The parallelism of Noah’s ark with Matsya Avatar

Posted on July 11, 2010


Vaivaswata Manu, the son of Vivaswan (Surya), once took to doing austere penances at the banks of river Cheerini. One day, a small fish in the river approached Manu and said: “O Sire, I am but a small fish that lives in fear of the large ones in this river as they may prey upon me. Please save me from this sea of terrors and I shall repay your good deed”

Fish-headed Matsya Avatar of Lord Vishnu (Keshava temple, Somnathpur, Karnataka)

Manu took pity on the fish and transferred it to a small earthen pot, and nourished it with care. As time elapsed, the fish grew to a size that one day it had no additional room in that vessel. At the fish’s request, Manu first transferred it to a large tank. But the fish continued to grow because of which it had to be subsequently transferred to river Ganges, and finally to the ocean. By then, it had grown to an enormous size. But despite its huge body, Manu was able to transfer it with ease.

Once released in the ocean, the fish turned to Manu and said, “I’m grateful for what you have done. Know that the time for the world’s dissolution has come. But you need not worry – I am going to leave you with instructions that will benefit you.

You should build a strong and massive ark and furnish it with a rope. In that ark, you must onboard the seven rishis, and all the seeds enumerated by brahmanas of the yore. And then you shall wait for me and I will appear before you in the form of a horned animal” Saying this, the fish bode farewell.

Manu built an ark and stored the seeds carefully as enumerated by the fish. When the time came, the fish appeared and Manu lowered the noose of the rope on its head. With the noose fastened, the fish towed the ark through the rough seas with great force.

Meanwhile heavy rains flooded and submerged the entire world. The fish steered the boat towards the highest peak of the Himalayas and asked Manu to anchor the rope to the peak. From then on, that peak came to be known as ‘Naubandhana’.

The fish then told the survivors, “Know that I am Brahma* Himself. I have taken this form to save you all. Manu will now work to create all beings, mobile and immobile, in this new era”.

Thus ends the narration in Mahabharata. (Source: Mbh Vana Parva, Chapter 185). The above narration gets more elaborate treatment in Srimad Bhagavadam (Canto 8, Chapter 24), and is also mentioned in other Puranas.

* The fish is none but the Matsya Avatar of Vishnu. The identification with Brahma implies Vishnu and Brahma are different manifestations of the same Brahman.

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It should be noted that Matsya Avatar is the foremost of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. This Avatar is mainly associated with Vishnu assuming the form of a fish at the beginning of the current Sveta Varaha Kalpa in order to reclaim the Vedas stolen by the demon Hayagriva. As per Bhagavatam, the above incident involving Manu however happens at the end of the sixth Manvantara, the Chakshusha Manvantara. The current Manvantara, the seventh, is called Vaivaswata Manvantara owing to the fact that the son of Vivaswan is the Manu for this period.

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One will also find the story of Noah’s ark similar to the above. It is worth mentioning that while Manu onboarded the seven rishis, Noah was asked to onboard seven pairs of clean animals. In the end, the Noah’s ark too docked on a mountain (Mountains of Ararat).