Friday, August 31, 2012

Pralaya - The 'End of Days'


Some say the world will end in Fire; Some say in Ice,
From what I've tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor Fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate,
To say that for destruction,
Ice is also great!

End of the World - How does the term sound? 

For me it conjures up something abstract.. an inconclusive conclusion fashioned from the catastrophe-centric best-sellers churned out of Hollywood and the Doomsday predictions of a few ancient mythologies.


God decides to End our Days



Assuming that it happens within our lifetimes, how would the world end indeed? A lot of people believe, it would happen because of a Nuclear War - a very plausible scenario a decade ago but currently the chances of that seem a little less. It may still come to pass as we have varying degrees of religious fanatics running around the globe with secret stashes of atomic-missiles obtained through illegitimate means.
 

A Nuclear Cloud obliterating Life



Others believe, the world would end because of a Meteor crash - this again is a possibility as there are loads of meteors hurtling past Earth everyday in their journey around the Sun. From time to time, one or the other of these meteors keeps scaring the scientists with its proximity to Earth. It has happened in the past (when the Dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago) so the chance of that happening again can not be ruled out!

Armageddon Arrives


Others, believe in Global Warming or Earthquakes triggering a Great Deluge that would submerge the entire landmass and drown everything in its colossal Tsunamis. This again is a decent possibility since we have been observing the melting of Antarctic Ice sheets and frequent Earthquakes in the sea-bed. The Tsunamis that hit south-east Asia few years back reminded us of how fragile our relationship with nature is!


Drowning of the Earth



All these, I must confess, are possible and extremely PROBABLE events that may happen anytime in our future. Yet, as mentioned by Robert Frost in the beginning of this post, I believe its Ice that is destined to wipe out the entire civilizational progress of Humanity and that too in a not too distant future!!

There is a reason why MY preferred Modus Operandi (if you can call it that) of Destruction is ICE and in the current post, I'll share with you descriptions from ancient scriptures to support the argument.



End of the World in Hindu Mythology

Strictly speaking, Hindu Mythology does not believe in a SINGLE event of destruction of the World, or even a SINGLE event of creation for that matter.

As discussed in the Page {Kalchakra} of this blog, Time in Hinduism, is not Linear i.e. it doesn't start and end at specific points, rather, it is Cyclical and never-ending. This eternal cycle of Life and Death; Birth and Re-birth; Formation and Dissolution is called the Kaal-chakra or the Wheel of Time.

The Cyclical Destruction of the World as we know it, occurs in events singularly known as a Pralaya  that takes place at the end of a Chatur-Yuga. A cycle of Four Yugas is known as a Maha Yuga or a Chatur-Yuga and at the end of this cycle, our Earth experiences a cataclysmic event which has the capacity to wipe out all life from the face of the planet.





Ancient Puranas detail this concept further and describe different types of Pralayas:
  • A Pralaya at the end of a Chatur-Yuga (every 4.32 Million Solar Years), 
  • Manvantar Pralaya at the end of the rule of each of the Manus (every 307 Million Solar Years), 
  • Naimittik Pralaya at the end of the Day of Brahma (4.32 Billion Solar Years) and lastly,
  • Prakritik Maha Pralaya at the end of Brahma's Lifetime (311.4 Trillion Solar Years)!

Leaving the latter three for later, let us first see how the tiniest of these, the Pralaya looks as this seems the most likely candidate for the 2012 Doomsday predictions.



Description of Pralaya

In various Puranas, the description of Pralaya that happens at the end of a Chatur-yuga is extremely applicable to what is referred to as the Great Deluge in Biblical and Koranic references.

In these as well as the Hindu legends of Manu, entire Earth was inundated by Water which swallowed up the land and gobbled up most living as well as non-living things surviving on it. In all the three traditions, ONE Man was chosen by God to continue the legacy of Human race.

In Hinduism, this man is Vaivasvat Manu and in Biblical references he is called Noah. We have learnt more about him already in a previous post {Manu - The First Man}.

