Is it true that the stones floated on surface of sea water and the army of Lord Rama stepped on the stones to cross the sea?
I did not find any reference to it in Valmiki Ramayana or Tulsi Ramayana.
According to Valmiki Ramayana, Samudra suggested Lord Rama, the name of Nal (only Nal, not Nal and Neel).
“अयं सौम्य नलो नामः तनुजो विश्वकर्मण:” (this monkey named Nal is the son of Vishwakarma).
Samudra said to Lord Rama, “Nal is blessed to be like his father so he can construct a bridge over me and I will hold that bridge”.
Having said this, Samudra disappeared. Nal then stepped forward and agreed to build the bridge with the blessings of his father (अहं सेतुं करिष्यामि विस्तीर्णे वरुणालये).
The story here was not the same as we hear generally. The way Valmiki has described this; it appears to be pure Engineering. Vanaras (Monkeys) brought the trees, stones and other things on the beach and the construction work started. Under the supervision of Nal, the bridge was constructed in five days.
Now if the floating stones of Nal and Neel are not in Valmiki Ramayana, where do they appear? Where is the story of curse of Nal and Neel? Is that mentioned Tulsidas Ramcharit Manas?
According to Tulsidas Ramcharit Manas, Lanka Kand,
After having a word with Samudra, Lord Rama asked his army to start building the bridge. Jambvant (Jaambvaan) called Nal and Neel, the brothers, and said, have faith in Lord Rama and it would be easy to construct the bridge.
जामवंत बोले दोउ भाई। नल नीलहि सब कथा सुनाई
राम प्रताप सुमिरि मन माहीं। करहु सेतु प्रयास कछु नाहीं
Nal and Neel then asked to bring trees and stones to construct the Ram Setu and this is how the Ram Setu was built and it was clear that Nal and Neel would be known to the world by this incident.
बूड़हिं आनहि बोरहिं जेई, भए उपल बोहित सम तेई
श्री रघुबीर प्रताप ते सिंधु तरे पाषान
ते मतिमंद जे राम तजि भजहिं जाइ प्रभु आन
Now, when Tulsidas said that due to Lord Rama’s grace the stones floated, people took different meanings. I don’t know if this is actually mentioned in other texts as there are other versions of Ramayana too. For example Agastya Ramayana, Vasishta Ramayana, Adhyatma Ramayana etc. and I have not gotten a chance to go through any of them.
‘The floating stones of Nal and Neel’ is one of the most popular curses in the Indian history or mythology as different people call it. Nal and Neel as we heard from our childhood were two brothers who were cursed by some sage that the stones they throw in water will not sink but will float on water.
This curse is said to have utilized by Lord Rama while building the Rama Setu i.e. the bridge to cross the sea and attack Lanka. This most popular story, I think is somewhat misunderstood or wrongly popularized. If this was true, I am yet to discover the reference.
I went to the library and referred some modern books to see if something was written there. Not many books were there. I found three and one of them was Adhyatma Ramayana, translated in English by Swami Tapasyananda.
On page 278 (Shloka 83), you can find written,
“नलः सेतु करोत्वस्मिन् जले मे विश्वकर्मणः, सुतो धीमान समर्थास्मिन् कार्ये लब्धवरो हरिः”,
He translates this as, “There is among these monkey followers of Thine, one named Nala, who is an off-spring of Viswakarma, the heavenly architect. By virtue of boon given to him by Brahma, he will be capable of doing this”.
On Wikipedia, I found the version of the story we have commonly heard,
"The tale justifying this power states that in their youth, these monkeys were very mischievous and used to throw the murtis (holy images) worshipped by the sages in the water. As a remedy, the sages decreed that any stone thrown by them in water will not drown, thus saving the murtis.
Another tale narrates as assured by Varuna, the stones dropped by Nala and Nila float, but they drift in the sea and do not form a continuous structure, Hanuman, Rama's devotee and monkey lieutenant suggests that the name of Rama be written, so they stick together; the remedy worked".
With passing ages, the story has been narrated by different authors in his own style and with own expressions. Sometimes the author under devotional feelings or creative thoughts might have created some stories that could differ from Valmiki Ramayana.
For example, in his book The Story of Rama, A Mythological Novel, author Narendra K. Sinha writes on page 329, "All day and all night of work took a month to complete it", however it took five days according to Valmiki.
Despite all, one thing is for sure, that Nala (and Nila if he was) were engineers. This engineering could be of the highest level if they knew the technology to reduce the density of stones to make them float. Another thing, just on technical grounds, is that how did they overcome the difficulty to settle stones and tie the bridge in deep sea.
Author - Archit
लाभस्तेषां जयस्तेषां कुतस्तेषां पराजयः I येषामिन्दीवरश्यामो हृदयस्थो जनार्दनः II