‘What’s in a name?’ said the Bard famously in one of his plays. Apparently plenty, if you go by the stories that abound regarding the origin of the name of a place, specially places tucked away in remote corners of our country! Today’s tale is about the serene mountain town of Manali in Himachal. The story fascinated me on two levels…one the tale itself and more importantly the fact that it proved once again an underlying commonality in mythologies across cultures, a feeling that keeps getting reinforced in my inner
beliefs universe time and again (more on this another day!)The town it is said, owes its name to the sage Manu Rishi, who as per Vedic tradition is considered to have fathered the human race and is also known as the lawgiver who gave us ‘Manusmriti.’ In fact the Hindi words for human beings~ ‘manav’ and ‘manushya’~are derived from the root word ‘Manu’. The old town of Manali has a temple dedicated to Manu…the only one of its kind in the world.
The story goes that the sage once found a fish while bathing. The fish pleaded with him to save and nurture it and promised to help the sage in the future. With the care given the fish soon grew large and healthy and he decided to release it into the ocean. At that time the fish warned him of an impending deluge that would sweep away all humanity and advised him to build a strong boat to survive. Despite his scepticism, Manu Rishi followed the advice and when the great flood – ‘Mahajal Pralay’ – came, he along with the Seven Sages and the Holy Vedas were towed in this boat to safety by Matsya (the fish regarded as the first incarnation of Vishnu the preserver). When the waters receded, the boat came to rest on a hillside and this spot was named ‘Manavalya’ (abode of Manu). With all of mankind having been destroyed, the sage was then given instructions by Vishnu on how to recreate life and this place of great natural beauty was chosen as the cradle of all humanity…and that’s how Manali came into being!
The story would surely have reminded you of the Biblical flood and Noah’s Ark. Such resemblances leave you wondering how such stories span cultures and centuries and surface in different places with different names and minor changes around the world…