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Spiritual Dimension of the Deluge Myth

{written by : Barnabas Tiburtius}

Article word count : 3669 -- Article Id : 2200
Article active date : 2009-05-30 -- Article views : 1500

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Many papers and articles have been written on the subject of deluge myth in the past. These writings addressed the cultural, historical and geological dimensions. When I read the Bible or the Matsya Purana, I felt a strong desire to look at these writings from a purely spiritual perspective.

Reincarnation The Neverending Journey
In Reincarnation The Neverending Journey an attempt is made to explore the conundrum of our existence. An existence that spans yesterday, today and even tomorrow. Questions surrounding the existence of the soul and our connections to the physical world, the fundamental mechanisms and the processes by which reincarnation operates through time, are carefully examined. Plausible revelations on memories and karma and their intrinsic connections to our lives today and tomorrow are explored. It is a Neverending Journey.. Your Neverending Journey....

by Pieter Heydenrych

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Myth was the favourite and universal method of teaching in archaic times, and in the use of allegory the truth was left to be deduced. Those myths which have now reached us and are rejected as absurd fables are often the fragments of old systems. Yet no one can seriously study ancient philosophies, in whatever form portrayed, without perceiving that the striking similitude of conception between all -- in their exoteric form very often, in their hidden spirit invariably -- is the result of no mere coincidence but of a concurrent design. And that there was, during the youth of mankind, one language, one knowledge, one universal religion, when there were no churches, no creeds or sects, but when every man was a priest unto himself. And if it is shown that already in those ages which are shut out from our sight by the exuberant growth of tradition, human religious thought developed in uniform sympathy in every portion of the globe; then it becomes evident that, born under whatever latitude, in the cold North or the burning South, in the East or West, that thought was inspired by the same revelations, and man was nurtured under the protecting shadow of the same Tree of Knowledge.


WE cannot think of a time when Man had not asked, where am I? Nor, when he had arrived at an explanation, that it was not set forth by representation; not a definition in a book, or by carefully chosen speech, but dramatically by that parler aux yeux, which is an increasing factor in speech as you go backwards in the history of intelligent communication.

If we remember that "old means not old in chronology, but in structure: that is most archaic which lies nearest to the beginning of human progress considered as a development," we may roughly put as the beginning of graphic and descriptive astronomy the dance and the story. The dance, on the one hand, becomes a part of ritual, and the story passes into mythology.

Every key applied to custom and mythology unlocks some of their secrets; and Mr Max Müller, Mr Andrew Lang, and Dr Tylor are certainly agreed that to a large extent what is now mythology was once an explanation of nature.

Many papers and articles have been written on the subject of deluge myth in the past. These writings addressed the cultural, historical and geological dimensions. When I read the Bible or the Matsya Purana, I felt a strong desire to look at these writings from a purely spiritual perspective. No doubt the authors of these writings did not write the scriptures for an audience interested in historical fact or scientific enquiry.

In this short article I would like highlight the commonality of the myth in two civilizations and then focus on the Matsya Purana and Indian scriptures to wean out the spiritual dimension based on our current knowledge and spiritual advancement.

I will restrict this study of a common stream underlying two cultures where the literary development of the deluge myth have been particularly prominent, i.e. the Near East and India and then move on to the beauty of the Matsya Purana and Indian scriptures where in I find a deeper insight into the spiritual dimension of the myth. The Near Eastern deluge literature is represented chiefly by a Sumerian fragment, a Paleo-Babylonian version (eighteenth century B.C.E) and especially the renowned Neo-Assyrian version (seventh century B.C.E) preserved in the eleventh tablet of the Gilgameœ Epos. On the Akkadian myth clearly depends, the Hebrew myth of Noah, in the twofold Javist and Elohist version. The Bible myth in turn has inspired the Arab Qur’an versions.

The Indian version, to which this article will ultimately turn, is attested in many sources, from the late Vedic to the medieval period. The most ancient document is a fairly long Sata-patha-brahmana passage, already featuring Manu, the boat and the fish. Only in the Puranas do we first encounter the usual story connecting the deluge with Vishnu’s matsyavatara. While attempts at Puranic chronology are admittedly aleatory, the Matsya-purana version appears to be the most ancient. Having thus established the primacy of the deluge myth source in Matsya-purana, we can then study this text and other related scriptures so that their import in conveying a deeper spiritual meaning can be understood.

Deluge myth in Matsya-purana:

There used to be a king named Manu. He was the son of the sun-god. In fact, in every era, there are fourteen manus. The Manu mentioned here is the seventh in the present era and his name was Vaivasvata Manu. (He was the son of the sun-god Vivasvana.)

