We all know that for every beginning there is an end. So is it for the universe or cosmos. Of course we keep hearing very often ‘the end of the world theory’ but not very often an end of the universe theory.
An infinite successive cycles of manifestation and dissolution is a thought to think about. Manifestation can also be looked as creation and dissolution as annihilation (extinction). in Sanskrit this is termed as ‘Shrishti’ and ‘Pralaya’. Creation can be of two types, an outermost level like the universe and at an individual level; Macrocosm and Microcosm.
Deep in our knowledgebase of cosmology (Bharatiya or Indian) it said that the universe is cyclically created and destroyed every 8.64 billion years or so1,2. The destruction or pralaya is the time when all necessary things required to create life (seeds of creation) is collected in an earthern pot. This pot is then kept safely atop Mount Meru (a sacred mountain). However it so happened that during the pralaya, heavy rains and deluge washed away the pot. As the pralaya ended, the pot drifted around and moved southwards, and finally settled down at a place. The gods requested Lord Shiva to break the pot so that life can begin(beginning of Kali Yuga3). Lord Shiva abided and shot an arrow which broke the pot. The pot broke into many pieces and where each piece fell a temple is located. The nectar from the pot is considered to have created the Mahaamaha theertham & Potraamarai kulam. This place is presently known as Kumbakonam.
The whole concept was so interesting that I decided to dig a little deeper and read around. In the process one finds another story(probably it is not a story but fact too early for us to understand) which goes like this. There was once a great king by name Satyavrata who was the son of the Sun God. Before vanaprastha, he handed over the reins of his kingdom to his son Ikshavaku. He then moved to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started meditation. After meditating for thousands of years, Brahma appeared before him and asked Satyavrata what boon he would like to have. Satyavrata replied “Soon there will pralaya (destruction) and the world will cease to exist. Please grant me only one boon that it will be I who will save the save the seeds of creation at the time of the destruction. Brahma accepted and granted the boon.” Brahma was pleased and granted the boon. Time passed, one day Satyavrata after his morning bath in the river was performing the morning rituals. While performing Pitru Tarpan he suddenly noticed a small fish in this palms and requested him not to put it back in the river lest it may be eaten by a bigger fish. Satyavrata felt sorry and kept the fish in his kamandala (a vessel that holds water, that can be carried around). Later he transferred the fish to the pond in his ashramam. The fish grew to a larger size and it was transferred to a large lake or sarovaram. However very soon the fish outgrew the lake, then the river and so finally the huge fish was transferred to the ocean where it grew again to be a giant fish. Satyavrata realised that this was no ordinary fish, when the fish revealed that it was an avatar of Lord Vishnu and the pralaya was soon to happen and the world would be submerged in water. The lord also informed that very soon a huge ship constructed by the devas would arrive and Satyavrata was to collect the samples of different living beings(species) like Svedaja(from sweat/heat like lice), Udbhija(from earth/soil like plants), Andaja(born from eggs) and Jaraayuja(embryonic or mammals) and accompanied by the Saptarishis(seven rishis). The lord also suggested that the ship be attached to the horn of the Giant Fish with the help of the great serpent Vasuki. The pralaya came as informed and with it appeared the giant ship and the huge rope. Satyavrata performed the tasks as had been informed to him earlier. The giant ship was thus protected by Matsyavatara and soon the pralaya subsided, Lord Vishnu(matsyavatara) explained to Satyavrata the concept of Shristhi (creation) and Punah Shrishti (loosely termed as re-creation). The concept and philosophy of creation is another vast topic(ref: matsyapurana).
A few words on Kumbakonam. Kumbakonam is a temple town, like Kancheepuram. My recent visit to Kumbakonam took me through Tiruchy or Trichy (Tiruchirappalli) and Thanjavur (or erstwhile Tanjor). The Government Arts College at Kumbakonam also known as the “Cambridge of South India” is one of the oldest colleges in Tamil Nadu, Alma Mater of Srinivasan Ramanujam, the famous Mathematician, U. V. Swaminatha Iyer, Tamil Scholar and Researcher, who contributed greatly in the preservation of Tamil Literature and Language.