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THE FINAL ANNIHILATION OF THE UNIVERSE
At the end of the last day of Brahma's life, the final annihilation of the universe begins. The Bhagavatam (11.3.9-15) explains that when it is time for the annihilation of all material elements, the Supreme Being withdraws the cosmic manifestation in His form of time, causing the whole universe to vanish into its unmanifest state. Again a terrible drought takes place on earth for 100 years, and everywhere is tormented by the heat of the sun. From the mouth of Sankarshana emanates a fire that scorches everything as it is carried by great winds. Then hoards of clouds pour torrents of rain for 100 years, flooding the entire universe in water with raindrops as long as the trunk of elephants. The Vairaja Brahma gives up his body and enters the subtle unmanifest nature, the pradhana. Then the elements merge into one another from the earth into water, into fire, into air, into space, into time, and into the element of false ego in the mode of ignorance. False ego is the subtle element that causes the living entities to forget their spiritual nature and to think they are their material bodies. Then the material senses and the subtle element of intelligence merge into false ego in the mode of passion, and the mind and demigods merge into false ego in the mode of goodness. Then the element of false ego merges into the maha-tattva, which is the total amount of ingredients of the material energy in its unmanifest state.
This is a simplistic explanation of the final annihilation. More details are found elsewhere in Srimad-Bhagavatam (starting at 12.4.5-7). Therein we find that when Brahma's life is complete, the seven basic elements of creation are annihilated. Once these are destroyed, then the whole universe begins to break down in the process of annihilation. This begins with the earth receiving no rain for 100 years. This causes the drought which leads to famine. Thus, all inhabitants of the earth are gradually destroyed. As the living beings give up their bodies during the time of dissolution, they merge into the Supreme Being in His form as Garbhodakshayi Vishnu, who exists in each universe. As stated in the Bhagavatam (1.10.21-22), it was the Supreme Being alone who existed before the manifested creation, and in Him only do all living beings merge during the dissolution, as if sleeping at night, their energy suspended until the time of the next cosmic creation. This means that the individual spirit souls remain as individuals merged in the spiritual existence of the Supreme. However, their desires for material pleasures remain. Thus, during the next creation they again accept the appropriate material bodies to enable them to chase after the same desires they had before. In this way, they appear in different species of life according to their desires and, thus, populate the worlds.
The Bhagavatam (12.4.8-10) continues describing that the sun will evaporate all of the water from the ocean, all living bodies, and the soil. Then the great fire of annihilation will emanate from Lord Sankarshana's mouth and burn the entire universe as it is carried by the fierce winds. The universe will become a huge but lifeless cosmic shell. Burned from below by the fire of Lord Sankarshana and from above by the scorching sun, the universal shell will look like a burning ball.
The Brahma Purana (124.24-28) elaborates that by means of the flames from Sheshanaga (Sankarshana), the Supreme burns the nether worlds from below. This fire of universal destruction reaches the earth and burns the entire surface. The fires also burn the Bhuvah and Svarga worlds, and when the higher planets are burned up, the residents leave in their subtle bodies for Maharloka. However, as explained in the Brahmanda Purana (22.214.171.124), the fires of devastation move throughout the universe and this time, in the final annihilation of the cosmos, burn the Bhuvaloka, Bhuvarloka, and Svarloka worlds, as well as the Maharloka planetary system. Elsewhere in the Bhagavatam (5.25.3), it states that Lord Shiva plays a significant role in the final annihilation of the universe. "At the time of devastation, when Lord Anantadeva [Ananta Sesha, Sankarshana] desires to destroy the entire creation, He becomes slightly angry. Then from between His two eyebrows appears three-eyed Rudra, carrying a trident. This Rudra, who is known as Sankarshana, is the embodiment of the eleven Rudras, or incarnations of Lord Shiva. He appears in order to devastate the entire creation."
The Brahma Purana (124.16) explains that it is the imperishable Lord Krishna who assumes the form of Rudra to bring all the elements and living beings back into Himself in the process of annihilation.
After Shiva appears in this way, he begins to do his dance of dissolution, dancing wildly to the beat of his drum. "At the time of dissolution, Lord Shiva's hair is scattered, and he pierces the rulers of the different directions with his trident. He laughs and dances proudly, scattering their hands like flags, as thunder scattered the clouds all over the world." (Bhag.4.5.10) Lord Shiva's dancing causes such a commotion that it brings in the clouds that cause the universe to become inundated with water, which is what happens next.