When it was time for Manu to retire to the forest, he handed over the kingdom to his son. (The son’s name is Ikshvaku.) Manu then went to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started to perform tapasya (meditation austerity). Thousands and thousands of years passed. After some time Brahma appeared to him and said “I am pleased with your prayers, what ever you like you can have just ask". I have only one boon to ask for, replied Manu. Sooner or later there will be destruction (pralaya) and the world will no longer exist. Please grant me the boon that it will be I who will save the world. Grant me this service. Brahma readily granted this boon.

Days passed. On one particular occasion, Manu was performing ablutions in a pond near his hermitage. He immersed his hands in the water so that he might offer some water to his ancestors. When he raised his cupped hands, he found that there was a minnow (shafari) swimming around in the water. Manu had no desire to kill the minnow. He placed it carefully in his water-pot (kamandalu). But the minnow started to grow and within a day, it was sixteen fingers in length. “Save me, king” said the fish. “This water-pot is too small for me”. Manu then placed the fish in a jar. But the fish continued to grow and, within a day, it was three hands in length. “Save me, king” said the fish “This jar is too small for me”. Manu put the fish in a well, but the well soon became too small for the fish. Manu transferred the fish to a pond, but the pond was also too small for the fish. Manu now removed the fish to the holy river Ganga, but even this was too small for the fish. Finally, Manu transferred the fish to the ocean. There the fish grew so much that it soon occupied the entire ocean. Who are you? asked Manu. I have never seen or heard of such wonders. Are you a demon that is deluding me with its illusions? No, I do not think that you are a demon. Perhaps you are great Vishnu himself. Please tell me the truth and satisfy my curiosity.

Vishnu then revealed that it was indeed he who had adopted the form of a fish. He told Manu that the earth would soon be flooded with water. Vishnu had a boat built by the gods. When the earth was flooded, Manu was to place all living beings in the boat and thus save them. Vishnu would himself arrive in his form of the fish and Manu was to tie the boat to the fish’s horn. Thus the living beings would be saved. And when the waters of the flood receded, Manu could populate the world and rule over it.

Vishnu disappeared, and for a hundred years there was a terrible drought on earth. The drought led to famine and people died of starvation. Meanwhile, the sun blazed in fury and burnt up the entire world. When everything had burnt to ashes, dark clouds loomed in the sky. These are the clouds that appear at the time of destruction and there are seven classes of such clouds, known as samvarta, bhimananda, drona, chanda, valahaka, vidyutapataka and kona. From the clouds, rain began to pour and soon, water engulfed the entire earth. The land mass was flooded. As instructed by Vishnu, Manu gathered together living beings inside the boat. And when the fish appeared, he tied the boat to the fish’s horn.

While the boat was being dragged around by the fish, Manu asked Vishnu several questions. The answers that Vishnu provided form the text of the Matsya Purana.

The players in the myth and the events that unfold are the key to understanding the hidden dimensions of this narration because they are the symbols that connect or bridge the intended esoteric meaning and the readily apparent layers which seem to convey a historical significance.

We will now study the events and players.

Vaivasvata Manu:

MANU is the great Indian law-giver. The name comes from the Sanskrit root man "to think" -- mankind really. But it stands also for Swayambhuva, the first of the Manus, who started from Swayambhu, "the self-existent", hence the Logos, and the progenitor of mankind. Manu is the first Legislator, almost a divine being.

Manu is a generic term, mysterious, and means far more than may be supposed. MANU declares himself created by Vaiswanara (the Spirit of Humanity), which means that his Monad emanates from the never-resting Principle in the beginning of every new Cosmic activity; that Logos or Universal MONAD (collectively Elohim) that radiates from within himself all those Cosmic Monads that become the centres of activity -- progenitors of the numberless Solar Systems as well as every being thereon. Each Cosmic Monad is "Swayambhuva," the self-born, which becomes the centre of force from within which emerges a planetary chain (of which there are seven in our system), and whose radiations become again so many Manu Swayambhuva (a generic name); each of these becoming, as a Host, the Creator of his own Humanity. It is taught that the Manus are the creators of the creators of our first Race -- the Spirit of mankind -- which does not prevent the seven Manus from having been the first "pre-Adamic" men on earth.

Stated in another way it is said that first come the Self-Existent on this earth. They are the "Spiritual Lives" projected by the absolute Will and Law, at the dawn of every rebirth of the worlds. These lives are the divine "Sishta" (the seed-Manus, or the Prajapati and the Pitris). From these proceed the first race, the self-born, which are the astral shadows of their progenitors. Here Manu stands for the spiritual, heavenly man, the real and non-dying SELF in us, which is the direct emanation of the One Life, or the Absolute Deity.

