Pralaya – Cosmic Floods, the Sun and the Solar Race


Naimittika Pralaya

Alexander Jacob


alexander jacobThe story of the Deluge which we are familiar with from the account in Genesis 6-9  is a popular representation of the cosmic floods which usher in the recreation of the material universe after the collapse of the cosmos at the end of a cosmic age. The first flood that engulfs the cosmos at the end of a kalpa, or ‘day’ of Brahman is called Naimittika Pralaya (periodic dissolution) and the second that precedes the formation of our universe and our sun is called Chākshusha Pralaya (dissolution of the Chākshusha Manvantara). The prehistory of the cosmos is presented in greatest detail in the Indic Purānic literature,[1] where we get a glimpse not only of the cosmic events that marked the creation but also of their psychological significance. In the Bhāgavata Purāna[2] III,xi,18-22, a day of the supreme Lord is calculated as equalling 1000 Chaturyugas, each Chaturyuga[3] being 12,000 divine years long (that is, years as prevalent in the realm of the gods),[4] or 4,380,000,000 terrestrial years.[5] After creating and sustaining the cosmos for this extraordinarily vast period of time, comes the night in which the Lord “sleeps”. This night is equally as long as the day of the Lord and is the period when the cosmos is dissolved into its original subtle constituents in the flood called Naimittika Pralaya (BP XII,4,3).

Each kalpa is divided into fourteen “manvantaras” or ages of Manu, a Manu being a prototype of enlightened mankind. Each Manavantara lasts for 71 odd Chaturyugas, or 310,980,000 years (BP III,11,24). A lifetime of Brahma lasts hundred years totalling around 155,520,000,000,000 terrestrial years. The first kalpa of the first half (parārdha) of Brahma’s life was called Brahma Kalpa (BP III,11,33ff.), since it was marked by the perfect light of Brahma, and the last of the same half was called Padma Kalpa (the age of the lotus), since it was in this kalpa that Earth was formed in the shape of a lotus. We live in the first kalpa of the second half of Brahma’s life, called Varāha Kalpa (the age of the Boar) in which the divine light is transferred to the material universe.[6]

The Naimittika Pralaya which occurred at the end of the previous Padma Kalpa is described in some detail in the Brahmānda Purāna. In the Brahmānda Purāna III,iv,132, the cosmic cataclysm is said to have begun with a drought in which the sun burnt everything up with his “seven rays”, while the “Samvartaka” fire[7] burnt the four worlds of Earth, the Mid-Region, Heaven and “Mahar” (the supracelestial realm):


Seven rays of the sun that blazes in the sky sucking water, drink water from the great ocean. Being illuminated with that intake, seven suns are evolved. Then those rays that have become suns, burn the four worlds in the four directions. Those fires burn up the entire universe.


The Earth is thus enveloped in flames until the seven suns merge into one, and then the samvartaka fire burns up the underworld, Rasatala, as well (153). The three worlds as well as the superior, Maharloka, are thus burnt up entirely and the universe “assumes the form of a huge block of iron and shines thus” (159).

All the creatures of the universe are reduced to the state of the “mahābhūtas” (principal elements) (231). Brahman himself as the sustainer of the creation gets merged into the Mahat (the principle of manifestation),[8] which in turn becomes Avyakta (the unmanifest) and the three gunas, or energies (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) are restored to their initial perfect balance. Thereafter arise Samvartaka “clouds” which also “group themselves in seven, identifying themselves with the suns” and these clouds succeed in extinguishing the fire when they shower as torrential rains. Through these torrential rains everything mobile and immobile is dissolved into one undifferentiated ocean of water in which the supreme deity Brahman “sleeps” during his long “night”.

