by Mineke Schipper, Humanity’s End as a New Beginning: World Disasters in Myths
18. Manu and the fish
This story announces the end to come, describes the preceding signs, and promises a new time to begin with the same Manu. The original story of a flood myth in which a fish is saving Manu is expanded here to a fish participating in doomsday with Manu saving himself and all living creatures.
In ancient times a king called Manu, son of the sun, practised asceticism, extensively and patiently. He was endowed with all the qualities of the soul, his equanimity to joy and sorrow was complete, and he accomplished the highest form of yoga in a solitary place in the Malaya. After a million years had passed, Brahma who sits on a lotus was so pleased that he offered Manu to choose a boon. The king bowed to the Grandfather and said: “There is only one boon I wish from you. I wish to be able to protect all beings, whether moving or still, when the dissolution takes place.” The soul of the universe agreed to this and disappeared. Then the gods sent a great rain of flowers from the sky.
One day Manu, washing himself, reached into the water jar, and a bright little fish came into his hands along with the water. Full of compassion he took care of the fish and put it into a pot filled with water. After a day and a night it had grown sixteen fingers, crying: “O king, save me, save me!” He threw the fish into a big jar, where it grew three hands during one night. Once more the fish was wailing in despair: “Save me, save me, I need refuge from you. Manu threw the fish into the Ganges where it kept growing, and finally the master of the earth brought it to the ocean.
When ultimately the fish pervaded the whole ocean, Manu felt frightened, and asked: “Who are you? Are you a lord of demons? Or are you Vasudeva, son of Krishna? Who else could you be? Whose body could grow such huge dimensions? Yes, I have recognized you in your a fish form, you, long-haired one, but you are exhausting me, o lord of the senses, o lord of the universe.”
“Bravo, bravo! You have recognized me,” said the lord Vishnu who had taken the form of a fish. And you have faultlessly kept your vow. Soon the earth will be flooded and all its mountains and trees and houses will be submerged. This boat has been modelled by all the gods to protect all great living souls, o lord of the earth. Those born of sweat, those born of eggs, or of water, and all creatures that slough their skins – place them all in this boat and save them all, for they have no one to protect them. When the winds are going to batter your boat at the end of the age, then fasten it to this horn of mine, o king, lord of kings. At the end of the dissolution, you will be lord of the creatures, moving and still. And, at the beginning of the age of truth, you will be the omniscient and firm king, the overlord of the period of Manu, and you will be worshipped even by the gods.”
Then Manu asked: “O lord, for how many years will the destruction last? And how will I be able to protect the creatures? And how shall I be united with you again?” The fish replied: “As from today, there will be a drought upon the earth. It will last for a hundred years. Food will be scarce and misfortune will prevail. Some cruel rays will destroy the few creatures still left, and seven times seven rays will rain down hot coals. At the end of the age the fire of the submarine mare will be transformed into a poisonous fire, shooting forth from her mouth, out of hell. And a fire will arise from the third eye in the head of Bhava (“Existence”), a burning fire will flare up and agitate the triple universe. The whole earth will be burnt to ashes, and the sky will be heated by steam. Then the whole universe, its gods and constellations, will be totally destroyed. The seven clouds of doomsday, clouds born from the sweat of the god Agni, will flood the earth; and all three universes will be one single ocean.
Then you will board this boat along with the essences and seeds of all living creatures; and you will attack the rope as I have taught you, you will fasten the boat to my horn, and my majesty will protect you. After even the gods have been burnt, you alone will remain. When all has become a single ocean, the moon, the sun, Brahma and I will remain with you during the interval of destruction.”
Then the lord vanished, and until the foretold final flood occurred Manu practised the rope technique that Vishnu had taught him. When the time of the flood had come, Vishnu appeared in the form of a horned fish, and a serpent in the form of a rope came to Manu’s side. The sage gathered all creatures and placed them on the boat, and using the rope technique he tied the boat to the horn of the fish with the rope that was a serpent. He took the path of the rope towards Vishnu, and prostrated himself respectfully before him.