The belief in a Great Deluge is not limited to the three above mentioned religions alone.. it was widely believed by a lot of ancient mythologies as well viz:

  • In Sumer and Babylonia Atrahasis, Ziusudra, Xisuthrus and Utnapishtim are the different heroes credited with the same feat as Manu. Each of these is credited hoarding with cattle, wild animals and birds on the boat to constitute “the seed of all living creatures” in the next Eon.
  • According to Tibetan legends, Tibet was almost totally inundated, until the god Gya drew off the waters through Bengal, and sent teachers to civilize the people, who repopulated the land.
  • In the Ifugaos of Philippines and the Kammu of Thailand, a brother and sister were the only survivors after the flood and they were responsible for populating the Earth with different races.
  • For the Batak of Sumatra, the giant snake on whose head Earth rests, Naga-Padoha (Hindu Shesh-Naag?), grew tired of its burden and shook it off into the sea. But the god Batara-Guru caused a mountain to fall into the water to preserve his daughter and the human race is descended from her.
  • In Egyptian mythology, Set sent forth the deluge to destroy the evil Sebau, the Sami, the Apap-dragon ( Hindu Vrtra) and the long-armed ones. There is another story, about Horus steering his ark across the cosmic ocean as six poles are capsized leaving only the seventh one as dry land, upon which he rested.

Egyptian god Horus in his ship


    • In the Greek myths, Zeus sends a flood to destroy all of humanity but Prometheus warns his son, Deucalion, about the coming deluge, and advises him to build an ark.
    • In Norse mythology, the flood occurred at the dawn of time before the world was formed. Ymir, the first giant, was killed by the god Odin and his brothers and his blood drowned almost the entire race of giants with the exception of the frost giant Bergelmir and his wife. They escaped in a ship and survived, becoming the progenitors of a new race of giants. 

    The Frost giant Bergelmir


      • According to the Quechua Native Americans, a llama tells his human owner about an impending flood and saves him; for the Mayans, the gods used a flood to destroy the wooden people, an early imperfect version of humanity.
      •  Similar beliefs are echoed by the Shaur of Andes, the Caddo of Texas, and the Hopi.
      • The Michoacan of Mexico have the same story as Manu and the hero here is a guy called Tezpi. The Tarahumara and the Toltecs of Mexico also have their own versions of the flood myth.
      • The Nahua of central Mexico talk about a man known as Nata (“Our Father”) and his consort Nene who were protected by their God at the time of flood while the Mixtec  of northern Oaxaca, Mexico believed that the earth was once well populated, when mankind committed a magical fault for which they were punished by a great deluge. 

       A Native American survivor of the flood
       


        • In New Guinea legends, Lohero and his brother were angry with their neighbors, so they put a human bone into a small stream. Soon a great flood came forth, and the people had to retreat to the highest peaks until the sea receded.  
        • In Africa, the Kwaya residing around Lake Victoria believed that the ocean was once enclosed in a small pot kept by a man and his wife which was by mistake shattered by their daughter-in-law, and the resulting flood drowned everything.
        • The Yoruba of southwest Nigeria talk about an adro-gynous god Olokun who in a fit of rage, destroyed nearly everybody in a great flood. 

        Olkun, the Orisha who flooded Earth


          • For the Vogul after seven years of drought, the Great Man counseled the other giants to make boats from cut poplars, anchor them with ropes of willow roots 500 fathoms long, and provide them with seven days of food and with pots of melted butter to grease the ropes. Those who did not make all the preparations perished when the waters came. 
          • In North-central Siberia, Yenisey-Ostyak believe that during the seven day flood some people and animals were saved by climbing on floating logs and rafters. A strong north wind blew for seven days and scattered the people, which is why there are now different peoples speaking different languages.
          • According to Tuvinian tails of Mongolia, the giant frog (or turtle) which supported the earth moved, which caused the cosmic ocean to begin flooding the earth. An old man who had guessed something like this would happen built an iron-reinforced raft, boarded it with his family, and was saved.

          There are hundreds more from around the world, from various tribes and cultures, and so this is just a handful. What could have caused these Geographically separate civilizations to form such a common belief?

