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Paintings > Folk Art > Patachitra > Matsya, the Fish Avatara (The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu)
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Matsya, the Fish Avatara (The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu)

Matsya, the Fish Avatara (The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu)

Matsya, the Fish Avatara (The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu)

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Water Color Painting on Patti Paper
Artist: Rabi Behera

11.0 inches X 17.0 inches
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PG55
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Matsyavatara has two accounts in texts, one relates to protecting Manu, progenitor of mankind, Vivasvana's son and fifth in the line of Brahma, and the other, to recovering Brahma's Vedas. Manu is more often known as Vaivasvata Manu after his father. It is said that once when Brahma was fully absorbed in reciting Vedas, Hayagriva, a demon, slipped into his chamber and stole away the Vedas. With the Holy Scriptures the demon entered into waters and hid him there. For recovering the Vedas Vishnu incarnated as Matsya, entered the waters, killed Hayagriva and brought back the sacred texts. The myth is seen as symbolizing the restoration of true knowledge when ignorance sought to enshroud it under the cover of darkness.

The other myth has wider acceptance from the Vedic texts to the twentieth century's Hindi epic Kamayani of Jai Shankara Prasad, of which main theme is the Great Deluge and Manu's escape from it. As the myth has it, while bathing in river Kritamala in course of penance, a tiny fish appeared before Manu and prayed him to protect it from larger fishes as it was afraid of them. Manu lifted it on his palm and brought it to his palace and put it into a pot. In two-three days it grew larger to the pot's size. Manu transferred it to a larger pot but in next two-three days that pot too failed to contain it. Manu now put it into a tank but in another few days it grew to a size larger than the tank. Now, Manu shifted it to the Ganges but as before Ganges too fell short to its size. Finally, the fish revealed to Manu that within seven days the world would have a great flood. Hence, he should make a large boat, board it along with Sapta-rishis - seven sages, Brahma's spiritual sons, and their wives and escape. The fish promised him to help. As advised by the fish, Manu made a boat and when the Great Deluge began enveloping the world boarded it along with Sapta-rishis and their wives and with the help of the fish paddled it to safety. In the Mahabharata the Himalayan peak where Manu's boat moored has been named as Naubandhana, while in other texts, as Navaprabhanshana, one meaning 'where the boat was moored', and other, 'which rescued the boat'. The Matsya Purana alludes to Manu as the ruler of Dravinda, and the mount where his boat reached as Malaya, not Himalayas.

Significantly, world literature, to include Greek, Latin, European, Babylonian, and South Asian among others, abounds in tales of Great Flood with someone like Manu escaping it under Divine commandment. The Holy Bible (Genesis, Chapters 6, 7 and 8) in Noah's episode seems to recount an identical flood and emergence of God instructing Noah to make an ark with given length, breadth and height to protect him his wife, sons, wives of his sons, males and females of different species of animals and birds, creepers, and vegetables - seeds of life in all its shades and kinds for He was going to flood the world to destroy it along with all flesh which was dirtied by so much of violence. Noah acted as commanded and was instrumental in protecting the seed of life and recreating its all forms. Except a different name of the place where the boat lands and such details of species which Noah is commanded to take with him, this Biblical story is repeated almost verbatim in the Holy Koran (11.3, 25-49). In Matsyavatara, Vishnu, God manifest, acts as fish, from swelling His body-size for causing the flood to securing re-emergence of life; in the Holy Bible, God Himself, not through an incarnated form, does it.


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