In the Shiva Purāna, the endless ocean into which the universe is dissolved at the end of the process of cosmic destruction is also called Mahādeva, that is, Shiva himself, since he is the destructive aspect of Brahman.[9] A little earlier the same ocean is called the “ocean of mundane existence” since it is the inchoate source of the life that will infuse the new universe.[10]

It is in this universal water (ambhas) called Ekarnava, Salila or Naras (BrdP,III,iv, 174-8) that the deity, gradually waking, begins to recreate the cosmos, first assuming the form of the macroanthropos, Purusha. Then he extracts, in the form of a Cosmic Boar, the material substance of the universe called Earth, which lies sunken, from the previous cosmos, in the Ocean. This Brahman is interestingly also called Kāla (185ff.), who is the same as Shiva, for it is the latter who, at the end of the divine “night” is the secret impetus to the recreation of the universe. Kāla/Cronos/Kumarbi, representing Time, features prominently in the Hurrian-Greek cosmogonies as well, as the producer of the Cosmic Egg and its light.[11]

The process of the formation of the macroanthropos is described in detail in the Brahmānda Purāna. The initial unmanifest form of the deity in the waters is that of the supreme Soul, Ātman: “This entire dark world was pervaded by his Ātman” (I,i,3,12), with its three essential energies, Tāmas, Rajas, and Sattva, maintained in perfect balance. This unmanifest deity begins to be gradually manifested when one of the energies begins to predominate over the others. The first and highest, sattvic, form of the deity is as Vishnu, the ideal macroanthropos, while the rājasic is Brahman, who creates the material universe, and the tāmasic is Rudra, who will destroy the universe at the end of a cosmic age.

The transformation of Vishnu first into Brahman, the self-conscious, enlightened form of the supreme deity, is accomplished by virtue of intense Yogic meditation (I,i,5,6). The first act of the macroanthropos is to recover Earth through the force of his “breath” which emerges from his nostrils in the form of the wind-god Vāyu assuming the shape of a “Boar”. This is followed by the intelligible creation beginning with the lower tāmasic and proceeding to the sattvic, the creation of the gods, of the “sages” who are intellectual creations of the deity, and, finally, of human life (I,i,5). Then Brahman manifests himself materially as the Light of the universe. The close union of the Light with Earth is destroyed by Time, Chronos, who is, in Hesiod’s Theogony, 170ff, said to have castrated his father ‘Heaven’. This castration results in the development of a Cosmic Egg which develops within the ideal macroanthropos, Purusha. The light of Brahman then constitutes the upper half of this egge while the lower half is constituted of the newly recovered Earth in the form of a lotus. The development of the egg is given in more scientific detail in the Vishnu Purāna I:


Then (the elements) ether, air, light, water and earth, severally united with the properties of sound, and the rest existed as distinguishable according to their qualities as soothing, terrific, or stupefying; but possessing various energies, and being unconnected, they could not without combination create living beings, not having blended with each other. Having combined, therefore, with one another, they assumed, through their mutual association, the character of one mass of entire unity; and from the direction of spirit, with the acquiescence of the indiscreet principle, intellect, and the rest, to the gross elements inclusive, formed an egg, which gradually expanded like a bubble of water.[12]


It must be remembered that the earlier cosmic age (Padma Kalpa) was also marked by the creation of a universe or universes, since the Naimittika Pralaya begins with a conflagration due to the “suns”. However, it is possible that there was no human life in it, since that is mentioned only in our cosmic age (Varāha Kalpa), whose seventh Manu, Manu Vaivasvata, is responsible for the transmission of the seeds of life to earth as well as for the mortality of the forms that spring from these seeds.[13] According to BrdP I,ii,6, the natural destruction of the earlier cosmos was followed by the intermediate period (pratisandhi) between two kalpas when the deity returned anew to his task of creation. However, this time it is clear that he proceeded farther in his material manifestation than in the previous cosmic age.

