Who was Manu?

Was he the biblical Adam, the progenitor of all mankind as most ardent Hindus would have us believe?  Was he the original sage, a Noah or Utnapishtim of Hinduism, who escaped the great flood and saved the mankind? Was he the first king of kings who ruled the earth?  Was he the lawgiver, a Hammurabi or Shulgi or Moses of India?  As with most mythological figures there are numerous questions and equally numerous, albeit ambiguous answers.

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Vedic times were filled with hundreds of voluminous literary texts, starting with the Vedas of unknown age.  The ancient Vedic text of Shatapatha Bramhana gives a detailed story of the deluge and how Manu saves the mankind from extinction at the behest and the help of God Vishnu.  Manu was the King of antediluvian Dravida country of Kumari Kandam in the south.  He saves a fish from drowning in the River flowing down from Malaya mountains. The fish grows in size and warns Manu of the impending destructive flood and asks him to build a boat to save not only the mankind but also the animals and plants from extinction.  The story is given great detail in the Matsya Purana and the great epic, Mahabharatha.  Vedic scriptures state that Brahma creates a Manu at the beginning of each era who in turn creates the universe.  There have been fourteen Manus identified in a Kalpa or a day in the life of creator Brahma.  The first one was Swaymbhuva Manu and the present one the Vaivaswath Manu. 

Niraj Mohanka, in his Royal Chronology of India (http://www.IndiaHistoryOnline.com/chron.html),  places Swayambhuva Manu at about 6100 BCE.  This brings it very close to the available evidence of the catastrophic rise of sea levels and the likely possibility of a “Flood”.  The Vaivasatha Manu is considered to be the Manu of flood story and is placed around 3925 BCE by Mohanka.  However, there is no archaeological evidence of any flood during this period.  Could it be possible that Manu of flood story was actually Swayambhuva Manu and that he is the original author of Manu Smrithi and Vaivaswatha Manu added to it later?  Image

The story is very similar to that of Noah’s ark and the great flood of the Bible and the story of the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh where the sage Utnapishtim saves the mankind from extinction by a great flood.  So far, there is very little archaeological proof for any of these events.  There have been tentative pointers for localised flooding in Mesopotamia.  One of the leading archaeologists of Mesopotamia, Leonard Wooley came across a layer of sediment of about eleven feet depth before reaching the next layer of ancient artifacts of pre-history while excavating royal tombs of Ur.  He dug a quite a few shafts and a great pit to confirm his findings.  He came to, what he thought was a logical conclusion of the evidence for a Biblical flood which had destroyed the Mesopotamian civilisation and buried the civilisation under an eleven foot deep mud.  He published his findings in glorious response in 1929.  Another archaeologist, S Langdon had found a similar deposit while excavating the neighboring city of Kish about a year earlier and a further evidence of flood deposit was found in another Sumerian city of Shuruppak.  However, the flood of Ur was dated to about 3500 BCE where as that of Kish and Shuruppak is dated to around 2900 BCE.  Evidence for similar flood deposits has not been found elsewhere in Mesopotamia.  It has to be assumed that it must have been a localised flooding caused by the temperamental rivers of Mesopotamia – Euphrates and Tigris.  The Hebrew Bible itself is not very clear about the exact date of the great Flood. Image

There is now evidence to show the catastrophic rise of sea levels during the later part of the last glacial maximum.  The sea levels rose by about 125 meters between 13000 years before present to about 8000 years before present.  The sea levels rose by about five to eight meters every thousand years.  However there were periods where there was a catastrophic rise in sea levels.  Recent evidence of human habitation under the North Sea has given credence to the existence of Dogger Land.  About 8000 to 10,000 years before present, one could walk from England to France and Holland.   The North Sea came into being because of the melting of glaciers towards the end of the Late Glacial Maximum. Image

William Ryan and Walter Pitman proposed a theory of rapid flooding of the Black sea as the event of Biblical flood in 1997.  They claimed that it occurred around 5600 BCE and flooding kept up for 300 days.

Manu has been alluded to have composed the Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu.  The story goes that after the great flood, the surviving sages beseech the great sage Manu to tell them how to organise and live a moral life so that they can face such calamities in the future.  The text is in the form of a discourse of about 2685 hymns between Manu and another sage Bhrigu.  The Manusmriti has thus been dated to around 6100 BCE by various experts.  Reading of the text tends to throw doubts about the age as it includes use of Iron while describing punishment to be meted out for certain crimes.  The Iron as a metal was not used in India till about 1600 BCE.  Either the text of the Manusmriti has been modified or the text itself was composed much later.   It is possible that the Manusmriti was composed by more than one author.  Just the same as the story of Moses.  We now know that there were at least two Moses in history – first one who brought the Jews out of Egypt and the ten plagues and the second one who was given the ten commandments of God.

The habit of writing laws for human habitation was practiced during the second and the third millennium BCE by the Sumerians and Egyptians.  Babylonian King Hammurabi wrote the now famous laws in 18th Century BCE.  The famous Hammurabi code in Akkadian language has been deciphered from stele and clay tablets to contain as many as 282 “laws”.  Several similar laws were passed during the second and late third millennium BCE in Mesopotamia –  Shulgi in  , Ur-Nammu in .   Egyptian Book of the Dead composed during the 16th Century BCE dealt mainly with funerary rights. Image

Several experts now believe that the text was composed by several authors over several hundreds of years, probably between 200 BCE and 200 CE during the turmoil and social breakdown at the end of Maurya and Shunga empires.  But they cannot deny the fact that there is also evidence for several Manu’s during the antiquity who bequeathed their knowledge to the mankind in perpetuity.

Shankar

 

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