Henry Hart Milman Poems >>
The Deluge

The following extract from the Mahabharata was published by
  Bopp, with a German translation, (the promised Latin version
  has not yet reached this country,) with four other extracts
  from the same poem. It is inserted here not on account of its
  poetical merit, but on account of the interest of the
  subject. It is the genuine, and probably the earliest,
  version of the Indian tradition of the Flood. The author has
  made the following observations on this subject in the
  Quarterly Review, which he ventures here to transcribe.

  Nothing has thrown so much discredit on oriental studies,
  particularly on the valuable Asiatic Researches, as the fixed
  determination to find the whole of the Mosaic history in the
  remoter regions of the East. It was not to be expected that,
  when the new world of oriental literature was suddenly
  disclosed, the first attempts to explore would be always
  guided by cool and dispassionate criticism. Even Sir W. Jones
  was led away, at times, by the ardour of his imagination; and
  the gorgeous palaces of the Mahabadian dynasty, which were
  built on the authority of the Desatir and the Dabistan, and
  thrown upward into an age anterior even to the earliest
  Indian civilisation, have melted away, and 'left not a wreck
  behind,' before the cooler and more profound investigations
  of Mr. Erskine. Sir W. Jones was succeeded by Wilford, a
  man of most excursive imagination, bred in the school of
  Bryant, who, even if he had himself been more deeply versed
  in the ancient language, would have been an unsafe guide. But
  Wilford, it is well known, unfortunately betrayed to the
  crafty and mercenary pundits whom he employed, the objects
  which he hoped to find; and these unscrupulous interpreters,
  unwilling to disappoint their employer, had little difficulty
  in discovering, or forging, or interpolating, whatever might
  suit his purpose. The honest candour with which Wilford, a
  man of the strictest integrity, made the open and humiliating
  confession of the deceptions which had been practised upon
  him, ought for ever to preserve his memory from disrespect.
  The fictions to which he had given currency, only retained,
  and still we are ashamed to say retain, their ground in
  histories of the Bible and works of a certain school of
  theology, from which no criticism can exorcise an error once
  established: still, however, with sensible men, a kind of
  suspicion was thrown over the study itself; and the cool and
  sagacious researches of men, probably better acquainted with
  their own language than some of the Brahmins themselves, were
  implicated in the fate of the fantastic and, though
  profoundly learned, ever injudicious reveries of Wilford.

  Now, however, that we may depend on the genuineness of our
  documents, it is curious to examine the Indian version or
  versions of the universal tradition of the Deluge; for,
  besides this extract from the Mahabharata, Sir W. Jones had
  extracted from the Bhagavata Purana another, and, in some
  respects, very different legend. Both of these versions are
  strongly impregnated with the mythological extravagance of
  India; but the Purana, one of the Talmudic books of Indian
  tradition, as M. Bopp observes, is evidently of a much later
  date than the ruder and simpler fable of the old Epic. It
  belongs to a less ancient school of poetry, and a less
  ancient system of religion. While it is much more exuberant
  in its fiction, it nevertheless betrays a sort of
  apprehension lest it shall shock the less easy faith of a
  more incredulous reader; it is manifestly from the religious
  school of the follower of Vishnu, and, indeed, seems to have
  some reference to one of the philosophic systems. Yet the
  outline of the story is the same. In the Mahabharatic
  version, Manu, like Noah, stands alone in an age of universal
  depravity. His virtues, however, are of the Indian cast--the
  most severe and excruciating penance by which he extorts, as
  it were, the favour of the deity.