          The answer according to me, rests in Ice, or more specifically, the Ice-Age. It is MORE than likely that all the above myths refer to the same phenomenon, one which we scientifically KNOW to have taken place - that of the Ice Age. 

          There have been at least five major ice ages in the Earth's past. The earliest well established ice age, called the Huronian, formed around 2.4 to 2.1 Billion years ago and the latest one started about 2.58 million years ago when the spread of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere began!

          Since then, the world has seen cycles of glaciation with ice sheets advancing and retreating on 40,000 and 100,000 year time scales called Glacial periods, and Glacial retreats called the Interglacials. We are currently in an interglacial, and the last glacial period ended about 10,000 years ago. 

          We saw in the post {Heaven at the North Pole} that the Arctic region had a temperate climate, quite conducive to the growth of plant and animal life before the Ice-Age set in. In the same post, I also mentioned the possibility that at least some of the Vedic seers and magi had lived in the Arctic area in close proximity to their Gods who dwell on Mount Meru.

          But everything changed 20,000 years ago when extensive ice sheets covered large swaths of Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Consequently, whatever civilizations were existing before, were forced to migrate to warmer places or perish.


          North Pole during the last Ice Age



          But that was not all, the real trouble would have begun when ALL this Ice began to MELT!

          During Ice-Age, water was taken from the oceans to form the ice, thus Global Sea-levels must have dropped, forming bridges between land-masses for animals to migrate. However, during Deglaciation, or Meltdown, the ice-water returned to the oceans, causing the SEA-LEVEL to rise by as much as 110-120 meters!!


          Pre-glacial US coastline

          Pre-glacial coastlines in Australia
          Pre-glacial India and S-E Asia



          In fact, Tamil Sangams talk about a sunken land extending right from Kanyakumari to Madagascar in the West and Australia in the East that got sunk  in the deluge!


          Kumari-Kaandam

           

          And what can be the result of such a meltdown?? Of course we get what is theologically labeled as The Great Deluge!! Throughout our history, the busiest cities have been located either on the banks of mighty rivers or near busy coastlines. All the melted ice lead to a RISE in sea-levels, inundating huge chunks of land and ALTERING the shape of the planetary landmass.

          Consequently, there would have been wide-spread displacement of people and populations leading to probably the BIGGEST catastrophe in the History of Human civilization. No wonder then, that mythologies from such different parts of the World narrate the same story.

          The existing hubs of civilization were inundated and the tracts of land connecting different continents too got submerged altering the course of our history. A case in point is the Bering Bridge which was the landmass connecting Russia to America. This small tract of land performed a vital function as numerous species of animals, as well as the ancient humans migrated to and populated the American continent through the same bridge!


          The Bering Strait replaced the bridge of land connecting Russia to America
          The Migration route of Homo sapiens into America



          If the inundation of such a tiny piece of land could have such immense effect, imagine the condition when major civilizational hubs on the planet would have undergone submersion under the super-massive TSUNAMIS. As such a catastrophe would lead to major uprooting of people and populations all over the world, it can very well explain the presence of the SAME LEGEND in widely differing Geographical locations! 


          Water reclaiming Land during the recent Tsunami



          The flood waters would wipe clear all evidence of civilization from the face of Earth leaving only a few stranded pockets at the highest altitudes of the Planet! One such place is Manali high in the Northern Himalayas where the Ark of Vaivasvat Manu is believed to have docked.

          There are other explanations given by the scientific community for the Great floods, ranging from Meteor crashes to Volcanic eruptions.. However, it is the CYCLICAL nature of the Ice Ages along with their capacity to generate GLOBAL FLOODS that prompts me to co-relate them with the Pralaya myths from Hindu Mythology!

          And as far as cyclicity goes, already, many scientists predict a coming of the next Ice Age as we may have reached the end of the current period of Interglacial interval. The predictions have created a lot of debate and not surprisingly, there have been major movies based on the same theme.







          2012 Predictions in Hindu Mythology?

          By ancient Hindu calculations, there are still close to 4 lakh 30 thousand years left in this Kaliyuga!! How does the Mayan prophecy of the 'End of Days' fit in with this long timeline?

