Saturday, April 15, 2017

Lost Continents

An Early Map of Atlantis
Most people are familiar with Atlantis, the sunken continent, first written about by Plato. Supposedly situated in the Mediterranean Sea and inhabited by a war-like people, they embarked on  a naval siege of ancient Athens. Due to its superior political system, ancient Athens, Plato’s “ideal state,” was able to repel the invasion. The Gods, angered by the hubris of the Atlanteans, withdrew their favor and Atlantis submerged into the sea. While Plato’s story centered around an ideal political system and the arrogance of nations and their eventual demise, the mythical aspects of the lost continent caught the public’s imagination, and many attempts were made to locate this place. Fascination continues to this day, with a continuing cottage industry of books, films and comic books based on this legend.

Lost continents and civilizations have a long history, with stories and legends appearing in many cultures and places. Often, these catch the imagination of a people because they combine myth with national identity. One of these is Kumari Kandam, a lost continent supposedly drowned in the Indian Ocean, and the original home of the Tamil people of South India and named after the Hindu goddess Kanya Kumari. While belief in Kumari Kandam was a long history, it became more prominent in the twentieth century, as part of a popular revival of Tamil culture, which coincided with the ending of colonial rule in India. Supposedly ruled entirely by women who chose their husbands and enjoyed full property rights, it is said to be the origin of Tamil ‘Sangams’, or literary traditions, and seen as an ideal ancient civilization, excelling in all arts and sciences and the cradle of Tamil culture.

La Morte D'Arthur by James Archer (1860)
A similar idea forms the basis of Avalon, a lost island west of England. Featured in the tales of King Arthur, it appeared first in the Historia Regum Britanniae, Lord Geoffrey Monmouth’s account of early British history. He mentioned it as the place where King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was forged. This mythical island was seen as a type of paradise, where fruits and flowers grew profusely, and ideal human behavior was exhibited. For a long time, it was believed that Avalon was the home of model and original English culture, no doubt inspired by the ideals of chivalry, courage, romance and gallantry displayed by King Arthur and his court, including his ideal wife Guinevere and the knight Lancelot. Inspiring the imagination to this day, Camelot, the name of the King’s court, and Merlin, the court magician, remain popular literary prototypes.

The Island of Thule (surrounded by whales)
Further to the north lies Thule, an island variously located near Shetland or Norway. Appropriately, it is a land of eternal sunshine. First appearing in Greek epics, it supposedly exists in the frozen seas well north of Britain. Inhabited by blue-painted people who are expert warriors, it grows barley in the summer and provides honey, from which the inhabitants make mead, an intoxicating liquor, evidently, a gift from the gods.

Maui holds up the Sky 
On the other side of the globe, in the Pacific, lies the island of Hawai’iki (not to be confused with Hawai’i,) the legendary home of the Maori people. Its actual location has never been confirmed, as appropriately enough, it is seen as a physical as well as a spiritual place. Greatly important to the Maoris, it is the subject of many of their songs, stories and cultural lessons. As an indication of its significance, many Maoris trace their genealogies, from the original man and woman to the current generation, to that island. It is also the home of the Polynesian gods, including the trickster demigod Maui, famous throughout the Pacific, and a character in the Disney movie, Moana. Its central importance to Maori culture can be appreciated by the understanding that it is the place from which every person (soul) comes, and where each returns.

Finally, the lost continent of Lemuria actually has a quasi-scientific background.  When the zoologist Phillip Sclater, in 1864, noticed similarities between mammals and fossils in both Madagascar and India, he proposed a continent, now disappeared, which once connected the two lands. He named it Lemuria, after the small monkey-like mammals found in both countries.  Strangely enough, there seems to be concrete evidence for this theory. Plate tectonics, which describe the drift of continents, posits that Africa and India were, at one point, part of a super continent named Gondwana. Furthermore, in 1999, drilling by a research vessel in the Indian Ocean discovered evidence of a large island which was submerged about 20 million years ago by rising sea levels. In 2015, researchers from South Africa, studying the island of Mauritius, came across geological formations that strongly suggest that the island is the above-ocean part of a much-larger, now-sunken, land mass. Culturally, the famous theosophist and mystic Helena Blavatsky of the late eighteenth century, considered to be the mother of modern spirituality, provided Lemuria with a mythical history as the home of an ancient, highly-evolved people, after which it became popularized in the public’s imagination.

Mohan Ashtakala is the author of The Yoga Zapper ( published by Books We Love (