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Matsya (Sanskrit: मत्स्य) (Fish in Sanskrit) was the first avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. The great flood is described in the Satapatha Brahmana, in which Vishnu is incarnate as Matsya to save the pious, He then saves the first man, Manu, by telling him to build a giant boat.[1][2][3] In some versions of the legend Prajapati is projected as the saviour of the fish, and in this identity he is subsumed with Brahma.[2]

Matsya Purana which describes the first fish avatar of Vishnu has 14,000 slokas and is reported to have been scripted around 300 AD. Apart from elaborating on the avatar of fish, the purana also deals apart from issues concerning creation, dissolution, genealogies of sages and kings, also narrates about Kacha, Devyani, Yayati, Puru, sculpturing and construction of buildings. In this purana, the narration is made of Satyavrata and the seven sages and their wives who take shelter from the catastrophic floods which destroyed the world, in Vaivashata's ship (arc) and are rescued by the huge fish avatar of Vishnu by tying a rope to his horns and navigating the ship over the flood waves to the safety of the Himalayas, and also saving the Vedas.[4]


In Matsya Avatar (Avatar is a physical form of god on earth to preserve and sustain human beings), which is depicted universally in the Zodiacal astrological sign of Pisces, a geometrical “fish versica", which represents the middle part of a trident signifying wisdom and which is also the characteristics of Lord Vishnu. It is synonymous with the Sumerian Enki.[5]

According to the legend, Vishnu in Matsya Avatar warned the world of an impending tsunami due to planetary configuration. A very pious and religious person named Vaivasta Manu, an equivalent of Noah was assigned the task of building a boat or an ark as a means of protection to the earthlings to avoid drowning to death. In the counterpart legend of Lord Enki, Ziusandra is instructed to assume the form of Noah and protect the world of humans, animals and plants from deluge by building a boat or ark. It is also interpreted that John the Baptist who incarnated in Fish Avatar to alert the world of catastrophic floods was a form of Hindu Vishnu and Sumerian Enki.[5]

While the legend of the Matsya avatar varies from one purana to the other, the legend of Vishnu is also stated to to have its origin in the ancient Babylonian legends. [6]

Floods in India[edit]

The flood event and Fish Avatar of Vishnu saving the arc with Manu, Rishis and others

Flood myths are a universal presentation made in all cultures and are stated to be of a “ cultures dream of rebirth, recreation and renewal from the chaotic maternal waters”.[7]

Floods in India have been dealt in Matsya Avatar, and has been part of the narrations in Agni Purana, Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata which were all considered as the Brahminic versions of Semitic Origin with links to the Bible. Then a new version came to light in the Shatapatha Brahmana (Hundred paths of a Brahmin), which was translated by Professor Max Müller, and which gave a different interpretation to the legend, close to the Vedic version and considered to be mutually complimentary and acceptable. In the Vedic version of the Satapatha Bramhana, the characters are mainly the fish and Manu( who later becomes prajapati, a progenitor of the human race) known as the legislator and the ancestor of two mythical royal dynasties, Vishnu does not figure at all. In this version, water is brought to Manu for his ablutions and while Manu was washing and taking bath, he caught a small fish which appealed to him (since Manu as a of royal lineage to protect the weak) to protect him so that he was not eaten by a bigger fish (called the “law of fishes” akin to the “law of the jungle” where might is right). The fish requested Manu to keep him in jar and allow him to grow, and thereafter take him out and bury him in a pit. As he outgrow the pit, fish told Manu, (in human voice[8]) to put him into the ocean and as a big fish he will then become indestructible. In that form, he would protect Manu when a big flood occurred. He also predicted the time and day of the occurrence of the floods. He then asked Manu to build a ship for the event to save himself. Manu did as instructed by the fish and also built a ship. On the predicted day, the devastating floods occurred and Manu got into the ship. The fish then swam to the ship, tied the rope of the ship to its horns and took it to safety to the high grounds of the Himalayas. Fish then informed Manu to get out of the ship only after the flood waters receded. When Manu eventually got down from the ship he alone was left in the world, as all other creatures had been washed away by the floods. He has then to assume the role of engendering the human race. For this purpsoe, he then started a penance and worshipped gods by offering butter, milk, curds and ghee (clarified butter) seeking procreation. Soon enough, within a year, a beautiful woman appeared before whom he married (called the Divine Ida) and thus the race of Aryan Hindu came to be his progenitors.[9][10]

Only Mahabharta identified Fish Avatar with Brahma while all other puranas declare fish as an incarnation of Vishnu.[11][12]

In Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda, a poetic composition, fish is described as the First Avatara. When Vedas were submerged in a flood, Vishnu took the form of Fish to retrieve the Vedas. In another book titled Abhinava Darpana, the hand gesture made to denote fish avatar of Vishnu is by holding, at shoulder level, one palm over the other pointing downwards with thumb and little finger spread out.[11]

In Padma Purana, Prajapati was created in nine forms, and one of them was Marici who begeted Kashyapa rishi. Kashyapa had four wives; of them Aditi gave birth to Devas while Diti gave birth to asuras. Of the Diti’s sons, Makara became very valiant and went to Brahma’s world and snatched away the four Vedas and disappeared in to the ocean. Brahma startled by this event went in appeal to Vishnu who was resting on his milky way (kshirasagara), and appealed to him to retrieve the Vedas. Then Vishnu took the form of a fish, went down the ocean, killed Maricha and brought back the Vedas.[11]

In the Gomantaka in Maharashtra and Konkan region of Goa, while enacting Dashavatara dramas, fish is shown as killing Shashankar who acts in the role of a demon and a joker who stole the Vedas.[11]

Fish is also identified with Ketu, as part of the creation of planetary system by Vishnu.[6]


In the earlier period, until the Gupta Period, fish avatar was not sculpted with independent identity. During that period, the forms sculpted were: One with two human hands, and another a sculpture with Vishnu shown with four arms coming out of fish flanked by Lakshmi and Saraswati.


  1. ^ "The great flood -- Hindu style; Satapatha Brahmana". 
  2. ^ a b "Matsya". Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Klaus K. Klostermaier (2007). A Survey of Hinduism. SUNY Press. p. 97. ISBN 0-7914-7082-2. 
  4. ^ Deshpande 2005, pp. 71,155-156.
  5. ^ a b Mark Amaru Pinkham (1 September 2004). Guardians Of The Holy Grail: The Knights Templar, John The Baptist, And The Water Of Life. Adventures Unlimited Press. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-931882-28-6. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Danielou 1991, p. 166.
  7. ^ David Leeming (17 November 2005). The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-0-19-515669-0. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Constance Jones; James D. Ryan (1 January 2007). Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Infobase Publishing. pp. 280–. ISBN 978-0-8160-7564-5. Retrieved 29 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Zénaïde A. Ragozin (1984). History of Vedic India. Mittal Publications. pp. 335–. GGKEY:EYQFW05JB83. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  10. ^ Asian Mythologies. University of Chicago Press. 15 May 1993. ISBN 978-0-226-06456-7. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d Manohar Laxman Varadpande (2009). Mythology of Vishnu & His Incarnations. Gyan Publishing House. pp. 53–. ISBN 978-81-212-1016-4. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  12. ^ Cite error: The named reference Puranas was invoked but never defined (see the help page).