In the entire range of animal-forms used dually as container and as
decorative artifacts, fish form has been invariably used as jewellery
box, and for a container of eatables, never. It is suggestive of two
conventions. Many fish-related myths contend fish to have in its
stomach invaluable pearls and riches of ocean. In Shakuntala-Dushyanta
related myth – the theme of Kalidasa’s famous play : ‘Abhijnana
Shakuntalam’ it was in the stomach of a fish that king Dushyanta’s
ring was found and the entire course of action was changed. Not that
fish had swallowed Pradumnya, son of Lord Krishna, but had him live
and growing for twelve years. Obviously, such myths elevate the status
of fish to divine levels. Thus, fish, riches and divinity have early
links and hence the tradition perceived in a fish-box the most
auspicious container for storing riches. It is traditionally believed
that in a fish-box riches not only remain secured but also growing.
More importantly, fish has its ultimate sanctity and auspiciousness by
its links with Lord Vishnu who had his first incarnation as fish. The
event of Vishnu’s incarnation as fish has been variedly told in
different texts. According to some Puranas during the Great Deluge it
was as the mighty Fish that Vishnu had secured the mankind to safety.
Other versions of the myth link fish incarnation with restoration of
the earth and sometimes, with the Vedas, that the notorious demon
Hiranyaksha had stolen and taken away to nether world. Vishnu as the
Great Fish had killed the demon and restored either the earth or the
Vedas. Hence, tradition always barred use of fish form for a purpose
other than auspicious, such as using it for storing eatables.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
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