Out of the innumerable avatars that Lord Vishnu assumed, the Rishis and Sages selected ten avatars to represent the rest. These ten avatars, known as the Dashavatara in Sanskrit were introduced in the Garuda Purana. In different scriptures, the Dashavatars are different. However, the Matsya Avatar of Lord Vishnu is mentioned in all the scriptures and is one of the most important avatars.
Story of Matsya Avatar
Matsya meaning Fish in Sanskrit was the first Avatar that Lord Vishnu assumed. In Hindu mythology texts like the Satapatha Brahmana, the great flood finds mention. The Matsya Avatar takes comes into existence to save the highly pious king and the first man, Vaivasvatha Manu. Lord Matsya is generally depicted as a four-armed figure that is both man and a fish. The upper torso being of a man and the lower of a fish, this avatar advises Manu to build an ark to save all species from the great flood.
Why Lord Vishnu took the Matsya Avatar
When the people on earth had become irreligious and the whole of humanity was in disarray during the Satya Yuga, the Gods collectively decided to flood the earth. This was meant to prepare the earth for the process of renovation.
Lord Vishnu had given Lord Brahma, the creator, the guidelines to remodel the earth. These guidelines were nothing but the Vedas, the four principle texts of Hinduism namely Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda.
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Who was Hayagriva?
Before taking up this grand task at hand, Lord Brahma decided to rest as he was quite tired from the process of creation. Taking this as an opportunity, a horse-headed demon named Hayagriva came out of Brahma’s nose and stole the Vedas. Hayagriva then went and hid in the depths of the oceans of the earth.
Story of Satyavrata (Manu) in Hindu mythology
Meanwhile, King Satyavrata was known for his piousness. He was a worshipper of Lord Vishnu and he was pretty determined to meet the Lord. Impressed by the king’s determination, Lord Vishnu decided to pay a visit to Manu.
Satyavrata, later known as Manu, the king of pre-ancient Dravida has ruled over the southern part of Bharata Varsha and a devotee of Vishnu was washing his hands in a river. Just then a little fish swam into his cupped-hands and pleaded with him to save its life as if it was to be left in the river, it would fall prey to the bigger fishes.
The fish grows unnaturally huge
Manu was kind and carried the fish and put it in a jar, but to his dismay, the fish soon outgrew the jar and so it was moved to a tank. Not so long after, it outgrew the tank as well and it just kept growing until one fine day the king had to take it to the ocean where the fish then revealed itself to be Vishnu.
Manu was told that the mare who lived at the bottom of the ocean would open her mouth to release a poisonous fire at the end of the Kaliyug, which would set ablaze the whole of Universe including all the Gods. Then on the seventh day, a deluge would hit the earth that would wipe out life on earth in its entirety, until everything was a large single ocean.
Therefore, the fish asked Manu to build an ark and to take along the best representative of flora and fauna accompanied by the seven saints. On the day of the flood, Matsya Avatar appeared along with the serpent Vasuki. The boat was then tied to the horns of the fish using Vasuki, the snake as a rope and all along the voyage, Matsya avatar taught the king the gamut of sacred literature.
Slaughter of Hayagriva
Once the flood subsided, Hayagriva, the demon was exposed and was finally killed by Matsya, and the Vedas were rescued from its capture. Saddened by what had unveiled Manu asked Vishnu why mankind had to meet with such a fate, to which Matsya Vishnu answered that the earth was rid of moral men and Manu was the only one left alive and that he deserved to be the father of the future generations of men. When the catastrophe ended and the water subsided, Manu and the others were left at the Himalayas by Matsya Vishnu where they began human civilization again.