The Flood Legend According to Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is one of the two great Sanskrit Ancient_indiapoems. It is one of many sources from which Hindus draw an understanding of their religion and history. Chapter III of the Mahabharata contains The Fish Story of Manu which describes the Flood. The story was well-known throughout the south-eastersn Asia. The following text is quoted from Charles Martin’s book, Flood Legends, pages 125-128.

Vasampayana said: ”Then the mighty Pandava said to Markandeya, ‘Tell me, I implore, the life of Manu-Vaivasvata.’

”Markandeya said, ‘There was a glorious king of the Rsis, son of Vivasvata, who was a prominent man with a brilliance equal of that of Prajapati. Exceeding the brilliance of his own father and grandfather with rigor, splendor, fortune, and, above all, piety, Manu the king, standing in the garden of penance on one foot with his extensive arms raised, performed completely and passionately the greatest of all pious rituals, the tapas. So with his head hung down and his eyes unblinking, he performed this frightful penance for a thousand years, bearing wet clothes and matted hair.

” ‘Once, having come to the bank of the river, a fish said the following speech: ”O Lord, I am just a little fish, and I am very much afraid of the other fish. You are respectable, and will protect me. The might fish eat, in particular, the feeble fish. This is common practice.” .   .   . Manu-Vaivasvata, having heard the words of the fish, was filled with compassion, and drew out the fish with his own hands onto the shore of the river. Manu placed the moon-colored fish into a small jar. The fish grew, and during this time, he was treated with the same honor as Manu’s own son.

‘ ‘With time, the great fish grew bigger in the small jar of water, and, assuredly, spoke to Manu, ”Virtuous Lord, you have looked over me with care. Grant me that I may live in comfort and peace.” Then the illustrious Manu, conqueror of cities, drew the fish from the jar, and placed the fish into a reservoir. Again, many years passed.

” ‘The reservoir was two yojas in length, and one yoja in width, and was not enough room for the fish to move, O Lord. Manu, having seen the fish, was again spoken to: ”My Lord, throw me into the Chief Wife of the Ocean. There, in the Ganges, I will reside as your son.”

” ‘Thus, having heard the fish, Manu, the self-controlled lord, threw the fish into the Ganges. There, over time, the fish grew and, having seen Manu again, said, ”Truly, Lord, having grown here in the Ganges. I am unable to move. Place me in the sea, my Lord.”

” ‘Having drawn the fish from the waters of the Ganges, son of Prtha, Manu personally placed him in the ocean. The fish was very large, but Manu the intelligent loved the feel and smell of the fish, and easily did as the fish wished. When the fish had been thrown into the saa by Manu, he smiled and said, ”Lord, having done this, and having taken care of me with all distinction, listen to me, so that you may do what is necessary.

” ‘ ”Soon, Fortune-favored Lord, the dissolution of all moving and unmoving things of earth is near. This Deluge of the worlds is approaching. I know this, so that you may have the advantage today. Of the mobile, the immobile, and of this that moves and that which is stationary, all ends in violent water. A bout is to be built by you, furnished with a sturdy cord. There, with the seven Rsis, sit, Great Manu, and take with you all the seeds, as spoken of by the Brahmins long ago, preserving them in portions.

” ‘ ”Remain in the boat and wait for me, and be protected from the desolation by my affection. I will come as a horned creature. Do what is required of you. I must go. You must anticipate my return, and heed my words.”

” ‘He responded to the fish, ”This will be done.” The two parted. Then, Great King, Manu did as the fish said. Having taken all the seeds, he crossed the ocean in the boat. And Manu thought of the fish, O King, and the fish, knowing his tought, came there, Great Bharata, as a horned creature, going before the boat.

” ‘Having seen that fish with the shape of a horned creature, Manu, the king and lord of men, tossed the cord over the forehead of the fish. Manu, distinguished among men, tossed the cord onto the horn of the fish. With the fish going ahead, the great boat was drug through the salty water by the impetus of the cord. In this way, the Lord of Men crossed the ocean, with his boat dancing angrily with the thundering waves and violent winds. The boat, O Conqueror of Distant Cities, rolled about, staggering like a drunk prostitute. In all directions, neither the earth nor the sky were seen. All was sea, Best Among Men, and only Manu, the Fish, and the seven Rsis, could be seen then in that disordered earth, Most Excellent of Bharatas.

” ‘O King, the fish pulled the boat carefully through the flood waters for many years, finally dragging it to the highest peak of the Himalayas. That highest peak is called, even to this day, Naubandhanam. This you know, Son of Kunti, Best Among Bharata. Then the god said to the assembly of the Rsis, ‘I am the Creator Brahma, Most High, Unattainable, and you have, by me, been set free from danger, having attained for myself the form of a fish. And now, all men, gods, and demons, all things earthly, those that move, and those which are stationary, will be created by Manu. And by the intensity of his piety, he will obtain power, and, in the abandonment of confusion, will not go to disillusionment.’ Thus, having spoken these words, the fish disappeared, and Manu-Vaivasvata was filled with the desire to create men. In the process of creating, he became bewildered. Then, with the great meditation of tapas, he was joined with God. Manu began to create all men, Best of Bharatas.

” ‘This story is called the Fish Myth. The ancient tale, having been spoken by me, recounts the expurgation of evil. The man who hears this will dwell in happiness, and will go to whichever heavenly world he desires.’ ”