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The Hour of Doom
Before the beginning, there was an end: the end of the old era ...
The world was decaying, degenerating, drifting towards destruction. Civilisation had crumbled,
laws had collapsed. Cries of despair could be heard all around.
But Manu remained calm. "The lord will deliver us from this misery," he said confidently.
Nobody believed him. Nobody had faith.
Manu was bathing in a river when a tiny fish called Matsya, swam into his hands. "Save me, Manu," he cried. "Save me from the big fish and I shall save the world.
Feeling sorry for the little creature, Manu carried him home in his water-pot.
The next day, Matsya had increased in size; the kamandalu could no longer hold him. He had to be put in a large urn. As the days passed, Matsya kept growing. Manu moved him from the urn to a well, from the well to a pond, then to a lake, and finally to the sea where he continued to grow.
"Who are you?" Manu asked the strange fish.
"I am Vishnu, the preserver of life," said Matsya revealing his divine nature.
Blue as the sky, dark as rain-clouds, draped in bright yellow robes, Vishnu was the personification of beauty.
Said the lord, "The world rests as the lotus in the palm of my hand, the cosmos revolves round my finger like a discus. I blow the music of life through my conch and wield my mace to protect all creatures.
" In joy, Manu exclaimed, "You are janardhana, the beloved benefactor of mankind. You exist, therefore existence is possible. You are eternal, therefore life is eternal.
Matsya revealed that in seven days, Shiva's arrow of destruction would herald the floods of doom to engulf the whole universe. "But the seed of life will survive if you do as you are told.
" Instructed by Matsya, Manu gathered the seeds of all plants and a pair each of every bird and beast. He put them all in a huge ship and waited for the flood.
As foretold, after seven days, black clouds covered the sun and hurled lightning in every direction. Unrelenting rains lashed the ground. The seven rivers began to swell and the four oceans started to overflow. Waves as high as mountains drowned the earth. This was pralaya, the final dissolution of the cosmos.
On the horizon, Manu saw a great white horse with red eyes, emerging from the sea. It was Badavagni — the mare of destruction, a terrible beast that breathed fire.
Riding it was a warrior dressed in black, soaked in blood. With his flaming sword he cut down everything and everyone in sight.
"Who is he, my lord?" asked Manu.
"He is Kalki, the horseman of doom, sprung out of Shiva's lethal dart," revealed Vishnu. "He is the saviour helping the soul of man escape as he demolishes the imperfect world. He too is me."
Wherever Kalki went, the waters of doom followed.
Manu was frightened. "Will pralaya consume this ship? Will Kalki destroy me too?"
Vishnu smiled and said, "No, you are safe. Abandoning ego, pride and desire, you placed yourself, without reservation, in my protection. You will therefore survive this catastrophe. When the new world reemerges, you will be the first to live in it."
The divine fish Matsya sprouted a horn and harnessed Manu's ship to it using Ananta-Sesha, the serpent of Time, as the rope. He then towed the ship with its precious cargo to safety, cutting through the agitated waters.
Suddenly, Manu realised that he had, in his anxiety to save life, forgotten to carry the books of knowledge the Vedas.
Matsya immediately plunged into the dark flood waters in search of the sacred texts. He found them in the hands of Damanaka, the demon of ignorance, who had taken refuge in a conch-shell. Cracking Damanaka's skull with his mace, the lord recovered the Vedas and gave them to Manu for safekeeping.
Manu wondered why the world was being destroyed . "Are the gods angry with us?" he asked Matsya.
"Don't condemn the gods or the demons for the misdeeds of man," said the divine fish. "The cosmos survives on a set of laws called dharma that enables all creatures to live in harmony. Man has broken these sacred laws and unravelled the cosmic fabric beyond repair."
"Why did man abandon dharma?"
"Man was too obsessed with himself to think about the world."
These words of Matsya disturbed Manu. Man was responsible for his own downfall; no one else was to blame.
Matsya finally steered Manu's ship to Mount Meru, the eye of the apocalyptic storm. From its peak, Mann watched the earth being swallowed by the waves. "Is this the end?" he asked mournfully.
"The end? Nothing ends in the world; things only change. What you are witnessing is a destructive change of Nature: death before the rebirth." So saying, Matsya disappeared.
Wherever he looked, Manu could see nothing but the raging waters of pralaya. He was the lone survivor.
Manu bent his head and wept for the world that was.
When Manu raised his head he saw floating on the ocean, tossed by the waves, a banyan leaf on which lay a dark child, suckling his right toe, unperturbed by the calamity that had befallen the world.
It was Balaji, the newborn cosmic child.
With a carefree smile Balaji negated the brutality of pralaya. His compassionate glance reassured Manu that life would go on.
The divine infant took a deep breath and sucked Manu into his body.
Within, Manu saw the entire universe, all that had been consumed by the flood the skies, the seas, the earth, gods, demons and humans, animals and plants untainted by ugly thoughts and foul deeds.
Manu realised the child was none other than Vishnu who had withdrawn the world into himself. "You are truly Narayana the deliverer of mankind," said Manu.
Chanting the blessed name of his saviour, "Narayana-Narayana," Manu became one with Vishnu, awaiting rebirth in the new world.
Writer – Devdutt Pattanaik