Kumari Kandam is an enigma. A mythical lost continent born out of modern interpretations of ancient legends, it was supposed to be the home of an ancient Tamil civilization located in the south of India.
In the 19th century, European and American scholars debated the existence of another supposedly lost continent called Lemuria. It was being used to explain the similarities between the Indian subcontinent, Australia and Africa.
This was then adapted by Tamil scholars who connected it to the legends of lands lost to the ocean found in ancient Sanskrit literature found in the Pandyan legends. Did this continent ever exist? and if so, what happened to it?
Lemuria: A Wild Answer to a Difficult Question
When the concept of Lemuria was introduced in the 1890s, the name was more commonly known as “Ilemuria”. Throughout the 1900s among Tamil scholars, Lemuria was consistently referred to as the home of an ancient Tamil continent.
In 1903, V.G.S.Sastri used the term Kumarinatu and Kumari Nadu to refer to this area as Kumari territory. It was not until the 1930s that Kumari Kandam was used to describe Lemuria, but they are the same place, essentially renamed once recognized from legend.
Kumari Kandam however is a much older name, first used in the 15th century Tamil source the Skanda Purana, a collection of 18 Hindu religious texts containing over 81,000 verses. It was derived from the Sanskrit words “Kumarika Khanda”.
The ancient text describes the cosmological model of the universe. In this model, there are many worlds all of which have many continents, and on the continents, there are several kingdoms. The ruler of one of these kingdoms was named Paratan who had eight sons and one daughter.
He divided his kingdom into nine parts, one of which was named Kumari Kandam. This land was ruled over by Paratan’s sole daughter, named Kumari. It has been supposed that this is where the Brahmins resided and where Shiva and the Vedas, ancient Hindu texts, were recited.
There are lots of different passages in both ancient and medieval Tamil Sanskrit works that contain accounts of lands in South India that were lost to the oceans. One of the first times that this is discussed is in the 1st millennium BC.
Nakkeerar, the author of the account, discusses how Pandyan kings, an early dynasty of the Tamil civilization, built three academies: the Sangams, which lasted for 4,400 years and were presided over by the gods Shiva, Kubera, and Murugan.
The Second Sangam lasted for 3,700 years but was seized by the ocean which destroyed all of the literary works of the first two Sangams. Whilst the Nakkeerar account does not mention the size of the territory lost, it implies that it was a significant amount of land.
It was not until the 15th century that the accounts specifically refer to the size of the land lost. It was said to cover an area of 700 kavatam that had been divided into 49 territories stretching south of the Pahruli river. Unfortunately we do not know what a “kavatam” is but the 49 subdivisions implies this was a large area.
Whilst none of the accounts, both ancient and medieval, mention the name Kumari Kandam for the lost land in the sea, this does not mean that it is not the case. The accounts are quite sparse on specific details.
The Lemuria Hypothesis
The first modern mention of an underwater land that connected India, Madagascar, and Africa was in 1864 by an English zoologist Philip Sclater. He named the land “Lemuria” because he was attempting to explain the presence of lemur-like primates on the three separate and disconnected lands.
Most scientists and geologists from Europe and America dated the disappearance of Lemuria before the appearance of modern humans, therefore believing that Lemuria was not in fact home to an ancient civilization. However, this debate was reignited in the 20th century and many discussions were had as to whether there had been humans living on Lemuria before it had sunk, as written in the ancient texts.
This was popularized in Tamil Nadu and by the Tamil scholars, likely primarily to fight against the dominance of Sanskrit and Indo-Aryan populations. The Tamil scholars focused on the legends that suggested the written documentation was lost to oceans.
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It became very noticeable, however, that these scholars misquoted or miscited western scholars in order to grant their theories more legitimacy. In addition to this, they cited the fact that small patches of land in the 20th century were lost to vicious cyclones and other extreme weather, trying to equate this environmental damage with the loss of an entire continent.
What Might It Have Looked Like?
The first map to attempt to visualize Lemuria as the ancient Tamil territory of legend was Subramania Sastri in 1916. His map was part of an article criticizing the theory that Lemuria existed but depicted two versions of the Kumari Kandam. It was depicted as a peninsula-like land very similar to the present-day Indian peninsula.
Ten years later Pillai published a map that labeled the various places of Kumari Kandam which relied on names drawn from ancient Tamil sources. Several maps followed this showing the vast mountain ranges and rivers that spanned the area.
The problems with this map was shared with the other Tamil research in that they were looking for evidence of Kumari Kandam rather than looking at the plausibility of a continent sinking beneath the waves. This led to a selective approach to evidence, rejecting anything which did not fit the narrative.
Kumari Kandam as a mythical continent has been tied to Tamil history since the 19th century. Many historians of the 20th century have criticized the theories propagated by Tamil historians claiming that it is anti-history. Many will only grant that any land that was lost to the sea, was but a small amount and as such, it cannot have been the legendary land stated in the poems.
The existence of this land is one that is still debated with controversy and sparks some logical debate. Tamil nationalists and revivalists continue to push the myth to separate their own history whilst archaeology does not provide the evidence that suggests it did exist on the scale that the stories suggest.
Kumari Kandam is believed to be the birthplace of the Tamil civilization and the home of early literature. If it was submerged, it likely happened at the end of the last ice age, but it is likely true that it will never be proven.
Sclater’s widely accepted “Lemuria” theory which was the basis for the Tamil research was supplanted by the theory of continental drift, posited by Alfred Wegener in 1912. With out modern understanding of plate tectonics, we have far more plausible explanations for the observations of Victorian scientists. Kumari Kandam, sadly, appears to be mythological after all.
Top Image: Tamil scholars believe that Kumari Kandam is lost beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean. Source: Pradeep doodh / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Kurt Readman
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