Tales from Srimad Bhagavatam: Matsya Avatar, the Incarnation of a Fish – V

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Nilanjana retells the stories from the Srimad Bhagavatam, bringing alive the essential Indian wisdom of the yore. In the fifth part, she begins with the story of the Dashavatar of Narayana. It begins with Matsya Avatar, the fish incarnation of the Lord. It’s an enchanting story of a strange fish that was growing and becoming larger and larger. Satyavrata, the righteous king, understood that it was the Leela of the Lord. Find out more about the first incarnation of Narayana, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

This is one of the first incarnations of Narayana.

Satyavrata, a righteous king, was the ruler of the world at that point of time. One morning, when he was busy with his ablutions on the banks of river Kritamala, a tiny fish slipped into the water that he held on his palms. He immediately dropped the fish into the river.

The fish spoke to him in a human voice, “Oh King! Please protect me. The big fishes here will eat me up. Please take me away from the waters.”

The king took the fish and placed it in his kamandula (a pot that was used in ancient days for the purpose of worship) and went home.

The next morning, the fish requested for a larger place to accommodate him. The king moved him to a bigger pot. But the fish outgrew this pot in an hour or so. King Satyavrata then placed the fish in his royal pond. In some time, the fish became too big to be accommodated into the royal pond. “I am feeling suffocated here,” he pleaded and requested the king for a larger place.

This cycle continued for some time. The king kept on moving the fish to larger and larger pools of water, but the fish outgrew all of them.

Finally, the king took the fish to the sea and released him there. The fish asked, “Why did you bring me here. The sea is full of predators like sharks and whales. They will eat me up!”

Being a devotee of Narayana, King Satyavrata could understand that this was one of Lila (role assumed by the divine for some specific purpose) of Narayana. He smiled and replied, “You are a rather strange fish. You keep outgrowing any pool of water that I place you in. Hence I cannot mistake you for an ordinary fish. I know you are Narayana but in the form a fishfor some specific purpose. Will you be kind enough to tell me the reason for such a Lila?”

The fish spoke softly, “Seven days from now, mahapralaya (perilous floods) will hit the world. All the three worlds will be submerged under water. You will see a boat moving towards you. Collect the seeds of all important medicinal plants. Board the boat with the sapta rishis (the seven sages). Everything will be enveloped by darkness; the rays emanating from the saptas rishis will be your illuminating light. You have to tie your boat to one of my horns. Vasuki, the serpent, will be the rope. Though the angry oceans will toss the boat around, I will be there to guide you.”

The fish disappeared.

King Satyavrata collected the seeds of all important medicinal plants. He then began meditating to prepare himself for the mahapralaya. On the seventh day, dark clouds washed away the world.

The king saw the boat approach him, as was promised. He boarded the boat with the saptas rishis . The fish that guided them was golden in colour. The angry oceans could not scare any of the inhabitants of the boat since they were armoured with faith on the Divine.

Later on, King Satyavrata requested Narayana to impart the knowledge that will help him wade through turbulent oceans of the cycle of birth and death. He was thus blessed with the knowledge of Brahma Vidya (knowledge of the cosmos) wherein he learnt the various paths of reaching the divine – jnana (knowledge), karma (action) and bhakti (devotion).

The underlying symbolism in this story is quite obvious. Human life is often tossed around by waves of uncertainty and insecurity. Over and above that, vanity and ego often engulf the mind. In this convoluted state, knowledge is the illuminating power and devotion is the only refuge for those seeking salvation from the recurrent cycle of birth and death.

[To be continued]

 Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.

©Nilanjana Dey

Photos from the internet.

A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled ‘The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail’. Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals. An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.