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Loss of Something That Never Was

Vijaya Ramaswamy

By Sumathi Ramaswamy
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2005, pp. xv 334, Rs. 695.00


Sumati Ramaswamy has written a brilliant book. It has a breathtaking sweep and a pace that is most unusual for a scholarly work. The book is about Lemuria – a lost place from a lost time. Human preoccupations with lost continents look back as well as forward. It is a search for Lemuria and the submerged continent of Atlantis. It is also about the wishful longing for a utopia where there is peace, prosperity and the flowering of the finest in human arts and aesthetics. The book is about ‘loss’ of something that never was. Sumati in fact begins the first chapter with ‘placing loss’ and loss making. Disenchantment is at the other end of the notion of loss –disenchantment with the present and a constant quest to fill the ‘lack’ in one’s existence. While references to the lost continent of Atlantis finds mention in the writings of Plato, reference to the lost continent of Lemuria seems to have figured for the first time in the western imagination in a brief essay on ‘The Mammals of Madagascar’ in The Quarterly Journal of Science published in the year 1864. The author was Philip Lutley Sclater. Geologists and ‘natural historians’ led by Alfred R.Wallace who presented a paper on this theme in 1859, spoke about a continental drift and the growing distance between Madagascar and India. For paleo-scientists, paleo-geographers, zoologists, paleo-botanists and naturalists, Lemuria, for which they often used the term Indo-African continent, provided the vital clue to the “missing link” which has haunted evolutionists across Europe. Following the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species in 1859, the German biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1870 formulated what he believed could be a possible answer in the second edition of his book: The History of Creation. Haeckel proposed Lemuria as the cradle of human evolution and tentatively suggested that pithecanthropus originated here.   The theosophical movement moved the entire notion of Lemuria away from science and nature to society and culture. The third chapter of the book is about the role of the American occultists (who subsequently formed their headquarters at Adayar in Chennai) in defining the role of Lemuria as the ‘cradle of world civilization’. Madam Blavatsky, one of the founders of the Theosophical movement, wrote in her Isis Unveiled in 1877 that Lemuria represented the cradle of culture, the home of the “third root race”. It was an unequivocal challenge to the scientists’ (particularly Darwinian) ...

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