Matsya, The Lord’s Fish Incarnation
Srila Sukadeva Goswami
Maharaja Pariksit said: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, is eternally situated in His transcendental position, yet He descends to this material world and manifests Himself in various incarnations. His first incarnation was that of a great fish. O most powerful Sukadeva Goswami, I wish to hear from you the pastimes of that fish incarnation. What was the purpose for which the Supreme Personality of Godhead accepted the abominable form of a fish, exactly as an ordinary living being accepts different forms under the laws of karma? The form of a fish is certainly condemned and full of terrible pain. O my lord, what then was the reason behind His accepting this incarnation? Kindly explain this to us, for hearing about the pastimes of the Lord is auspicious for everyone.
Suta Goswami said: When Pariksit Maharaja thus inquired from Sukadeva Goswami, that most powerful saintly person began describing the pastimes of the Lord’s incarnation as a fish.
Sri Sukadeva Goswami said: O King, for the sake of protecting the cows, brāhmaṇas, demigods, devotees, the Vedic literature, religious principles, and general principles aimed at fulfilling the purpose of life, the Supreme Personality of Godhead accepts various forms of incarnations. Like the air passing through different types of atmospheres, the Supreme Personality of God¬head, although appearing sometimes as a human being and sometimes as a lower animal, is always transcendental. Because He is above the material modes of nature, He is unaffected by manifesting in higher and lower forms. O King Pariksit, at the end of Brahma’s day, with the closure of the past millennium, annihilation took place, and the three worlds were covered by the water of the causal ocean. At that time, when Brahma felt sleepy and desired to lie down, the Vedas were emanating from his mouth, and the great demon named Hayagriva stole all that Vedic knowledge. Understanding the acts of the great demon Hay¬agriva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, who is full of all plenitudes, assumed the form of a fish and rescued the Vedas by killing the demon.
During the Cākṣuṣa-manvantara there was a great king named Satyavrata who was an exalted devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Satyavrata performed austerities by subsisting only on water. In the subsequent millennium King Satyavrata became the son of Vivasvan, the king of the sun planet, and was known as Srad¬dhadeva. By the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he was given the post of Manu. One day while King Satyavrata was performing aus terities by offering water on the bank of the river Krtamala, a small fish appeared in the water held in his palms. Satyavrata, the King of Dravidadesa, promptly threw the fish into the water of the river along with the water in his palms. O King Pariksit, descendant of Bharata, with an appealing voice, the small fish said to King Satyavrata, who was very merciful: My dear King, protector of the vulnera¬ble, why are you throwing Me in the water of the river, where there are other aquatics who can kill Me? I am very afraid of them. King Satyavrata, not knowing that the fish was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, decided with great pleasure to give the small fish protection. Being moved by the pitiable words of the fish, the merciful King placed the fish in a water jug and brought Him to his personal residence. However, in a single night that fish grew so much that He could not easily move His body in the water of the pot. He then spoke to the King as follows. O My dear King, I do not like living in this cramped waterpot. Therefore, please find some better reservoir of water where I can live comfortably. Taking the fish out of the waterpot, the King then placed Him in a large well. But within a moment the fish developed to the length of three cubits. The fish then said: My dear King, this insignificant reservoir of water is not fit for My residence. Please give Me, who have taken shelter of you, a more extensive pool of water.
O Maharaja Pariksit, the King took the fish from the well and put Him in a lake, but the fish then assumed a gigantic form exceeding the extent of that body of water. The fish then said: O King, I am a large aquatic and this water is not even slightly suitable for Me. Kindly find some way to save Me. It would be better to put Me in the water of a lake that will never diminish in size. When thus requested, King Satyavrata took the fish to the largest inland reservoir of water he could find. But when that also proved insufficient, the King at last placed the gigantic fish into the ocean. While being thrown in the ocean, the fish said to King Satyavrata: O hero, in this water there are very powerful and dangerous sharks that will eat Me. Therefore, you should not throw Me in this place.
After hearing these sweet words from the Su¬preme Personality of Godhead in the form of a fish, the King, being bewildered, asked Him: Who are You, sir? You simply bewilder me. My Lord, in one day You have expanded Yourself for hundreds of miles, covering the water of the river and the ocean. Before this I had never seen or heard of such an aquatic animal. My Lord, You are certainly the inexhaustible Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, Sri Hari. It is to show Your mercy to the living entities that You have now assumed the form of an aquatic. O my Lord, master of creation, maintenance and annihilation, O best of the en¬joyers of sacrifice, Lord Visnu, You are the leader and destination of surrendered devotees like us. Therefore, let me offer my respectful obeisance unto You. All Your pastimes and incarnations certainly appear for the welfare of all living entities. Therefore, my Lord, I wish to know the purpose for which You have assumed this form of a fish. O my Lord, possessing eyes like the petals of a lotus, the worship of the demigods, who are in the bodily concept of life, is fruitless in all respects. But because You are the supreme friend and dearest Supersoul of everyone, worship of Your lotus feet is never useless. You have therefore manifested Your form as a fish.
Sukadeva Goswami said: When King Satyavra¬ta spoke in this way, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who at the end of the yuga had assumed the form of a fish to benefit His devotee and enjoy His pastimes in the water of inundation, responded as follows. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O King, who can subdue your enemies, on the seventh day from today the three worlds — Bhūḥ, Bhuvaḥ and Svaḥ — will all merge into the water of inundation. When the three worlds merge into the water, a large boat sent by Me will appear before you. Thereafter, O King, you shall collect all types of herbs and seeds and load them on that great boat. Then, accompanied by the seven ṛṣis and surrounded by all kinds of living entities, you shall board that boat, and without moroseness you shall easily travel with your companions on the ocean of inundation, the only illumination being the effulgence of the great ṛṣis. Then, as the boat is tossed about by the powerful winds, attach the vessel to My horn by means of the great serpent Vasuki, for I shall be present by your side. Pulling the boat, with you and all the ṛṣis in it, O King, I shall travel in the water of devastation until the night of Lord Brahma’s slumber is over. You will be perfectly advised and thoroughly favoured by Me, and because of your current inquiries, everything about My glories, which are known as paraṁ brahma, will be manifest within your heart. Thus, you will know everything about Me.
