It is a spot that attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Most go there to marvel at the beauty of the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean converging on the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent or celebrate the point where Indian seer Swami Vivekananda is said to have gained enlightenment. But the rock island under the Vivekananda memorial is a geological wonder. It is the point from which India, Australia and Antarctica split, 160 million years ago. The rock is all that remains to mark that world changing event!
It is hard to believe today, but India, Africa, South America, Madagascar, Australia, and Antarctica were all joined together as one supercontinent. The supercontinent came to be called Gondwanaland. Interestingly the name Gondwanaland, was coined by geologist Eduard Suess in reference the Gondwana region of central India, one of the oldest known regions of the world.
The supercontinent known as Gondwana was fully assembled by the Late Precambrian period, some 600 million years ago. The breakup of Gondwana occurred in stages and was not a one-time event.
The collision with Eurasia about 50 million years ago, gave rise to the Himalayas
The first stage of its breakup began in the Early Jurassic Period, about 180 million years ago long before the early hominids were present on earth. The western half of Gondwana (Africa and South America) separated from the eastern half (Madagascar, India, Australia, and Antarctica).
The South Atlantic Ocean opened about 140 million years ago as Africa separated from South America. At about the same time, India, which was still attached to Madagascar, separated from Antarctica and Australia, opening the central Indian Ocean.
During the Late Cretaceous Period, 118 million years ago, India broke away from Madagascar, and Australia slowly drifted away from Antarctica. Like pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle, continents split, drifted and merged to create the world as we know it, today.
Over time, like pieces in a giant jigsaw puzzle, continents have split, drifted and merged again
Around 120 million years ago, when India broke off its landmass started slowly drifting north. About 80 million years ago, the speed of this continental drift suddenly sped up, racing north at about 15 centimetres per year. The Indian landmass finally collided with Eurasia about 50 million years ago, giving rise to the fold mountains – the Himalayas.
Bio Chemist and author Pranay Lal in his book Indica succinctly explains how this process occurred and concludes by stating, ‘Geologists call the Vivekananda Rock memorial the Gondwana junction, because it marks a place where India, Magadascar, Sri Lanka, East Antartica and Australia were once joined.’ Amazing as it sounds before the split, the distance between Shillong, Meghalaya in North East India and Perth in Australia was barely a stone throw away.
In the history of continental drifts, the story of the Indian subcontinent has been fascinating. Its spectacular journey across the oceans has shaped the land mass and life on it. The Vivekananda Rock, a single massive block of Charnockite rock, that rises above the waters like a humped back of a whale, is all that remains to tell the story!
Did You Know
The Charnockite rock is named after Job Charnock, closely linked to the city of Kolkata, and the memorial built for him after his death, is made of Charnockite rock.
Vivekanada rock memorial is located in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. The nearest railway station is Kanyakumari railway junction and is 2 kms away. The closest airport is Trivandrum International Airport in Kerala which is about 92 kms away.
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