In the Padma Purāna I,39,48ff., Vishnu (the form of the supreme lord as macroanthropos) is said to have taken four forms in the process of destroying the universe. First, he appears as the sun with which he “dried up the oceans” and at the same time removes the sense of “sight” itself, the sun being traditionally associated with sight in India as well as in Egypt and Mesopotamia. At this point he dives into the Abyss to search out Earth, the embryonic new universe which lies hidden there. Vishnu next appears as a gale (wind) which “convulsed the entire world” and at the same time destroyed “inspiration, expiration and all the forms of breath”. The third form he assumes is that of fire, which reduces the universe to ashes, and finally he assumes the nature of water as a “hundred dark whirling clouds” which “gratified the Earth with ghee-like divine water”.[14] This impregnation causes “the subtle world [i.e. of the senses of sight and breath], with the sun, wind and the sky” to be enclosed in the Earth that has been recovered from the abyss. The last step of the process described here would have occurred at the time of the formation of the Cosmic Egg.

For another account of the stages which mark the new creation after the destruction of the previous cosmos, we may turn to the Bhāgavata Purāna. The emergence of the light of the universe – which is called Protogonos in the Orphic theogonies[15] – occurs in the first manvantara of the Varāha Kalpa, since Protogonos’ Indic counterpart, Priyavrata, is said to be the son of the very first Manu, Swāyambhuva Manu. This manvantara is also marked by the emergence of Earth and its division into seven islands (called continents in the Iranian sacred literature) which represent various galactic formations (BP V,1,30ff.). Like Protogonos/Mitra, it was Priyavrata who created the divisions of Earth by riding around Mt. Meru in his chariot.[16] Of the seven islands, the one we inhabit is the central one and called Jambudweepa (BP V,16,5ff.), which itself is divided into nine Varshas, of which one, Bharatvarsha, is the region which humans inhabit after the cosmic flood (BP V,19.9ff.).

The Varāha Kalpa, is marked by several other ‘avatārs’ or incarnations of the supreme Lord that are assumed by the latter throughout the developing life of the cosmos in order to elevate the creation spiritually. After the Boar, the next incarnation of the Lord in our cosmic age is that of Prithu, who extracts the life-giving qualities from Earth when it has assumed the form of a Cow (in the sixth manvantara) (BP IV,18; BrdP I,ii,36,110ff.).

Chākshusha Pralaya

The sixth manvantara of the Varāha Kalpa, called the Chākshusha Manvantara or the manvantara of Chākshusha, is indeed the one at the end of which the ‘deluge’ occurs that is recounted in the various flood stories of antiquity as if it had occurred on earth. This flood also precedes the appearance of the seventh Manu, Vaivasvata whose task it is to preserve the life of the universe (BP I,3,15).

The flood is caused by Shiva (Enlil) when he breaks open the Cosmic Egg. Shiva begins the flood by splitting “asunder these seven worlds,[17] and breaking the [golden cosmic] egg higher than the highest”. Shiva is said to be “robed in Indra’s thunder-bolts”[18] as he goes about his task of devastation. In the Akkadian Atrahasis epic as well as in the Sumerian Gilgamesh (Tablet XI), it is Enlil (counterpart of Shiva) who causes the flood. For it is Enlil (or his son) who attacks the divine light An and forces it down into the underworld and into our universe. Shiva/Chronos’ breaking open of this egg is indeed the start of the transfer of the life contained within it to our universe.[19]

The solar force that is shattered by the force of Shiva/Enlik is forced into the ‘underworld’ where it lies in a moribund state, ‘castrated’ as it were by Time/Chronos.  However, it is a continuation of Chronos’ force, called his ‘son’, Zeus, that revives the dormant solar force in the underworld so that it can rise into our universe as the sun. This heroic figure in the evolution of the sun is the deity called Zeus/Ganesha/Seth in the mythologies of Greece, India, and Egypt.[20] The descent of the perfect light of Osiris-Horus the Elder/Brahman into the Abyss thus precedes its rise again as the light of our universe.  Since the lord of the abyss in Sumer, Egypt, as well as in the Vedas is traditionally Enki/Osiris/Varuna, Vishnu must be the same as Varuna himself as the reviving solar energy. Varuna’s association with Vishnu (as well as with Mitra, the “sun-god”) is confirmed by the Egyptian identity of Osiris as Lord of the Abyss (abdu/Abydos) and the Underworld, who is at the same time the brother, or rather, vital aspect, of Horus the Elder, and father of the sun-god Horus the Younger.

