Matsya Avatar – Part 2


<<Read Part 1 of the story here>>

4444By the time he turned around and was getting ready to perform his morning puja, he once again heard the fish address him “Please help me, this vessel is not big enough for me.” Surprised, when Manu turned around, he saw that the fish had grown up to three hands in length. He then transferred the fish to another bigger vessel, and when he saw that the fish outgrew this vessel as well, he transferred it to a well. By now he was sure that this was no ordinary fish and so when the fish outgrew the well, and he had to transfer it to a pond and then to the river, he addressed it thus.

“Who are you? I have never seen or heard of such wonders in my life. Are you a demon or a rakshasa deluding me with these illusions and shape-changing? No, I don’t think you mean any harm to me. Perhaps you are Narayana himself. Please tell me the truth and put my mind at peace.”

The fish then smiled at Manu and told him that he was indeed Lord Vishnu. Overcome with joy and emotion, Manu prostrated himself before the fish and with teary eyes expressed his gratitude “O Lord, all my prayers have been answered. I am indeed blessed to have seen you with my own eyes. Please tell me what it is that I can do for you.”

Vishnu then told Manu that the whole world would soon be flooded with water and tasked him with building a ship big enough to carry one pair of every living being on earth. As soon as Manu started building the ship as per the instructions, Vishnu disappeared with the instructions that he would appear at an appropriate time when the earth was flooded and that the ship would then prove to be of use.

After Manu finished building the ship, Vishnu appeared in the shape of the same fish, except that this time he was gigantic and many more times larger than the last time that Manu had seen him. He also had a horn on his head, which was unusual for any fish. Soon, there were torrential rains all over the world which flooded the earth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpeaking loudly over the roar of the rain and the lashing floods, Vishnu instructed Manu to herd together one pair of all living beings on earth on the ship. He then instructed Manu to use his celestial snake Vasuki as a rope and tie it to the horn on his head. Vishnu then, in the form of the Matsya, guided the boat through the choppy flood waters and led the same through the pralaya (destruction) that was unfolding at that point in time. Thus, Manu’s boon which had been granted to him by Lord Brahma was fulfilled to fruition; he ended up being the one person who saved the world from pralaya.

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The above in a nutshell ends the popular depiction of the Matsya avatar of Lord Vishnu. However, sacred texts which deal with this incident go on to depict the conversation that Manu and the Matsya had when the fish was leading them through the choppy waters. This conversation forms the crux of what is termed the Matsya Purana, which forms an integral part of the Vishnu Purana.

The Matsya Purana among other things deals with various stories starting with the Creation and going on to talk about the various royal families, the duties of a householder, the story of Shiva, and various other miscellaneous stories as well.

I will try and publish posts on some of these stories from the Matsya Purana from time to time after having covered the rest of the avatars of Lord Vishnu first.

Matsya Avatar – Part 1


The various avatars that Lord Vishnu took to save the world from imminent dangers are well documented and are quite popular with all Indian mythology buffs. This next series of Purana related posts will focus on telling these stories to readers. It must be noted that I am eliminating the popular avatars such as Rama, Krishna and Buddha for obvious reasons that these are avatars whose stories are enough material for separate blogs by themselves 😀  That being said, the focus of this series of posts will be on the lesser known avatars and some interesting facets of these stories.

Without further ado, the story of the Matsya Avatar follows

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1111While the origins of the Matsya Avatar are quite hazy in terms of the fact that some sources state it to be a form of Brahma and others cite it to be that of Vishnu, I personally subscribe to the fish being an avatar of Vishnu and present a relatively hybrid version of the story from the Puranas here.

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King Manu, the seventh of his name (ie, the seventh king of his era who was called Manu), also called Vaivasvata Manu, the son of Vivasvana was just ruler. And when it was time for him to retire, he handed over the kingdom to his son and went to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started a penance in the name of Lord Brahma. Pleased with his meditation, Brahma appeared in front of him and offered him a boon. Manu replied “I am well versed with the laws of creation and am therefore aware that sooner or later there will be pralaya (widespread destruction) after which the world as we know it will no longer exist. Please grant me the boon that it will be I who will save the world when it begins afresh after the destruction.” Pleased with his devotion, Brahma granted the boon to Manu.

2222A few years passed and one day when Manu was performing his morning ablutions in a pond near his hermitage in the forest, he immersed his hands in the water so that he might offer some water as a prayer to his ancestors. When he raised his cupped hands, he noticed that a small fish was wriggling around in the water that he had collected in his palms. The fish looked at him in the eye and told him “Please do not put me back in the water. There are so many large fish in the pond that I am scared of being eaten up.” Manu was first surprised to have encountered a speaking fish and he immediately realized that this was no ordinary fish. Moved by the simple and sincere request of the fish, he put it inside his kamandalu (small jug with a spout carried by sages and holy men, to store water).

That night Manu went to sleep knowing fully well that the small fish to which he had offered protection would be safe from any dangers. However, when he woke up the next day, he heard the fish talking to him from inside the kamandalu “Please help me, your kamandalu is very small and stifling. I am unable to breathe inside this.” Hearing this, a surprised Manu went to his kamandalu and noticed that the fish has grown unusually large (upto sixteen finger lengths) in just one day. Overcoming his surprise, Manu took some water in a bigger vessel and put the fish inside that.

<<Part 2 of the story>>

Matsya Purana – A short story


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Satyavrata seeing the fish for the first time

While there are multiple versions of this story, the underlying theme and the events associated with the Matsya avatar stays the same in all of them.

One day while bathing, Satyavrata (also called Manu by some) accidentally catches a small fish in his hands. To his surpise, the fish looks at him and starts talking to him. It asks Manu to save its life and protect it in return for which the Matsya will protect Manu from an impending flood about which it is aware of.

When Manu agrees to help, the fish first asks him to put it in a jar of water, and then when it outgrows the same, it asks him to dig a pit, fill it with water and put it in the pit. Later, when it outgrows the pit, it asks Manu to transfer it to the ocean, by which time it is big enough to survive and is also indestructible. At this point, the fish asks Manu to build himself a boat and be ready for the impending flood. It also instructs him that when the flood waters increase, he should think of the fish that will then come over to help him out.

When the flood begins, Manu boards the boat and then prays to the fish for assistance. The fish then appears and ties the boat to a horn that has grown on its head. It uses the serpent Vasuki as the rope to tie the boat to its horn. The fish then tows this boat to safety and takes Manu to the highest and driest point left on the earth.

It is told that as the matsya swam through the flood waters he discoursed Manu on the various topics and revealed to him the knowledge of the Vedas, Puranas, Samhitas and the Supreme Truth.

Matsya steering the boat through the flood waters
Matsya steering the boat through the flood waters

Some versions also has the matsya instructing Manu to collect seeds of all types of plants and assembling the saptarishis (seven great sages) on the boat who are then rescued by the great matsya.

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This post has been written for Friday Fictioneers Photo Prompt – Nov 1 where the post had to be inspired by the pic below.

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