The Bhagavatam (12.4.11-12) continues to describe that a terrible wind will blow for more than 100 years causing great destruction and making the sky turn gray with dust. Then many multicolored clouds filled with terrible thunder will gather and pour floods of rain for another 100 years until the universal shell fills with a great cosmic flood. The Brahma Purana (125.40) explains that with the whole universe filled with darkness and all entities destroyed, these powerful clouds rain for more than a hundred years.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.4.13-19), as well as the Brahma Purana (125.12-34), continues to explain that at this point all of the individual elements will lose their distinguishing qualities and merge into one another in a process that proceeds from the most gross and physical of the elements to the most subtle. The element of earth will lose its distinguishing quality of fragrance and be swallowed up by the water and be absorbed into it. Water then loses the quality of taste and is consumed by and merges into the element of fire. Air overpowers the quality of form in fire causing fire to merge into the element of air. Ether then overpowers air which loses the quality of touch, which causes air to merge into ether. The subtle element of false ego in the mode of ignorance consumes sound, which is the quality of ether, thus forcing ether to merge into false ego. Similarly, false ego in the mode of passion absorbs the senses, and false ego in goodness absorbs the demigods. Then the total ingredients of material creation in its unmanifest state, the mahat-tattva, absorbs false ego and its functions. That mahat is absorbed into the modes of nature, which are goodness, passion, and ignorance. The modes of nature are then reduced to a state of equilibrium and, impelled by the time factor, are absorbed into the original mahat, the unmanifested form of nature. This unmanifested nature is not subject to the changes that are due to time because it has no beginning nor end. It is the unmanifest, eternal cause of creation.
The Bhagavatam (12.4.20-22) further states that once the contents of the universe reach this stage of unmanifest nature, known as pradhana, then no longer are there such things as planets, demigods, senses, and vital air. Nor are there the material elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Nor are there subtle elements, such as mind, intelligence, speech, nor the modes of nature. Neither are there any states of consciousness. Everything is void and indescribable. This pradhana is the root or foundation of the material creation. This is the Prakhtika annihilation when all of the material energies of the Supreme Being, impelled by time, lose their potencies and are dissolved together into primordial matter. Then the innumerable universes and nonmanifest material ingredients merge into the huge body of Maha-Vishnu with the inhalation of His breath. Furthermore, it is explained (Bhag. 10.87.12-13) that after the universal annihilation when Lord Maha-Vishnu withdraws into Himself all of the universes He had created, He will lay for sometime as if asleep, and His energies will rest dormant within Him. When the time comes for the next creation, then the forms of the personified Vedas will appear from the Lord's breathing and will awaken Him by chanting descriptions of His characteristics just as poets or singers awaken a king. This confirms that the Vedas are not simply books, but they are spiritual sound vibrations that exist eternally within the spiritual strata, and they are brought into this material world for the benefit of the materially bound living beings.
The above verses are in reference to when Lord Maha-Vishnu again creates the cosmic universes which appear in His breathing. It is explained that the material universes manifest with the exhalation of Lord Maha-Vishnu and they merge back into Him with His inhalation. However, when He no longer intends to exhibit His material energies or manifest the material creation, Maha-Vishnu no longer exhales. What happens then is explained in the Bhagavatam (11.24.22-27): After the process of annihilation has reached the level in which the universe is void, all material energies then merge into the Supreme in His form of the omniscient Maha-purusha, the originator of all living beings in the material creation. That origin of all life, Maha-Vishnu, then merges into the Supreme in His original form as Lord Krishna, who exists in the highest levels of the spiritual world. In this way, all material energies remain absorbed in the body of Lord Krishna until He decides to manifest the material creation again. Thus, ultimately, the Vedic texts establish that it is from the Supreme Being in His original form of Lord Krishna that all creation and annihilation are manifested.
The process of the material creation and annihilation can be summarized in this way: In the very beginning of creation, a portion of Sri Krishna, the Supreme Being, assumes the form of Maha-Vishnu and lies on the causal ocean, the Karanadakshayi Ocean, which appears like a vast cloud in a corner of the spiritual sky. Within that Maha-Vishnu all of the unmanifest material ingredients exist, merged in His spiritual body until He is ready to create the cosmic manifestation. Then innumerable universes emanate from the exhalations of Maha-Vishnu and from the pores of His skin. Then these universes float in the waters of creation, the Karanadakshayi Ocean. Within each universe, a portion of that Maha-Vishnu appears in His expansions known as Garbhodakshayi Vishnu, who, thus, oversees the process of creation in each universe. It is into this Garbhodakshayi Vishnu that all of the universal elements merge during the dissolution of Brahma's night. But when the universe undergoes a complete annihilation, all of the universes, even the Garbhodakshayi Vishnus, merge back into the huge and immeasurable body of Maha-Vishnu as He inhales. The duration of each cosmic creation is, thus, no more than a breath of Maha-Vishnu as He rests in the Karana Ocean during His mystic slumber, called yoga-nidra. The material world is said to be nothing more than a temporary dream, but it is the yoga-nidra dream of Lord Maha-Vishnu which manifests as this cosmic creation. After the final annihilation of all the universes, when the Supreme Being no longer cares to exhibit His material energies in the cosmos, the cloud of the material creation, the Karana Ocean, disappears into Lord Maha-Vishnu. Then He merges back into the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, who exists in the highest levels of the spiritual world. As it is pointed out in the Bhagavatam (12.4.36-38), this is the process of the constant generation, transformation, and annihilation of all living beings and their varied experiences while they exist within the material elements.
From these descriptions we can understand, as further explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.4.23-28), that it is the Supreme Absolute Truth, or God, alone who is the ultimate basis from which everything manifests. Everything within this material creation has no separate existence from that Supreme Reality. Everything, therefore, is connected with and has its foundation on the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person, who is the cause of all causes. On that basis everything we see is nothing more than a display of His energies. Therefore, nothing really exists outside this connection with the Supreme Being.