During this flood the Lord reposes on the serpent Anantasesha (the eternal Sesha), a form of Shiva,[21] that inhabits Pātāla, the seventh and last circle of the underworld (BP V,24,30). This explains Vishnu’s other names, Nārāyana, Lord of the Waters, which is typical of Varuna/Enki/Osiris, and Anantaseshasāyī, the Lord who reposes on the eternal Sesha. For Vishnu at this stage corresponds to Osiris in the underworld surrounded by the serpent Nehaher.[22] Vishnu/Varuna’s trance-like sleep in the Purānas is indeed the same as the “death” of Osiris caused by his alter ego Seth. In BP V,25,1, the serpent Sesha is described as being the tāmasic or Māyā-associated aspect of the supreme lord which sustains this universe by the magical effect of sympathy. In the Vishnu Purāna, it is stated that “Vishnu assumes the form of Rudra [Shiva/Kāla] and inclines towards destruction in order to withdraw the entire creation into himself”.[23] Rudra, however, is not only the same as Time but also “the flame of Time” which “turns into the blasting breath of Shesa [the serpent]”.[24] We see here an identification of Time with Māyā as agents of the illusion that sustains the incipient universe.

The serpent representing Shiva has both a benign and a malign aspect. This dual role is particularly observed in the Egyptian representations of the serpent (sometimes called Mehen, the “World-encircler”, sometimes Nehaher, “the one with the fearful face”), which first holds together the corpse of Osiris and then accompanies the emergence of his son, the incipient sun, Horus the Younger.[25] Thus, when Osiris dies and descends into the underworld, his decaying corpse (represented as a mummy) is depicted as being held together by Nehaher.[26] In the Indic accounts of Manu and the Flood,[27] this serpent of the Abyss is the same that serves as a rope between the boat and the horn of the piscine form of the supreme deity that saves Manu during the flood.

The dual aspect of the serpent as both destructive and creative is highlighted in the last scene of the Egyptian Book of Caverns, which depicts a serpent within a mound of earth that helps regenerate Osiris as Horus the Younger along with another serpent encircling the solar beetle (Khepry) that is cut into pieces.[28] In the Amduat too, while the serpent Apop is destroyed in the seventh hour, in the eleventh and twelfth hours[29] the emergent sun itself appears within the bounds of the serpent called “World encircler”.[30]

In Egypt, as Usener pointed out,[31] the solar aspect of the flood is also evident in the account of the sailing of Amun-Ra on the back of the cow, called itself the Great Flood (Mehet Ouret) – a form of Hathor/Nut[32] – holding on to her “horns”. We will encounter this bovine image of the goddess of the primaeval waters and of the dawn also in the Indic sacred literature. The hymn to Amun-Ra in the Darius temple to this deity declares that the original seat of Amun-Ra was the high ground of Hermopolis Magna, where the “eight gods” of the Ogdoad were worshipped. Amun-Ra is said to have left this oasis and appeared in the moist, hidden egg along with the goddess Amente. Then he takes his place on the Great Flood. At that time, “there were no plants. They began when … the water rose to the mountain”.[33]

We note that, as in the SP account mentioned above, the “great flood” in Egypt comes after the formation of the cosmic egg from which the divine light emerges. What is more significant is that the flood is not, as in the Biblical story, the setting for the preservation of the Noachidian race on earth but for the emergence of the sun in our universe along with the life of the universe.