If all the Manus and Rishis are called by one generic name, this is due to the fact that they are one and all the manifested Energies of one and the same Logos -- the celestial as well as the terrestrial messengers and permutations of that Principle which is ever in a state of activity; conscious during the periods of Cosmic evolution, unconscious (from our point of view) during Cosmic rest, as the Logos sleepeth in the bosom of THAT which "sleepeth not," nor is it ever awake -- for it is SAT or Beingness, not a Being. But the periods of Manvantara (Manu-Antara, or "between two Manus") and Pralaya (Dissolution) follow each other in regular succession.

So Manu stands for the Adam Kadmon or the undying Atma that seeks the boon of survival and progenitor of next cycle from Paramatma.

The Ark & Fish:

In the symbolism of every culture, "the Deluge" stands for chaotic unsettled matter -- Chaos itself; and the Water for the feminine principle -- the "Great Deep." As the Greek Lexicon of Parkhurst gives it -- "(ark) answers to the ... emblem of the female generative power, the Arg or Arca, in which the germ of nature (and of mankind) floats or broods on the great Abyss of the waters, during the interval which takes place after every mundane cycle.

"Ark is also the mystic name of the divine spirit of life which broods over chaos. Now Vishnu is the divine Spirit, as an abstract principle, and also as the Preserver and Generator, or Giver of life -- the third person of the Trimurti (composed of Brahma, the Creator, Siva, the Destroyer, and Vishnu, the Preserver). Vishnu is shown in the allegory as guiding, under the form of a fish, the ark of Vaivasvata Manu clean across the waters of the Flood.

The ark and the matsyavatara of Vishnu cannot be looked at as separate identities because the preserving the seed of life and the resulting action during the journey in the chaos are integral. The tether or umbilical cord through which the divine sustains the life of the seed till it is ready for a new manvantara.

In the Near Eastern and Indian myth the ark is the design of the divine. This human body, the temple of God, is the method of transport in this manifestation, in the seemingly chaotic deluge of sensory pleasures and base level survival. This body in itself cannot survive the deluge and It took Manu thousands of years of Tapas to be granted the boon of safe transportation by taking refuge in the divinely structured shroud. A detail study of the instruction for the design of the ark indicates a submersible to weather any storm and turbulence. This signifies the capacity for insulation from the external chaos and destruction.

The Deluge or Pralaya or Dissolution:

PRALAYA is a period of observation or repose – individual, planetary, cosmic, or universal -- the opposite of Manvantara, a period of manifestation. Pralaya is the night after the Manvantaric day. They generate their likes, get old, and become personally extinct, their spiritual principles only living in their progeny as a survival of themselves. Pralaya is thus a term applying also to each "obscuration," and even to every cataclysm that puts an end, by fire or by water in turn, to each root-race.

During Pralaya everything differentiated, as every unit, disappears from the phenomenal universe and is merged in, or rather transferred to, the One noumenal. It is dissolution of the visible into the invisible, the heterogeneous into the homogeneous -- a time of rest, therefore. Even cosmic matter, indestructible though it be in its essence, must have a time of rest, and return to its Layam state. The absoluteness of the all-containing One essence has to manifest itself equally in rest and activity. If worlds have, as the astronomers tell us, their periods of embryo, infancy, adolescence, maturity, decadence, and death, may they not, like man, have their continued existence in a sublimated or spiritual form? The Magians so affirm. They tell us that the fecund mother Earth is subject to the same laws as every one of her children. At her appointed time she brings forth all created things; in the fullness of her days she is gathered to the tomb of worlds. Her gross, material body slowly parts with its atoms under the inexorable law which demands their new arrangement in other combinations. Her own perfected vivifying spirit obeys the eternal attraction which draws it toward that central spiritual sun from which it was originally evolved, and which we vaguely know under the term GOD.

There are many kinds of Pralaya, but three chief ones are specially mentioned in old Hindu books. Of these the first is called "occasional", caused by the intervals of Brahmâ"s Days; it is the destruction of creatures, of all that lives and has a form, but not of the substance which remains in status quo till the new Dawn in that "Night." The second is that which occurs at the end of the Age or Life of Brahmâ, when everything that exists is resolved into the primal element, to be remodelled at the end of that longer night. But the third kind does not concern the Worlds or the Universe, but only the individualities of some people. It is thus individual pralaya or Nirvana; after having reached which, there is no more future existence possible, no rebirth till after the Maha-Pralaya. The latter night, though philosophically not so in truth, is long enough to be regarded as eternal, if not endless. The Bhagavata speaks of a fourth kind of pralaya, the Nitya or constant dissolution, and explains it as the change which takes place imperceptibly in everything in this Universe from the globe down to the atom -- without cessation. It is growth and decay (life and death).

