Sea level rise in legends

I fell into an another rabbit hole the other day, I saw a link to a paper titled "Aboriginal Memories of Inundation of the Australian Coast Dating from More than 7000 Years Ago". The paper put together a series of legends about sea level rise from indigenous Australian sources from all around the continent and connected it to geological records showing that there exists cultural memory of inundation and large scale sudden shifts in the topography of the sea shore. There are a series of accounts of how once it was possible to walk to certain islands or that there were certain islands that completely vanished. The paper also notes that floods are a very common theme in many cultural accounts, and attributes this to the thawing after the post glacial period. The startling claim is that humans retain a cultural memory of events of more than 7000 years ago.

Here’s the abstract
Stories belonging to Australian Aboriginal groups tell of a time when the former coastline of mainland Australia was inundated by rising sea level. Stories are presented from 21 locations from every part of this coastline. In most instances it is plausible to assume that these stories refer to events that occurred more than about 7000 years ago, the approximate time at which the sea level reached its present level around Australia. They therefore provide empirical corroboration of postglacial sea-level rise. For each of the 21 locations, the minimum water depth (below the present sea level) needed for the details of the particular group of local-area stories to be true is calculated. This is then compared with the sea-level envelope for Australia (Lewis et al., Quaternary Science Reviews 74, 2013), and maximum and minimum ages for the most recent time that these details could have been observed are calculated. This method of dating Aboriginal stories shows that they appear to have endured since 7250–13 070 cal years BP (5300–11 120 BC). The implications of this extraordinary longevity of oral traditions are discussed, including those aspects of Aboriginal culture that ensured effective transgenerational communication and the possibility that traditions of comparable antiquity may exist in similar cultures.

Naturally, I was curious to see what was known about India, I knew off hand that there were some legends about Kerala rising from the sea, and the fact that Dwaraka, abode of Krishna, was destroyed by the sea and that recently there have been archaeological research expeditions that located traces of this famous city.

The paper cited another article dealing with sea level rises in the Asia. This one, called "Geohazards and myths: ancient memories of rapid coastal change in the Asia-Pacific region and their value to future adaptation".

This section caught my eye:

"In southern India, Tamil myths contain many allusions to ancient lands now underwater. Some myths refer to the drowning of the former cities of Madurai (Maturai) and Kapatapuram and recall that “the sea swallowed up forty-nine provinces of … land from the Pahruli River to the north bank of the Kumari River’ . Some Tamil traditions refer to the existence of Kumari Kandam, an ancient land (now submerged) off the coast of southernmost India where Tamil culture reputedly originated, a tradition that informed more recent global legends about the ‘lost continent’ of Lemuria in the Indian Ocean ."

I’d never heard of Kumari Kandam, so I looked that up. The wikipedia account states that the Lemuria hypothesis was linked to the Kumari Kandam idea, so instantly I felt that there needs to be a more careful sifting of the old sources to figure out what was more realistic. Nevertheless, there are certain old stories that incorporate a sea level rise into the plot. The wikipedia site cited one such story where the area of lost land is mentioned: a commentary on the Cilappatikaram

When I read the plot summary of the Cilappatikaram, I realised that I knew this. And the reason I knew it was because of my voracious reading of Amar Chitra Comics as a kid. I was (and am) a voracious reader. Anything that came my way. I located the story and though I’d forgotten most of it, some images (the broken anklet) were still in my memory. A testament to the power of story to record events.

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