Startling Similarity between Hindu Flood Legend of Manu and the Biblical Account of Noah
In 1872, the amateur Assyriologist, George Smith, made a discovery that would shock the world. Whilst studying a particular tablet from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nineveh, he comes across a story that many would have been familiar with. When Smith succeeded in deciphering the text, he realized that the tablet contained an ancient Mesopotamian myth that paralleled the story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament.
Today, we are aware that flood myths are found not only in Near Eastern societies, but also in many other ancient civilizations throughout the world. Accounts of a great deluge are seen in ancient Sumerian tablets, the Deucalion in Greek mythology, the lore of the K’iche’ and Maya peoples in Mesoamerica, the Gun-Yu myth of China, the stories of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa tribe of North America, and the stories of the Muisca people, to name but a few. One of the oldest and most interesting accounts originates in Hindu mythology, and while there are discrepancies, it does bear fascinating similarity to the story of Noah and his ark.
- Gun-Yu and the Chinese Flood Myth
- The Great Flood – Scientific evidence
- The great Flood through the Sumerian Tablets
‘The Deluge’ by Francis Danby, 1840. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Hindu flood myth is found in several different sources. The earliest account is said to have been written in the Vedic Satapatha Brahmana, whilst later accounts can be found in the Puranas, including the Bhagavata Purana and the Matsya Purana, as well as in the Mahabharata. Regardless, all these accounts agree that the main character of the flood story is a man named Manu Vaivasvata. Like Noah, Manu is described as a virtuous individual. The Satapatha Brahmana, for instance, has this to say about Manu: “There lived in ancient time a holy man / Called Manu, who, by penances and prayers, / Had won the favour of the lord of heaven.”
Manu was said to have three sons before the flood – Charma, Sharma, and Yapeti, while Noah also had three sons – Ham, Shem, and Japheth.
- Deucalion Myth – The great Flood from Greece
- Are biblical stories just retellings of ancient mythological accounts?
- The origins of human beings according to ancient Sumerian texts
Both Noah and Manu are described as virtuous men. ‘Noah and his Ark’ by Charles Wilson Peale, 1819 (Wikimedia Commons)
In the Book of Genesis, the cause of mankind’s destruction is given as such, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. / And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. / And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.”
Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch, Folio 1 (Genesis 7, 11-14), 1552. (Wikimedia Commons)
In the story of Manu, however, the destruction of the world is treated as part of the natural order of things, rather than as a divine punishment. It is written in the Matsya Purana that “Manu then went to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started to perform tapasya (meditation). Thousands and thousands of years passed. Such were the powers of Manu‘s meditation that Brahma appeared before him. “I am pleased with your prayers,” said Brahma. “Ask for a boon [favor].” “I have only one boon to ask for,” replied Manu. “Sooner or later there will be a destruction (pralaya) and the world will no longer exist. Please grant me the boon that it will be I who will save the world and its begins at the time of the destruction.” Brahma readily granted this boon.”
In the flood myth from the Old Testament, God who saves Noah by instructing him to build an Ark. In the Hindu version of the story, it is also through divine intervention, in the form of the god Vishnu, that mankind is preserved from total destruction. In this story, the god appears to Manu in the form of a little fish whilst he was performing his ablutions in a pond. Manu kept the fish, which grew so quickly that its body occupied the entire ocean in a matter of days. It was then that Vishnu revealed his identity to Manu, told him about the impending destruction, and the way to save humanity. There is also a large boat involved in this story too. Vishnu instructed Manu to build a boat and fill it with animals and seeds to repopulate the earth:
O kind-hearted man, you have care in your heart, listen now. Soon the world will be submerged by a great flood, and everything will perish. You must build strong ark, and take along rope on board. you must also take with you the Seven Sages, who have existed since the beginning of time, and seeds of all things and pair of each animal, when you are ready, I will come to you as Fish and I will have horns on my head. Do not forget my words, without me you cannot escape from the flood.
When the time came, Manu was to tie the boat to the horn of fish, so that it could be dragged around. Interestingly, this would not be the only time that Vishnu saves mankind from destruction, as he would re-appear as avatars over the course of time to preserve life on earth.
Incarnation of Vishnu as a Fish, from a devotional text. (Wikimedia Commons)
After the flood, Noah’s Ark is said to have rested on mountains of Ararat. Similarly, Manu’s boat was described as being perched on the top of a range of mountains (the Malaya Mountains in this case) when the waters had subsided. Both Noah and Manu were then said to repopulate the earth, and all human beings could trace their ancestry to either one of these flood survivors.
‘Noah's ark on Mount Ararat’ by Simon de Myle, 1570 AD. (Wikimedia Commons)
Featured image: Matsya protecting Svayambhuva Manu and the seven sages at the time of Deluge (Wikimedia Commons)
International Gita Society, 2015. All 18 Major Puranas. [Online]
Available at: http://www.gita-society.com/scriptures/ALL18MAJORPURANAS.IGS.pdf
The Bible: Standard King James Version, 2015. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/
Wilkins, W. J., 1900. Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/hmvp/hmvp19.htm
www.mysteryofindia.com, 2014. Similarities between Noah’s Ark and Manu’s Boat. [Online]
Available at: http://www.mysteryofindia.com/2014/12/similarities-noahs-ark-manus-boat.html