In a more cosmic dimension, when the Universal Spirit awakes, the world revives; when he closes his eyes, all things fall upon the bed of mystic slumber. In the Persian symbolism the Phoenix is said to live a thousand years, after which, kindling a flame, it is self-consumed. Thereupon it is reborn from itself and lives another thousand years -- up to seven times seven. The Phoenix is a generic symbol used for different kinds of cycles. In like manner, as 1000 great ages constitute a Day of Brahmâ (in the original it is "1000 ages of Padmayoni -- lotus-born," not Brahmâ), so his Night consists of the same period. "Awakening at the end of which, the unborn ... creates the universe anew."

During the period of universal pralaya Cosmic Ideation is said to be non-existent, for the simple reason that there is no one, and nothing, to perceive its effects. All the variously differentiated states of Cosmic Substance are resolved back again into the primary state of "abstract potential objectivity." And there can be no manifestation of Consciousness or semi-consciousness ... except through a vehicle. Manvantaric impulse commences with the reawakening of Cosmic Ideation (the "Universal Mind") concurrently with, and parallel to the primary emergence of Cosmic Substance -- the latter being the manvantaric vehicle of the former -- from its undifferentiated pralayic state. This initial Existence (or coming forth) in the first twilight of the Maha-Manvantara (after the Maha-Pralaya), is a Conscious Spiritual Quality. In the manifested solar systems it is ... like a film from a Divine Breath to the gaze of the entranced seer. It is [Cosmic] Substance to our spiritual sight. It cannot be called so by men in their waking state; therefore they have named it in their ignorance "God-Spirit." It exists everywhere and forms the first foundation on which our solar systems are built. The Secret Doctrine teaches that the Logos ("Word" or Cosmic Ideation) is the first to appear at Renovation, and will be the last to come before Re-absorption (pralaya). Thus the "logoi" of all nations, from the Vedic Visvakarma [personified Creative Force] of the Mysteries down to the Saviour of the present civilized nations, are the "Word" who was "in the beginning" (or the re-awakening of the energizing powers of Nature) with the One ABSOLUTE. The "great Dragon of Wisdom" will appear as Maitreya Buddha, the last of the Avatars and Buddhas, in the seventh race.

In Paranirvana, when Pralaya will have reduced not only material and psychical bodies, but even the spiritual Ego(s) to their original principle -- the Past, Present, and even Future Humanities, like all things, will be one and the same. Everything will have re-entered the Great Breath. In other words, everything will be "merged in Brahma" or the divine unity. Is this annihilation? It is not. To see in Nirvana annihilation amounts to saying of a man plunged in a sound dreamless sleep -- one that leaves no impression on the physical memory and brain because the sleeper"s Higher Self is in its original state of absolute consciousness during those hours -- that he, too, is annihilated. The latter simile answers to only one side of the question -- the most material; since re-absorption is by no means such a "dreamless sleep," but on the contrary absolute existence, an unconditioned unity, or a state, to describe which human language is hopelessly inadequate. The only approach to anything like a comprehensive conception of it can be attempted solely in the panoramic visions of the soul, through spiritual ideations of the divine monad.

Nor is the individuality -- nor even the essence of the personality, if any be left behind -- lost, because re-absorbed. For, however limitless -- from a human standpoint -- the paranirvanic state, it has yet a limit in Eternity. Once reached, the same monad will re-emerge there from, as a still higher being, on a far higher plane, to recommence its cycle of perfected activity.

The above understanding is the essence of the survival of the deluge or destruction or pralaya where in, only through severe discipline and spiritual way in the present manifestation, one can re-emerge into a higher state of pre-Adamic being and all the other individuals will be dissolved into the divine essence for further pranic deployment in new creation.


The Vedas and Upanishad were written as the principle guide for perfect living. Because their content was highly esoteric the Puranas enabled the common man to be taught through symbolism and myth.

The deluge myth, to me, points to the supreme truth of every individual’s journey in this manifestation or manvantara. The pralaya is the imminent dissolution of the world at the time of one’s physical death. Bereft of consciousness, as the self, all sensory manifestations come to an end.

The hundred years of draught that Matsya Purana talks of is the typical life span of individuals, wherein there is spiritual vacuum or draught due to sensory attachments, and the fire that burns symbolizes the flame of desire and passion that rule the human existence. The seven clouds that bring the deluge and annihilation are the quenching of the seven pranic energy centre in the human ‘body-mind-spirit entity’ during the dismantling of the five koshas of the human body which results in Anandamaya Kosha (Atma) merging with Paramatma. And Paramatma safely transports a spiritually enlightened Atma to be the progenitor for yet another monad of higher spiritual evolution.

Author Bio :
A seeker throughout his life, he is involved in multi-discipline learning and his field of enquiry covers Cosmology, Sustainable Technology, Strategic Leadership, Philosophy and Spirituality. He has authored many papers, articles and books. He is good communicator and systemic thinker and has delivered many keynote addresses, endowment lectures and empowering talks. He regularly conducts workshops and seminars on spirituality and personal empowerment.

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