Most people are familiar with the story of Atlantis, the legendary sunken city as described by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Till this day, opinion is still divided as to whether this story should be understood literally or taken merely as a morality tale. Further east in the subcontinent of India is a similar tale, though it probably is less well known compared to that of Atlantis. This is the ‘lost continent’ of Lemuria, frequently connected to the legend of Kumari Kandam by speakers of the Tamil language.
The term Lemuria has its origins in the latter part of the 19 th century. The English geologist Philip Sclater was puzzled by the presence of lemur fossils in Madagascar and India but not in mainland Africa and the Middle East. Thus, in his 1864 article entitled ‘The Mammals of Madagascar’, Sclater proposed that Madagascar and India were once part of a larger continent, and named this missing landmass ‘Lemuria’. Sclater’s theory was accepted by the scientific community of that period as the explanation of the way lemurs could have migrated from Madagascar to India or vice versa in ancient times. With the emergence of the modern concepts of continental drift and plate tectonics, however, Sclater’s proposition of a submerged continent was no longer tenable. Yet, the idea of a lost continent refused to die, and some still believe that Lemuria was an actual continent that existed in the past.
One such group is the Tamil nationalists. The term Kumari Kandam first appeared in the 15 th century Kanda Puranam, the Tamil version of the Skanda Puranam. Yet, stories about an ancient land submerged by the Indian Ocean have been recorded in many earlier Tamil literary works. According to the stories, there was a portion of land that was once ruled by the Pandiyan kings and was swallowed by the sea. When narratives about Lemuria arrived in colonial India, the country was going through a period when folklore was beginning to permeate historic knowledge as facts. As a result, Lemuria was quickly equated with Kumari Kandam.
Read more: Ancient Origins