Matsya Avatara (मत्स्यावतारः)
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Matsya Avatara (Samskrit: मत्स्यावतारः) is the first and the foremost of the ten complete incarnations Dashavataras (दशावताराः) of Mahavishnu. The ten avataras (incarnations) according to the Puranic Encyclopedia are as follows:
मत्स्यः कूर्मो वराहश्च नरसिंहश्च वामनः । रामो रामश्च रामश्च कृष्णः कल्किर् जनार्दनः ।।
Matsyaḥ Kūrmo Varāhaśca Narasiṁhaśca Vāmanaḥ । Rāmo Rāmaśca Rāmaśca Kṛṣṇaḥ Kalkir janārdanaḥ ।।
Meaning: Matsya (Fish), Kurma (Turtle), Varaha (Boar), Narasimha (Lion-man), Vamana (Dwarf), Rama (Parashurama), Rama (Sri Rama), Rama (Balabhadrarama), Krshna (Sri Krshna), Kalki (Yet to come). These are the ten incarnations of Janardana.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
To Kashyapa, the son of Marichi, and the grandson of Brahma a son was born, by his wife Aditi. He was called Vivasvan and the Manu who was the son of Vivasvan is known as Vaivasvata Manu or Satyavrata Manu. It was during the time of this Manu that Vishnu incarnated as a Matsya (fish).
Once, while Brahma was reciting the Vedas (the Scriptures) Hayagriva, an asura, stole the Vedas from the side of Brahma and with them he went under water to the bottom of the ocean and hid himself there. So Mahavishnu decided to take the form of a fish to recover the stolen Vedas.
Vaivasvata Manu, was once doing penance in a place known as Badari. He got down into the river krtamala to take a bath. Then a small fish said to Manu: “Oh Raja, I am afraid of large fishes. So please don't forsake me”. Hearing this the kind Manu took the fish in his hand and put it in an earthenware pot and brought it up. In a few days the fish began to grow. When the pot became insufficient the Raja put it in a larger pot. When that also became too small, the he put the fish in a pond. When the pond could not hold the fish any longer he put it in the Ganges at its request. After a few days the Ganges also became too small for the fish. Finally the fish told the Raja: “Oh, Raja, within seven days there will be a great flood in the world. You should make a boat and take the Saptarshis with you in the boat and escape. I will help you.”
Hearing this he got an immensely large boat ready and obeyed the instructions of the fish. Within seven days rain started in torrents. Everything in the world, the moving and the not moving, were under the flood. A horn began to sprout from the head of the fish. Manu tied his boat on that horn. The fish reached the summit of the Himalayas with the boat, which was tied to the highest peak. Since the peak came to be called ‘Naubandhana Shrnga’ (The peak to which boat is tied). The rain ceased to pour. It was seen that everything in the world had been destroyed except Manu and the Saptarshis and some of the germs, saved in the boat. (This story occurs in Mahabharata Aranya Parva, Chapter 187; Agni purana, Chapter 2; bhagavata 8th skandha, Chapter 24).
अग्निपुराणकथा ॥ Story in the Agni Purana
Once, Vaivasvata Manu was practising penance for gaining objects of enjoyment and for release from mundane existence. When he was offering water as a ritual in the river Krtamala, a small fish came from the waters into his folded palms. As he was about to throw it back into the waters, the fish requested him not to do so as there was fear of crocodiles in the waters. Having heard this, Manu put the fish into a vessel. When it grew in size, the fish requested for a bigger vessel. But soon, it outgrew the big vessel also and was put into a tank. And eventually, as it grew as big as the tank, Manu released the fish into the ocean and in a moment the fish grew in size extending to one lakh yojanas. Manu then realised the fish to be none other than Sri Vishnu and at his behest the lord in the form of a fish said, “I have manifested for the protection of this universe and for the destruction of the wicked. On the seventh day, the ocean would flood the earth. Having collected the seeds of creation in the boat that would approach you, you should spend a night of Brahma (equal to 1000 mortal years) on it being encircled by the saptarshis. And bind the boat to my horn with the big serpent (as the rope). Saying thus, the fish disappeared. As the appointed hour approached and the ocean began to swell, Manu boarded the boat as instructed. The fish now appeared with a single golden horn of one million yojanas in length. And Manu tied the boat to its horn. Manu praised the lord in the form of a fish with adorations. And it was at this hour that the Matsya Purana, capable of destroying papas, was revealed by the lord in the form of a fish to Manu. This story of the Matsya Avatara occurs in the second chapter of the Agni Purana.