Water-Men, Terrible and Bad

By David Reigle on March 7, 2016 at 2:53 am

Book of Dzyan (Anthropogenesis), stanza 2, verses 5-6:

“5. The Wheel whirled for thirty crores (of years, or 300,000,000). It constructed rūpas (forms): soft stones that hardened (minerals); hard plants that softened (vegetation). Visible from invisible, insects and small lives (sarīspa, śvāpada). She (the Earth) shook them off her back whenever they overran the mother. . . . After thirty crores of years, she turned round. She lay on her back; on her side. . . . She would call no sons of Heaven, she would ask no sons of Wisdom. She created from her own bosom. She evolved water-men, terrible and bad.

6. The Water-men, terrible and bad, she herself created. From the remains of others (from the mineral, vegetable and animal remains) from the first, second, and third (Rounds) she formed them. . . . .”

The idea of water-men, whether terrible and bad or not, is strange. Our history books do not tell us of any such beings. There is in India an old collection of old stories, the Kathā-sarit-sāgara, “Ocean of the Streams of Story,” that speaks of water-men (jala-mānuṣa, jala-pūruṣa). This extensive collection has only been translated into English once, by C. H. Tawney, published in two large volumes, 1880 and 1884. It was revised by N. M. Penzer and published in ten volumes, 1924-1928. In book 12, chapter 4 (chapter 71 of the whole book), we find a brief episode involving three water-men, who are indeed terrible and bad. Here is the story as translated by Tawney:

“Then, as Mṛigānkadatta was journeying to Ujjayinī, with Śrutadhi and Vimalabuddhi, to find Śaśānkavatī, he reached the Narmadā which lay in his path. The fickle stream, when she beheld him, shook her waves like twining arms, and gleamed white with laughing foam, as if she were dancing and smiling because he had so fortunately been reunited with his ministers. And when he had gone down into the bed of the river to bathe, it happened that a king of the Śavaras, named Māyāvaṭu, came there for the same purpose. When he had bathed, three water-genii* rose up at the same time and seized the Bhilla, whose retinue fled in terror. When Mṛigānkadatta saw that, he went into the water with his sword drawn, and killed those water-genii, and delivered that king of the Bhillas. When the king of the Bhillas was delivered from the danger of those monsters, he came up out of the water and fell at the feet of the prince, and said to him, — ‘Who are you, that Providence has brought here to save my life on the present occasion? . . .’

* Literally, ‘water-men.’ Perhaps they were of the same race as Grendel the terrible nicor. See also Veckenstedt’s Wendische Märchen, p. 185 and ff., Grimm’s Irische Märchen, p. cv, Kuhn’s Westfälische Märchen, Vol. II, p. 35, Waldau’s Böhmische Märchen, p. 187 and ff., and the 6th, 20th and 58th Jātakas. See also Grohmann’s account of the ‘Wassermann,’ Sagen aus Böhmen, p. 148.”

(C. H. Tawney, Ocean of the Streams of Story, vol. 2, p. 154; N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story, vol. 6, p. 36; Sanskrit: Kathāsaritsāgara, edited by Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab, fourth edition, revised by Wasudev Laxman Sastri Pansikar, Bombay,1930, p. 367)

In another story, we read of a water-man who is not terrible and bad, but was condemned to be born as a water-man because he broke his commitment in undertaking the vow of an upoṣaṇa fast. It is in book 10, chapter 7 (chapter 63 of the whole book). Here is part of his story as translated by Tawney:

“‘Noble sir, if it is not a secret, tell me now, who you are, and why, though you possess such luxury, you dwell in the water.’ When the man who lived in the water heard this, he said, ‘Hear! I will tell you.’ And he began to tell his history in the following words.

“There is a region in the south of the Himālaya, called Kāśmīra; which Providence seems to have created in order to prevent mortals from hankering after Heaven; where Śiva and Vishṇu, as self-existent deities, inhabit a hundred shrines, forgetting their happy homes in Kailāsa and Śvetadvīpa; which is laved by the waters of the Vitastā, and full of heroes and sages, and proof against treacherous crimes and enemies, though powerful. There I was born in my former life, as an ordinary villager of the Brāhman caste, with two wives, and my name was Bhavaśarman. There I once struck up a friendship with some Buddhist mendicants, and undertook the vow, called the fast Uposhaṇa, prescribed in their scriptures. And when this vow was almost completed, one of my wives wickedly came and slept in my bed. And in the fourth watch of the night, bewildered with sleep, I broke my vow. But as it fell only a little short of completion, I have been born as a water-genius, and these two wives of mine have been born as my present wives here. That wicked woman was born as that unfaithful wife, the second as this faithful one. So great was the power of my vow, though it was rendered imperfect, that I remember my former birth, and enjoy such luxuries every night. If I had not rendered my vow imperfect, I should never have been born as what I am.”

(C. H. Tawney, Ocean of the Streams of Story, vol. 2, pp. 81-82; N. M. Penzer, The Ocean of Story, vol. 5, pp. 123-124; Sanskrit: Kathāsaritsāgara, edited by Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab, fourth edition, revised by Wasudev Laxman Sastri Pansikar, Bombay,1930, p. 331)

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