In the fragmentary Hedammu epic of the Hurrians, too, Kumarbi produces a dragon Hedammu (resembling the flood Narmada and Hathor) to destroy mankind.[34] The fact that, in the Hurrian epic of ‘The Kingship in Heaven’, Anu’s seed (as well as his phallus) is contained in the belly of Kumarbi (Chronos/Kala/Shiva) also suggests that the creative waters of the flood caused by Shiva serve as the amniotic fluid of the incipient universe. In the Greek Orphic theogonies, Chronos is represented as a serpent twined around the cosmic axis of Ananke, Necessity.[35] This confirms the identity of Shiva/Chronos/Kumarbi with the serpent, especially in its creative role, since, as we shall see, Shiva represents Time as well as the aspect of Egoity which informs the universe.[36]

The basic quality of the serpent, however, is that of the resistant force of matter which must be overcome to allow the light of the sun to emerge in our universe. Hence the rise of the solar energy is typically preceded by a battle of a heroic god representing the storm-force of the incipient sun against a serpent of restriction. Indra in the Rgveda is described as freeing the “cows” from the “vala”, a rocky enclosure in which these animals are hidden by the evil Panis.[37] The “cows” in the vala myth (X,67,1-12) in fact symbolise the radiant solar energy, since RV I,164,3 suggests that this is the secret name of the rays of the dawn. In RV X,108,5, the “cows” are described as “flying around to the ends of the sky”. The Panis themselves are described in BP V,24,30 as serpentine, Asuric creations of Diti and Danu and inhabit Rasātala, the sixth of the seven subterranean regions of the material universe bordering on the last, Pātāla, in which lies the serpent Sesha.[38] “Vala”, significantly, is the same term that is used in the Avesta (“vara”) for the ark which bears Yima during the flood which accompanies the birth of the sun.




The reason of the flood itself is given in the Egyptian Book of the Heavenly Cow, where the eye of Re, which is equated with Hathor, is said to be the instrument of the punishment of degenerate “mankind”, by which we may understand a form of mankind that emerged early in the creational activities of Brahman. Re embarks on this course of punishment in conjunction with the lord of the Abyss, Nun. A part of “humanity” is destroyed by the flood, but the remainder are saved by the sun-god’s decision to stop Hathor’s work of devastation by causing her to become drunk on blood-red beer.[39] The sun then rises to the heavens on the back of the celestial cow.

This Egyptian account is perhaps the source of the Hebrew story, in Genesis 6:7, of the Flood:


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.


It is clear, however, that the Hebrew Flood is inaccurately located on earth and dated after the creation of Noah/Manu, when in fact the latter appears ages after the Flood, in the seventh manvantara. In the late Greek legend of the Flood, too, in which Prometheus’ son, Deucalion, is represented as the survivor, who reaches safety on Mt. Parnassus, Zeus is anachronistically said to have caused the deluge because he ‘would destroy the men of the Bronze Age’.[40] In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I, 177ff, Zeus’ anger is aroused by the inferiority of humankind compared to the demi-gods:


Now I must destroy the human race, wherever Nereus sounds, throughout the world. I swear it by the infernal streams, that glide below the earth through the Stygian groves. All means should first be tried, but the incurable flesh must be excised by the knife, so that the healthy part is not infected. Mine are the demigods, the wild spirits, nymphs, fauns and satyrs, and sylvan deities of the hills. Since we have not yet thought them worth a place in heaven let us at least allow them to live in safety in the lands we have given them.


In the Babylonian ‘Epic of Erra’, Marduk, the counterpart of the solar force, Ninurta/[41]Muruga, takes the place of his father Enlil in causing the flood:


I got angry long ago: I rose from my seat and contrived the deluge,

I rose from my seat, and the government of heaven and earth dissolved.

And the sky, lo! shook: the stations of the stars in the sky were altered, and I did not bring [them] back to their [former] positions.


The offspring of the living diminished, and I did not restore them

Until, like a farmer, I should take their seed in my hand.[42]


We see that Marduk too destroys some early form of life in the cosmos while preserving some part of it to be propagated in our universe.





[1] The Flood stories are to be found also in the Tamil ‘Purānams’, which copy the encyclopaedic genre of the Sanskrit models.

[2] The following abbreviations are used in this article: BP=Bhāgavata Purāna, BrdP=Brahmānda Purāna, RV=Rgveda, SB=Shatapatha Brāhmana, W=Warka, W.B.=Weld-Blundell Collection (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

[3] A chaturyuga is made up of four ages, Krita, Treta, Dvāpara and Kali, corresponding to a Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Age, in the course of which the divine virtue is gradually diminished. We now live in the fourth, degenerate, age (Kaliyuga) of the Varāha Kalpa.

