Matsya avatar is the first avatar of Lord Vishnu. In puranic literature, all the avatars of Lord Vishnu are taken to rescue his devotees. In Satya Yuga, Lord Vishnu incarnated as the Matsya avatar (incarnation of a fish) to rescue his devotee King Manu from the great deluge.
The puranic story of Matsya Avatar
The reasons for Lord Vishnu to take the Matsya Avatar were two-fold.
The first reason for the Matsya Avatar was to grant the wish of his devotee and save him from the deluge at the end of Satya Yuga. There was a king named Manu in Satya yuga who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He performed a number of penances to fulfil his desire to physically meet Lord Vishnu.
The second reason for the Matsya avatar was to rescue the Vedas which were stolen by the demon Hayagriva and hidden at the bottom of the ocean. As the preserver of the universe, Lord Vishnu ensures that the knowledge of the Vedas passes from one Yuga to another.
The story of Matsya Avatar and King Manu
Lord Vishnu decided to fulfil the King’s wish. One day, when Manu went to the river and began his prayers, he took water in his hands and raised his hands above his head, offering the water to Lord Vishnu as was the custom of beginning his prayers.
When Manu was about to pour the water back into the river, he noticed a tiny fish in his hands. The king considered his duty to save the fish since it had taken refuge in his hands. A lot of bigger fishes were swimming in the river who would be predators to the tiny fish. The King placed the fish in his “kamandalam”.
Manu finished his prayers and returned to the palace. Next morning he noticed that the fish had grown in size and seemed to struggle in the kamandalan. Immediately the King got a bigger vessel and poured the fish in it. When Manu was going to begin his morning prayers, he noticed in surprise that the fish had outgrown the bigger vessel as well. Manu summoned the biggest container in his palace and placed the fish in in. After some time, the fish outgrew the vessel too and Manu was anxious. As a king, it was his duty to save the animal who had taken his refuge. Seeing the fish wither in pain, the king took the vessel and poured the fish back in the river. But the fish continued growing and filled the river too. Manu realized that this was a play of the Maya, but his Dharma did not permit him to forsake the fish. Finally Manu made transit arrangements and shifted the fish to the ocean. As soon as the fish was dropped into the ocean, it became gigantic in size and seemed to fill one side of the ocean.
Manu bowed before the fish and said, “You are Lord Vishnu, you are Narayana. Please accept my prayers.”
Lord Vishnu replied, “You wanted to see me and here I am.”
Tears rolled down Manu’s eyes and he noticed that a horn grew on the head of the fish.
The Matysa avatar informed Manu that Satya Yuga was coming to an end and the King should arrange a vessel for himself, the 7 rishis, seeds of plants and animals to safely cross the deluge and live in the next Yuga.
It was Lord Vishnu who took the Matsya Avatar to steer the ship with it horn. The Matsya avatar led the ship carrying the King and the 7 rishis to safety during the deluge. After saving his devotees, the Matsya Avatar then went and fought the demon Hayagriva to restore the Vedas.
Matsya Avatar- Temples in India
There are very few temples where Vishnu in this avatar is worshipped. Prominent ones include the Shankhodara temple in Bet Dwarka and Vedanarayana Temple in Nagalapuram. Matsya is the patron deity of the Meenas, who claim descent from the deity. The Meenas call Matsya Meenesh, the Lord of the Meenas or the fish (Meena) Lord. In Rajasthan there are many temples of Meenesh, but the first Meenesh temple was in Pushkar, Rajasthan. A Meenesh temple is also situated in Malarana chour village of Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. Other temples include Meenangadi Matsyavathra Mahavishnu Temple and Matsya Narayana Temple, Bangalore.
Matsya Avatar- Mithila painting
Mithila paintings revolve around Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The motif behind Mithila paintings is to portray God & men in nature while borrowing heavily from the ancient epics of India. Mithila paintings use natural dyes to remind us of our lineage with ancient epics of India.
Click to view Mithila painting- Matsya Avatar