After thus instructing the King, the Supreme Personality of Godhead immediately disappeared. Then King Satyavrata began to wait for that time of which the Lord had instructed. After spreading kuśa grass with its tips pointing east, the saintly King, facing the northeast, sat down on the grass and began to patiently meditate upon the Su¬preme Personality of Godhead, Visnu, who had assumed the form of a fish. Thereafter, gigantic clouds pouring incessant water caused the ocean to expand more and more. Thus, the ocean began to overflow onto the land and inundate the entire world. As Satyavrata remembered the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he saw a boat coming near him. Thus, he collected herbs and creepers, and, accompanied by saintly brāhmaṇas, he got aboard the boat. The saintly brāhmaṇas, being pleased with the King, said to him: O King, please meditate upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kesava. He will save us from this im¬pending danger and arrange for our well-being. Then, while the King constantly meditated upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a large golden fish appeared in the ocean of inundation. The fish had one horn and was eight million miles long. Following the instructions formerly given by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the King anchored the boat to the fish’s horn, using the serpent Vasuki as a rope. Thus, feeling content at heart, he began offering prayers to the Lord.
The King said: By the grace of the Lord, those who have lost their self-knowledge since time immemorial, and who because of this ignorance are involved in a material, conditional life full of miseries, obtain the chance to meet the Lord’s devotee. I accept that very Supreme Personality of Godhead as the supreme spiritual master. In hopes of becoming happy in this material world, the foolish conditioned soul performs fruitive activities that result only in suffering. However, by rendering service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one becomes free from such false desires for happiness. May that Lord, my supreme spiritual master, cut the knot of false desires from the core of my heart. One who wants to be free of material entanglement should take to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and give up the contamination of ignorance, concerning the duality of supposedly pious and impious activities. Thus, one regains his original identity, just as a block of gold or silver sheds all dirt and becomes purified when treated with fire. May that inexhaustible Supreme Personality of Godhead become our spiritual master, for He is the original spiritual master of all other spiritual masters. Nei¬ther all the demigods, nor the so-called gurus nor all other people, either independently or together, can offer mercy that equals even one ten-thou¬sandth of Your mercy O Lord. Therefore, I wish to take complete shelter of Your lotus feet. As a blind man, being unable to see, accepts another blind man as his leader, people who do not know the goal of life accept someone as a guru who is a rascal and a fool. But we are interested in self-re¬alization. Therefore, we accept You, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as our spiritual master, for You are able to see in all directions and are omniscient like the sun. A materialistic pseudo guru instructs his disciples about economic de¬velopment and sense gratification, and because of such instructions the foolish disciples continue in the materialistic existence of ignorance. However, Your Lordship gives knowledge that is eternal, and the intelligent person receiving such knowl¬edge is quickly situated in his original constitu¬tional position. My Lord, You are the supreme well-wishing friend of everyone, the dearest friend, the controller, the Supersoul, the supreme instructor and the giver of supreme knowledge and the fulfiller of all desires. Although You are within their heart, the foolish, because of sense gratificatory desires, cannot understand You. O Supreme Lord, for self-realization I surrender unto You, who are worshiped by the demigods as the supreme controller of everything. By Your instructions, exposing life’s purpose, kindly cut the knot from the core of my heart and let me know the destination of my life.
Sukadeva Goswami continued: When Sa¬tyavrata had thus prayed to the Supreme Per¬sonality of Godhead, who had assumed the form of a fish, the Lord, while moving in the water of inundation, explained to him all aspects of the Absolute Truth. The Supreme Personality of Godhead thus explained to King Satyavrata the spiritual science known as sāṅkhya-yoga, the sci¬ence by which one distinguishes between matter and spirit, along with the instructions contained in the Purāṇas and the saṁhitās. The Lord explained Himself in all these literatures. While sitting in the boat, King Satyavrata, accompanied by the great saintly persons, listened to the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in regard to self-realisation. These instructions were all from the eternal Vedic literature. Thus, the King and sag¬es harboured no doubt about the Absolute Truth. Similarly, at the end of the last inundation, during the period of Svayambhuva Manu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead killed the demon named Hayagriva and delivered the complete Vedic litera¬ture to Lord Brahma as he awakened from sleeping. King Satyavrata was illuminated with all Vedic knowledge by the mercy of Lord Visnu, and in this period he has now taken birth as Vaivasvata Manu, the son of the sun god. This story concerning the great King Satyavrata and the fish incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Visnu, is a great transcendental narration. Anyone who hears it with proper attention is certainly delivered from the reactions of sinful life. One who narrates this description of the Matsya incarnation and King Satyavrata will certainly have all his ambitions fulfilled, and he will undoubtedly return home, back to Godhead. I offer my respectful obeisance unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who pretended to be a gigantic fish, who restored the Vedic literature to Lord Brahma when Lord Brah¬ma awakened from sleep, and who explained the essence of Vedic literature to King Satyavrata and the great saintly persons.
– Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) > Canto 8: Withdrawal of the Cosmic Creation > Chapter: Twenty Four: Matsya, The Lord’s Fish Incarnation, Verse: 1-61.