The Lost Continent of Kumari Kandam

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

When BBC released the series Atlantis in 2013, I was engrossed with this idea of a lost city submerged under the ocean. As a 15-year-old, I found myself explaining this legend to my dad and he simply replied ‘so it’s like Kumari Kandam’, and this led to a series of long conversations and multiple Google searches of trying to separate the mythical ideas from the geological research on the lost continent of Kumari Kandam.

Kumari Kandam or Lemuria (as known by Western researchers) is believed to be a sunken continent that had once connected India and Madagascar, similar to that of Atlantis. The term Kumari Kandam first appeared in the 15th-century Hindu text, Kanda Puranam and is believed to have been a land ruled by the Pandiyan kings. According to the Silapathikaram, one of the Five Great Epics from Tamil Literature, there are descriptions of the ‘cruel sea’ taking the land of the Pandiyans, believed to be this very lost continent. Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th-century commentator on this epic, describes the land to be located south of Kanyakumari, from the Pahruli river in the North and the Kumari river in the South. Both Tamil epics, Silapathikaram and Manimekalai, describe the submergence of the River Pahruli and River Kumari. In 1903, Suryanarayana Sastri suggests that Kumari Kandam stretched from Kanyakumari in the North, to Kerguelan Islands in the South, and from Madagascar in the West to Sunda Islands in the East.

However, how much truth is there to Kumari Kandam? When geologist Philip Sclater discovered lemur fossils in Madagascar and India in the 1860s, he proposed the idea that there must be a missing landmass between the two, which he named Lemuria. Although his theory was taken forward as the only explanation for the lemur fossils to exist in both lands, modern research on plate tectonics and continental draft labelled Sclater’s proposition to be not plausible. Further discovery of sand grains that contain mineral zircon between 660 million and 2 billion years old in Mauritius, that are far older than the island itself, had triggered further theories of a missing landmass. In 2013, a study in the journal Natural Geoscience, had caused scientists to conclude that these older minerals once belonged to a vanished mass, which they labelled Mauritia, a microcontinent. The Norwegian geologist, Jamtveit and his colleagues finally concluded that Mauritia was once part of a larger ‘supercontinent’ that included India and Madagascar, forming links with the Tamil myths of Kumari Kandam.

There are ongoing debates on whether Kumari Kandam was once an existing continent or merely a Tamil legend and in comparison to Atlantis, we have very little information and research on this lost land. Mac Niocaill, a geologist from the University of Oxford claims, that ‘we know more about the topography of Mars than we do of the world’s ocean floors’, so there may actually be a lost continent out there waiting to be found.