The Symbolism of Floods and Deluge in Hinduism

Flood and deluge

In the ancient world floods were one of the most common and frequent calamities which threatened the survival of people and whole communities. No wonder people saw in them the fury of gods and prayed for protection. Find here the archetypal meaning, significance and symbolism of floods or deluge (plavanam) in Hinduism.

Floods (plava) and deluges (pralaya) in Hinduism indicate the beginning and end of times as well as the changes that happen due to the movement of Time, which is another name for the god of Death. In ancient India floods were very common. Since the human settlements grew mostly along the main rivers of the Indian subcontinent, people were familiar with the problems caused by floods, which they attributed to the displeasure of gods and their own karma. Flood herald change in the lives and people and progression of the world. Hence drastic changes in the order and regularity of the world, and revolutions, are compared to severe floods (viplavam).

In ancient times for those who lived by the side of the rivers and depended upon them for their livelihood, floods were a frequent interruption in the order and regularity of their lives. Therefore, you will find frequent references to floods and deluges in Hindu scriptures and their destructive influence upon their lives and possessions. Each river is the manifestation of a river goddess. In her benevolent aspect she nourishes the earth and replenishes life, but in her destructive aspects she consumes lives and cleanses the earth. People, therefore, worshipped the rivers and propitiated them, seeking their support and protection.

According to the Puranas, almost every epoch (mahayuga) begins or ends with a great deluge (pralaya) during which gods try to help humans and preserve the eternal knowledge for the posterity. They may be caused by God or Nature either to cleanse the world and usher in a new era or to deal with the problem of evil and save the humans from its influence. At the end of Dwapara Yuga, floods submerged the city of Dwaraka in the ocean, which was then ruled by Lord Krishna as his capital. It also marked the end of his incarnation, as well as the beginning of a new epoch.

Thus in Hinduism floods represent the death and destructive power of God, Nature, a deity, or even an evil asura or rakshasa who want to create chaos. They also portray the role of God in persevering the worlds and beings to maintain their order and regularity. A flood may also indicate the overabundance of anything, which may cause imbalance in the nature and order of things, and require divine intervention. A person may be flooded by problems or by good things in life due to past karma or divine providence.

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