          By Aryabhatta's calculations, Kaliyuga began between 18th to 20th February 3102 BCE which would mean we have utilized about 5270 lunar years or 5113 Solar years from the time when the Kali Yuga started until 20 Dec 2012.

          Interestingly, the Mayan calendar started close to this date in 3114 BCE. The only other connection I could find with this time period in Hindu mythology is  an excerpt from the Brahma Vaivarta Puraan where Shri Krishna tells Goddess Ganga that she would be the source of cleaning mankind' sins in the first 5000 years of Kaliyug -

          Shri-bhagvaan uvaach -
          Kaleh pancasahasrani varshani tishtha bhutale
          Paapani paapino yani tubhyam dashyanti snanatah!


          After that, it would be only the name of Hari and the association of His devotees that can purify impure souls and take them back to Godhead. In verse 59, the Lord also says,

          Kaler dash-sahasraani
          madbhaktaah samti bhu-tale
          ekavarna bhavishyamti
          madbhakteshu gateshu ca

          For 10,000 years of Kali,
           such devotees of Mine will fill the whole planet. 
          After the departure of My devotees there will be only one varna."


          This would imply that the Kaliyug will last at least 5000 years more! Interestingly, many scholars also claim that the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 could reflect the Mayan's inability to calculate the calendar any further instead of a literal END of days. It could also mean that the Mayans probably got bored of this astronomy and were not interested in calculating calendars further ahead :o)

          This would mean that 2012 does not mark the End-of-Time but the End-of-an-Age thereby signifying a phase of transition and nothing more or less than that.

          The conversation from the Brahma Vaivarta Puraan mentioned above could indicate that river Ganges will cease to be the Purifying Agent it currently is, which BTW, is very believable since we have been dumping collective wastes amounting to tons into it every single day and there's only so much the river's Bacteriophages can take care of!


          The Ganga may lose its sanctity because of our actions




          BUT it could ALSO mean something more sinister! As our violent earthquake-prone history has proved, Ganges might go through some major tectonic change and disappear like Saraswati {Check the post - Finding River Saraswati for more details}. If that happens it would be catastrophic for millions of people living on the banks of the river!

          Irrespective of whether that happens or not, we should realize the RELATIVITY of this concept. What does the 'End of the World' mean to a person killed in a terrorist attack? What does it mean for a mother who has lost her firstborn? What does it mean for a child kidnapped or sold into slavery and prostitution? When does the World end for a black-buck in the jaws of a leopard or a rat in the coils of a serpent?

          Every grain of Time brings with it either Creation or Destruction. The eminent Austrian Physicist Fritjof Capra, in his monumental work {Tao of Physics}, calls it the Dance of Shiva. As each atom is created, another is destroyed and this continues forever in a cyclical manner.


          Tandav - the Cosmic Dance of Shiva


          Everything we amass in this life will all be taken away one day by the hands of Time. The same thought must have inspired Oppenheimer, Father of the Atomic Bomb to quote Lord Krishna, from the Bhagvad Gita - Time, I am, the Destroyer of All.

          The sooner we realize the transient nature of all existence and start on the Path of Spirituality, the easier it would become to deal with that 'Final Moment' in the End. I conclude this post with the same sentiment expressed in the words of a 6th Century Sanskrit Poet Bhartrhari:


          A Hundred Years complete our span,
          And Half of that is passed in Night,
          Childhood and Old-age devour the Half,
          Of what belongs to Light.

          The rest is torn with parting pangs,
          Of ceaseless toil the Slave,
          What profit is our Human Life,
          Unstable as a Wave.

          Our Bloom of Youth decays,
          Our Joys are brief as lightning flash,
          And in Summer's cloudy days,
          Our riches fly away and crash.

          Faith in the One Supreme,
          Alone will bear us over the Chasm,
          Of Existence's Stormy Stream,
          And Maya's elaborate Phantasm.

          .
          Aum Shanti: Shanti: Shanti:
          .

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