Today we are to see a very unique depiction of Vishnu in his fish incarnation. Matsya (Fish in Sanskrit) was the first Avatar of Vishnu in Hindu mythology. Matsya Avatar or the Fish Incarnation is the first of the ten Divine Incarnations or Dasavatars of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is the Preserver of the Universe in the Holy Trinity or Trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Hinduism.
A Kalpa, meaning one cycle of existence, with a span of 4320 million years, in Hindu Mythology, is equal to one day of Brahma, the Creator of the Universe. On the verge of completion of each Kalpa, and one day of Brahma, Brahma falls asleep. When he does so all of Creation, dissolves into his sleep, signifying the end of Creation. Except, the Vedas are immutable and beyond destruction. Their habitat is inside Brahma. They contain the instructions for Creation, and are hence indispensable to resume the Divine Creational Process. Bhagvat Purana, reports, that once Brahma yawned and the precious Vedas, flowed out of his lips.
Matsya Avatar Meanwhile, Hayagriva, the Asura or demon, scheming to gain the desired immortality, a prerogative of the Devas or gods, was wandering nearby. He instantly stole the Vedas and devoured them. Such insidious intent of the Asura, precipitated a crisis. Vishnu, who feigned Nidra or Sleep, witnessed the entire offence. He was speculating on how to retrieve the treasured Vedas, when he located the pious King Satyavrata, offering prayers to Vishnu, with his waist deep down in water. Satyavrata is also called King Manu.
Vishnu immediately assumed the shape of a tiny fish and swam into Satyavrata`s hands. Vishnu, in the disguise of a fish, entreated Manu, who is virtue personified, to save him from being engulfed by the big fish. The kind Manu put the small creature inside a vessel, full of water. Overnight, the fish outgrew on a surprising scale. Manu had to shift him from the vessel into a bigger tank. But the fish continued growing abnormally. It requested Manu for larger space to live, and Manu accordingly kept it in a pond. Manu, exhorted by the enlarging fish, then dropped it in the greater expanse of a large lake. However, the growth rate did not stop escalating. Finally, the bewildered Manu, impelled by the fervent appeal of the mammoth fish for enormous space, placed him in the ocean. But the fish urged Manu, not to leave him in the ocean. Otherwise, the gigantic ocean-beings would swallow him. It was then that the devout Satyavrata, already amazed by the extraordinary growth-speed of the magical fish, pledged it to disclose its actual identity.
Lord Vishnu made his Celestial Revelation before the awed Manu. Satyavrata, instantly bowed down before him and wished to know the reason behind the Lord`s appearance in the frame of a fish. The omniscient Lord, informed him about the forthcoming Pralaya or Destructive Forces that would vanquishing the Earth, with Great Deluge- “I have manifested for the protection of this universe and for the destruction of the wicked. Just a week from now, the ocean will rise and inundate the entire Universe. At that time you will see a spacious boat approaching you. Do collect all the seeds , plants and animals required for the next spell of creation and get into the boat and wait for me. Take Vasuki, the King of Snakes. The Sapta Rishi or the Seven Sages will also be with you.”
Matsya Avatar left to accomplish its mission. He tore apart the Asura Hayagriva, and collected the lost Vedas.
As had been predicted by the Divine Fish, an all-annihilating flood occurred. Meanwhile, a boat appeared where Satyavrata was waiting with the seeds, plants and animals, and the Sapta Rishi, to take refuge in the boat amidst death`s clutches. When everybody had boarded the huge boat, the boat was fastened to the Fish`s horn, with Vasuki serving as the rope ( as i remember reading in Amar Chitra Katha). They sailed in the turbulent water, all through the night of Brahma`s single day. Vishnu thus, rescued life from ceasing. He also by giving shelter to all the creatures, maintained the flow of life that will perpetuate in the next Created Cosmos.
The Matsya Avatar of Vishnu focuses the perpetual love and concern of the benevolent Vishnu,
Ok, but generally vishnu is depicted with a human form waist up and a fish form – ( as is evident from this pillar from srirangam)
But today we see a unique depiction with the forms reversed. Fish upper body and a human lower body – this is from Belur. A very unique and cute sculpture.