  Vivaswata's son, a raja--and a sage of mighty fame,
  King of men, the first great fathers--in his glory equalled he,
  In his might and kingly power--Manu, and in earthly bliss,
  And in wonder-working penance--sire and grandsire far surpassed.
  With his arms on high outstretching--wrought the sovereign of men,
  Steadily on one foot standing--penance rigorous and dread,
  With his downward head low-drooping--with his fixed, unwavering eyes,
  Dreed he thus his awful penance--many a long and weary year.
   To the penitent with tresses--streaming loose, and wet, and long,
  By the margin of Wirini--thus the fish began to speak:
   "Blessed! lo, the least of fishes--of the mighty fish in dread,
  Wilt thou not from death preserve me--thou that all thy vows fulfill'st?
  Since the strongest of the fishes--persecute the weaker still,
  Over us impends for ever--our inevitable fate.
  Ere I sink, if thou wilt free me--from th' extremity of dread,
  Meet return can I compensate--when the holy deed is done."
  Speaking thus the fish when heard he--full of pity all his heart,
  In his hand that fish king Manu--son of Vivaswata took.
  Brought the son of Vivaswata--to the river shore the fish,
  Cast it in a crystal vessel--like the moonshine clear and bright.
  "Rapid grew that fish, O raja--tended with such duteous care,
  Cleaved to him the heart of Manu--as to a beloved son.
  Time rolled on, and larger, larger--ever waxed that wonderous fish,
  Nor within that crystal vessel--found he longer space to move."
  Spake again the fish to Manu--as he saw him, thus he spake:
  "O all prosperous! O all gentle!--bring me to another place."
  Then the fish from out the vessel--blessed Manu took again;
  And with gentle speed he bare him,--Manu, to a spacious lake.
  There the conqueror of cities,--mighty Manu, cast him in.
  Still he grew, that fish so wondrous--many a circling round of years.
  Three miles long that lake expanded--and a single mile its breadth,
  Yet that fish with eyes like lotus--there no longer might endure;
  Nor, O sovereign of the Vaisyas!--might that lake his bulk contain.
  Spake again that fish to Manu--as he saw him, thus he spake:
  "Bring me now, O blest and holy!--to the Ganga, ocean's bride,
  Let me dwell in her wide waters--yet, O loved one, as thou wilt,
  Be it so; whate'er thy bidding,--murmur would beseem me ill,
  Since through thee, O blest and blameless!--to this wondrous bulk I've
  Thus addressed, the happy Manu--took again the fish, and bore
  To the sacred stream of Ganga--and himself he cast him in.
  Still it grew, as time rolled onward--tamer of thy foes! that fish.
  Spake again that fish to Manu--as he saw him, thus he spake:
  "Mightiest! I can dwell no longer--here in Ganga's narrow stream;
  Best of men! once more befriend me--bear me to the ocean swift."
  Manu's self from Ganga's water--took again that wondrous fish,
  And he brought him to the ocean,--with his own hand cast him in.
  Brought by Manu to the ocean--very large that fish appeared,
  But not yet of form unmeasured,--spread delicious odours round.
  But that fish by kingly Manu--cast into the ocean wide,
  In these words again bespake him--and he smiled as thus he spake:
  "Blessed! thou hast still preserved me--still my every wish fulfilled,
  When the awful time approaches--hear from me what thou must do.
  In a little time, O blessed!--all this firm and seated earth,
  All that moves upon its surface--shall a deluge sweep away.
  Near it comes, of all creation--the ablution day is near;
  Therefore what I now forewarn thee--may thy highest weal secure.
  All the fixed and all the moving--all that stirs, or stirreth not,
  Lo, of all the time approaches--the tremendous time of doom.
  Build thyself a ship, O Manu--strong, with cables well prepared,
  And thyself, with the seven Sages--mighty Manu enter in.
  All the living seeds of all things--by the Brahmins named of yore,
  Place thou first within thy vessel--well secured, divided well.
  From thy ship keep watch, O hermit--watch for me, as I draw near;
  Horned shall I swim before thee--by my horn thou'lt know me well.
  This the work thou must accomplish,--I depart; so fare thee well--
  Over these tumultuous waters--none without mine aid can sail.
  Doubt thou not, O lofty minded!--of my warning speech the truth."
  To the fish thus answered Manu--"All that thou requir'st, I'll do."
  Thus they parted, of each other--mutual leave when they had ta'en,
  Manu, raja! to accomplish--all to him the fish had said.
  Taking first the seeds of all things--launched he forth upon the sea;
  On the billowy sea, the prudent--in a beauteous vessel rode.
  Manu of the fish bethought him;--conscious of his thought the fish,
  Conqueror of hostile cities!--with his horn came floating by.
  King of men, the born of Manu!--Manu saw the sea-borne fish,
  In his form foreshewn, the horned--like a mountain huge and high.
  To the fish's head his cable, Manu bound--O king of men!
  Strong and firm his cable wound he--round and round on either horn:
  And the fish, all conquering raja!--with that twisted cable bound,
  With the utmost speed that vessel--dragged along the ocean tide.
  In his bark along the ocean--boldly went the king of men:
  Dancing with the tumbling billows--dashing through the roaring spray,
  Tossed about by winds tumultuous--in the vast and heaving sea,
  Like a trembling, drunken woman--reeled that ship, O king of men.
  Earth was seen no more, no region--nor the intermediate space;
  All around a waste of water--water all, and air and sky.
  In the whole world of creation--princely son of Bharata!
  None was seen but those seven Sages--Manu only, and the fish.
  Years on years, and still unwearied--drew that fish the bark along,
  Till at length it came, where lifted--Himavan its loftiest peak.
  There at length it came, and smiling--thus the fish addressed the sage:
  "To the peak of Himalaya--bind thou now thy stately ship."
  At the fish's mandate quickly--to the peak of Himavan
  Bound the sage his bark, and ever--to this day that loftiest peak,
  Bears the name of Manubandhan--from the binding of the bark.
   To the sage, the god of mercy--thus with fixed look bespake:
  "I am lord of all creation--Brahma, higher than all height;
  I in fishlike form have saved thee--Manu, in the perilous hour;
  But from thee new tribes of creatures--gods, asuras, men must spring.
  All the worlds must be created--all that moves or moveth not,
  By an all-surpassing penance--this great work must be achieved.
  Through my mercy, thy creation--to confusion ne'er shall run,"
  Spake the fish, and on the instant--to the invisible he passed.
  Vivaswata's son, all eager--the creation to begin,
  Stood amid his work confounded:--mighty penance wrought he then.
  So fulfilled that rigorous penance--instant Manu 'gan create--
  Instant every living creature--Raja! he began to form.
   Such the old, the famous legend--named the story of the Fish,
  Which to thee I have related--this for all our sins atones.
  He that hears it, Manu's legend,--in the full possession he,
  Of all things complete and perfect--to the heavenly world ascends.