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Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Great Floods - Maha Bharata series 21 


You might have heard the words “vaivasvata manvantarey” during the initiation of any Hindu rituals or worship. The words mean that this current era is under the protection of Vaivasvata Manu. In the cosmic cycles, according to the Vedic concepts, each major cycle is governed by one of 14 Manus. Vaivasvata is the 7th in the series.

In Sanskrit, Vaivasvata means the progeny of Vivaswan. In other words, Vaivasvat’s father was Vivasvan. His story is recounted by Markandeya to the Pandavas. Vivasvan was a great ascetic and he performed very difficult austerities such as performing “tapas” (penance) hanging upside down from a tree for many years! 

Once, a small fish came to him and said “Oh, divine sage. I am a small fish being chased by a big fish. Please save me”. (Was that the beginning of the corporate world?) The sage obliged, picked the fish up and placed it in a small container. Soon, it grew and the sage took it to a large container. The fish outgrew that too and had to be transferred to a lake, then to river Ganga. He soon became huge, very huge and so the sage brought him to the ocean. The fish was happy and told the sage: “You are special. Therefore, I am going to tell you that there will be a huge flood and a deluge. Before that happens, please collect all the seeds of all plants and creatures and save them in an ark. When the flood comes, think of me. I will show up but with a horn. Tie your ark to the horn and I will take you to safety”.

Well, you can guess the rest of the story. Vivasvan’s son recreated the entire population of plants and animals and that is why our period is called the age of Vaivasvata Manu. The interesting part is that there is a flood story in almost every tradition and every part of the world. The most famous in the west are the stories of Noah’s Ark and of Gigelmesh.

Noah’s ark is narrated in Genesis, Chapters 6 to 9. God warns Noah of an impending flood one week before the actual event. God spares Noah from the floods and ask him to build an ark, and asks him to take into the ship his three sons and their wives and also a pair of all living creatures together with sufficient food. When the flood comes the boat stays afloat and comes to rest on Mount Ararat (in the current day Turkey) once the waters recede. All living creatures we see now, according to this mythology, are descendants of the original pairs.

In the Gigelmesh story, which preceded the Noah’s Ark version, the favored pair are Utnapishtim and his wife. God sends in six days of rain and winds but gives instructions to Utnapishtim to load the boat with his wife and as many creatures as possible. The details and sequence are so similar to that of Noah’s story that scholars believe that both these myths owe their origins to an earlier flood myth.

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