Avatar 1: Matsya (the fish)

During the Satya yuga, Narayana first incarnated himself to save humanity from the great deluge. Once, when Satyavrata Manu (sometimes Sraddhadeva or Vaivastata Manu) was washing his hands in a river, a tiny fish swam into his cupped hands. The fish begged him to save its life. King Manu put the fish into a jar but the fish quickly outgrew the jar. Manu then put the fish in a tank with the same result. Manu also tried a river and finally placed the fish into the ocean. At this point, the fish reveals its divine identity to Manu and warns him of the impending flood. Matsyavatar recounts that the deluge will destroy everything in one week’s time.

Naturally, Manu builds an enormous boat and stocks it as to Matsyavatar’s instructions: all variety of medicinal herbs, every type of seed, the seven primodiral sages and of course, animals. When the great rains begin, the great fish appears with a giant horn (à la Narwhal) and a supernaturally strong rope (actually the incarnation of Adi Sesha), which Manu uses to secure the his boat to the great fish. With the rope tightly fastened, the fish guides Manu’s boat through the great flood, saving humanity and life on the planet. The fish brings the ark to dry land atop Mount Meru (the centre of the universe). During the deluge, an asura (demon) called Damanaka stole the Vedas (the scriptures) and hid in a conch shell at the bottom of the ocean. Matysavatar sought out the demon, conquered it in battle and then returned the sacred scriptures to humanity. Myths of the great flood are found in every ancient culture but the ancient Indian legend bears a remarkable similarity to the adventure of Noah and his celebrated ark (Genesis 6:9-9:28).

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