in this various instances ."

He said that the Jews form the strongest contrast to the Aryans and that they were the destroyers of culture. That is his reason for his decision to exterminate them in World War II. Aryan race and Aryan dominion were also a powerful motivation for the British Empire in India. The new Aryan dominion had linked with the former Aryan dominion by restoring its old glory.

This was the prominent thought and action of another occultist, theosophist, Annie Besant in India. Annie Besant was a convert to theosophy and a close friend of Blavatsky. Annie Besant was married to a Christian pastor. She divorced him, became an atheist, then became a secularist and eventually joined with Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society in 1881.

After the death of Blavatsky in Annie Besant home in London, she became the President of the Theosophical Society at Adayar. Chennai, India. She came to India in 1893, with Henry S. Olcott, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society.

During her association with Madame Blavatsky, Annie Besant studied Hinduism, and Buddhism and their beliefs such as karma, rebirth, and nirvana, and other basic tenets and they basically formed the foundational principles of theosophy.

Annie Besant, along with H.S. Olcott, toured India and made excellent presentations on the merits of the spirituality of Hinduism and received great support from orthodox Hindus, particularly Brahmins whose political causes that Annie Besant had championed very vigorously.

Annie Besant in India: “Her Home Rule Movement” and the Opposition in Madras Presidency

Annie Besant was politically active in England as well as in India. She championed many social causes. She strongly believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race (“The Fifth Root Race”). She believed in the Indian caste-system and the supremacy of the Brahmin castes.

She put her prestige behind the Brahmin version of nationalism based on caste exclusivity and Aryan superiority. She genuinely believed that the political leadership of free India should legitimately belong to the Brahmins.

While her predecessor, Colonel Henry Olcott “….. had merely vowed to reconstruct the 'ruined garden' of Hindu-Sanskrit civilization ,…”. Annie Besant was willing to go further. She was prepared to transform the notion of caste exclusivity to represent a brave new political philosophy. She was convinced of the ‘natural’ superiority of Brahmins over others as far as intellectual prowess was concerned. "

This was the spirit and the underlying scheme of the Home Rule Movement that Annie Besant had launched in 1913. ‘Home rule’ became a common platform of the Indian National Congress of which Annie Besant was a former President. It drew strong support from the Brahmins, most particularly in the Madras Presidency, as the Presidential Congress was dominated by the Brahmin community.

If set the alarm among other castes. There was strong opposition to the Home Rule Movement from these castes. The result was the Non-Brahmin movement. It generally manifested in the formation of a new political party, known as the Justice Party or the South Indian Liberation Federation.

The Justice Party opposed the Home Rule Movement.  It took advantage of the “Diarchy” (Rule by Two), the new administrative system established in 1919 by the British Colonial Government as the result of the Montagu-Chelmsford recommendations for administrative reform.

The Justice Party contested election in 1920 to form the Provincial Legislative Council for Madras Presidency (which comprised of the modern Indian States of Tamil Nadu,  Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.) The Justice Party won the election and formed the Provincial Government.

This is the historical juncture when the Tamil nationalism sprang up and it was looking for the real history of their ancient past. It was a revolutionary movement to counter the prevailing stories, concocted by the Western and Sanskrit scholars, that the Tamils/Dravidians had migrated from the Middle East and that the Indus Valley civilization was Aryan and that the Dravidians were the people driven down to the South by the victorious Aryan people as they were moving south, civilizing the ‘aboriginals’ on their way.

Source : International Journal of Tamil Culture &
Civilization, Volume 3, Issue 2,
Spring/Summer 2012, Page 29-31

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