Matsya avatar
   The Matsya (fish) AVATA R of VISHNU is said to have preserved the world from a cataclysmic flood in a previous cycle of time. According to the story, the MANU (primordial man) of that era was a great king. He came upon a tiny fish as he was washing himself in the morning. The fish, speaking in a human voice, beseeched the king to save him. He promised to reward Manu by saving him in turn from an impending flood.
   Manu agreed. He first put the fish in a bowl of water, but the fish grew very quickly and outgrew it. Then Manu put the fish in a pitcher, but it became too big for it overnight. Manu suc-cessively put it into a well, pond, and then the GANGES, but it outgrew them all. Finally, he put it in the ocean, where it became very huge. Once in the ocean the fish instructed Manu that after certain cataclysms a flood would wipe out all of the beings on Earth. The fish instructed Manu to build a huge boat, put the world’s creatures in it, and tie a rope to it in preparation for that time. When the flood arrived, Manu attached the rope to the fish’s horn and the fish took him to the northern mountain, where he attached the boat to a tree. Thus were all creatures rescued by the Matsya incarnation of VISHNU.
   Further reading: Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 2d ed. (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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