Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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Read about Matsya at Wikipedia

See Avatara. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'A descent.' The incarnation of a deity, especially of Vishnu.

1. Matsya 'The fish.' This is an appropriation to Vishnu of the ancient legend of the fish and the deluge, as related in the Satapatha Brahmana, and quoted a above. The details of this Avatara vary slightly in different Puranas.

The object of the incarnation was to save Vaivaswata, the seventh Manu, and progenitor of the human race, from destruction by a deluge. A small fish came into the hands of Manu and besought his protection. He carefully guarded it, and it grew rapidly until nothing but the ocean could contain it. Manu then recognised its divinity, and worshipped the deity Vishnu thus incarnate. The god apprised Manu of the approaching cataclysm, and bade him prepare for it. When it came, Manu embarked in a ship with the Rishis, and with the seeds of all existing things. Vishnu then appeared as the fish with a most stupendous horn. The ship was bound to this horn with the great serpent as with a rope, and was secured in safety until the waters had subsided.

The Bhagavata Purana introduces a new feature. In one of the nights of Brahma, and during his repose, the earth and the other worlds were submerged in the ocean. Then the demon Hayagriva drew near, and carried off the Veda, which had issued from Brahma's mouth. To recover the Veda thus lost, Vishnu assumed the form of a fish, and saved Manu as above related. But this Purana adds, that the fish instructed Manu and the Rishis in " the true doctrine of the soul of the eternal Brahma;" and, when Brahma awoke at the end of this dissolution of the universe, Vishnu slew Hayagriva and restored the Veda to Brahma.

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