[4] A divine day is as long as a terrestrial year.

[5] A terrestrial year is the period taken by the sun to revolve through the twelve constellations of the zodiac (BP III,11,13; V,22,5).

[6] Current astrophysical theories suggest that the cosmos is roughly 14 billion years old whereas, according to the BP, the cosmos is approximately 13,140,000,000 years old (the first day and night of the Lord plus half of the second day). The latter is likely to be more accurate since it is not based on fallible empirical observation but on spiritual intuition.

[7] The burning of the universe at the end of a cosmic age is called “kalpadaha” in BrdP I,i,5,122.

[8] See BrdP III,iv,2,115: “The manifest part evolving out of the unmanifest one is gross and it is called Mahan (Mahat)”.

[9] See S. Shastri, The Flood Legend in Sanskrit Literature, Delhi: S. Chand and Co., 1950, p.91.

[10] Ibid., p.66.

[11] See below.

[12] See W.J Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, London: Thacker, Spink & Company, 1882, p-.348.

[13] See below.

[14] See S. Shastri, op.cit., p.34f.

[15] See M.L. West, Orphic Poems, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, p.70

[16] This is reflected in the Hieronyman Orphic fragment (78) also, where Protogonos wheels round the world in his chariot to bring light to it (see M.L. West, op.cit., p.214).

[17] That is, the seven “continents”, or galactic formations of the universe.

[18] See S. Shastri, op.cit., p.88.

[19] See below.

[20] For a detailed study of this process see A. Jacob, Ātman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 2005.

[21] As Hedammu no doubt is a form of Kumarbi in the Hurrian “Kingship of Heaven” myth  (see below).

[22] See below

[23] See S. Shastri, op.cit., p.48.

[24] Ibid., p.49.

[25] See E. Hornung, , The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife, , tr. D. Lorton, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999, pp.33ff; cf. R.T. Rundle Clark,  Myth and Symbol in ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson, 1959, pp.167ff.

[26] See The Book of Caverns (cf. R.T.Rundle Clark, op.cit., p.169).

[27] See Shatapatha Brāhmana, I,viii,

[28] See E. Hornung, op.cit., p.90.

[29] It may be noted, in passing, that the “hours” of the Egyptian books of the underworld certainly do not refer to our terrestrial hours but, rather, to divine ones. We have seen that, according to the BP, a divine day is as long as a terrestrial year. It is possible that the sun’s yearly revolution as well as its diurnal passage may have been considered in Egypt to be repeated rehearsals of the agony of its original creation.

[30] E. Hornung, op.cit., pp.33ff.

[31] See H. Usener, Die Sintfluthsagen, Bonn: Friedrich Cohen, 1899, p.260.

[32] See PT 829 d/e; cf. R.T. Rundle Clark, op.cit., p.184.

[33] Ibid.

[34] See J. Siegelova, “Appu Märchen und Hedammu-Mythus”, Studien zu den Bogazköy-Texten 14.

[35] See M.L. West, op.cit.

[36] See below..

[37] For a reference to the cows confined in the vala by the Panis see RV I, 32,11.

[38] In the Egyptian Book of the Heavenly Cow too the underworld is described as being populated by serpents supervised by Geb [earth] (see E. Hornung, op.cit., p.149).

[39] Cf. E. Hornung, op.cit., p.149. The reference to beer is significant, since we note that inebriation by beer is in fact characteristic of Seth, the counterpart of the Vedic Indra, who also raises the sun into the heavens infused with the force of Soma.

[40] See Apollodorus, Library, I,7,2.

[41] For Marduk as one of the epithets of Ninurta, see K. Tallquist, Akkadische Götterepitheta (Studia Orientalia 7), Helsinki, 1938, p.422. For Ninurta as the solar force, see below.

[42] Tr. L. Cagni, The Poem of Erra, Malibu, CA: Undena Publications, 1977, p.32.

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