Matsya, Manu, and the Great Flood, Part Three


To read Part One, click here.

To read Part Two, click here.


Hearing the words of the dove, Manu’s first thought was that a freshwater fish would never be able to survive in the saltwater of the sea, but then Manu reminded himself that Matsya was not just an ordinary fish, but a very magical one.  And a magical fish like Matsya could live happily in either the rivers or the oceans.  He would be fine, even in the salty water of the sea.


Manu put away his gardening tools, and set off to the north again.  There, on the banks of the Ganges, he looked into the water and was astonished to see how big Matsya had grown.  He was the biggest fish anyone had ever seen!  Manu picked him up in his hands, and Manu grew enormous too—as tall as a mountain.  His head was up in the clouds, and the birds flew around him.  He even spotted the lovely dove who had brought him the message, flying along with her mate.


Manu took Matsya to the sea, and put him into the great expanse of water.  The sea was so huge that no one could see across to the other side, and Manu knew that Matsya would have lots and lots of room to swim in.


Before Matsya swam off, he turned and looked at Manu, “You are a good man.  You have been so kind to me for so very many years.  You have given me everything and taken care of me.  You don’t know who I really am, but I have a message for you.  There will be a very great storm, and then a very great flood. It will be dangerous, and the whole world will be swallowed up by the flood, but I will save you.  When it starts to rain, you must build a big, very sturdy boat.  In it you can put all the seeds from your garden and seeds from many other gardens so that you and other people will be able to grow vegetables to eat in the future.  You will need to do that because the flood will last a long time and will cover the earth, so you must be prepared. Start as soon as the rain begins.  Don’t wait!


“When you have the boat and the seeds inside it, then come back to me in the sea.  Bring the seven rishis with you too. (Rishis are very wise and magical, ancient beings.) You will be able to see me easily because I will have horns on my head.  Come back to me, and I will save you and guide you through the flood.”


As soon as Manu went south and reached his home again, it began to rain.  He followed Matsya’s instructions exactly because he knew it was important.  He built a very good, sturdy boat, and gathered seeds of many varieties to take along with him.


Then, with the rain pouring all around him, he took the boat down to the sea, put it into the water, and set sail, heading north.  After three days, with the waves growing stronger and the wind picking up, he found himself near the mouth of the Ganges, where he had put Matsya into the sea.  He hoped he would be able to find Matsya easily.  There he was!  He could see two golden horns sticking up out of the water, and it was really Matsya!  Matsya swam along by the side of the boat; he told Manu exactly what he should do, and Manu leaned over and put a strong rope around Matsya’s horns.  With the boat securely fastened to his horns, Matsya took off into open water, pulling the boat behind him.


The waves grew higher and higher, nearly as high as the sky, and the wind was terrible.  It made a roaring sound.  But Manu was not afraid because he knew that Matsya was pulling the boat and had promised to carry them to a beautiful mountain.


In the daytime, the sea spray washed over the boat, shining white in the sunlight, and at night sometimes the moon shone bright like a gold lantern in the sky, but sometimes, the moon was hidden behind the clouds, and could not be seen.  It was very black then, with no stars.  Matsya swam and swam, pulling the strong boat through the waters, and Manu felt a sense of peace, feeling a divine presence and knowing that things were as they were meant to be.


After a long time of sailing, they came aground on a mountain top far, far north in the Himalayas.  Manu got out and stretched his legs, and Matsya rested for a while in shallow water. There was a rainbow overhead, from one side of the mountain top to the other.  Doves and ravens began to light in the trees. There were deer and rabbits watching them curiously.  Manu and Matsya smiled at each other, and knew they had come to a safe land at last – and in the foothills, when the water receded a little, there would be a very good place to start a garden. The seven rishis smiled. The sun smiled too in the blue sky.


Matsya, the little fish who became a big fish, was really Lord Vishnu, who had come to earth and had saved Manu, the seeds, the boat, and the seven rishis.  He told them who he really was, and then instantly, he vanished, to return to heaven where he lived.


Later on, as more and more land reappeared after the great flood, Manu, with Lord Vishnu’s blessing, created animals, people, and plants to populate the earth.


Matsya did not leave completely though.  He still swims today in the seas, the lakes and the rivers.  Every fish is Matsya.  Every fish is sacred, and their water must be kept blue and sparkling, so that they will always live happily — free, and safe from harm.


Illustration: Franco Bosetti /


Matsya, Manu, and the great flood

Part One


A retelling, for children, of the story, first told in the Mahabharata


A very, very long time ago, longer than anyone could imagine, a man stood on a riverbank, deep in a forest.  He wasn’t just any man, but was a very special man; he was a holy man named Manu.  He was saying his prayers, and in order to focus his attention, he stood on one leg.  For ten thousand years, he had remained standing this way.


In the river nearby, fish were swimming, little fish and big fish, though Manu was intent on his prayers and was not watching them.  One of the very tiny fish was hiding behind a rock.  The big tail of one of the big fish splashed, making huge waves under the water and sending the little fish out from behind the rock into the main stream of water.  There the little fish could be seen by so many big fish – great huge fish; some were blue with stripes; some were gold with big fins, and some had gigantic mouths.  They swam nearer and nearer to the little fish, and he was really scared!


Suddenly making a decision, the little fish broke the surface of the water, and began to shout, “Help! Help!”  Seeing Manu standing by the riverbank on one leg, he cried out to him, “Kind sir, save me!  My name is Matsya!  I’m just a tiny fish, and the big fish are about to eat me! You must help me!”


Manu’s eyes sprang open when he heard the voice of the little fish, and hearing the terror in his voice, he immediately wanted to help him.  He ran toward the river, and without hesitating he bent down, and scooped up the tiny fish in both his hands, being careful to hold water in his palms, so the little fish would have some water.


“Oh, thank you, kind sir, thank you!” piped Matsya.


But Manu had a problem.  Where was he going to keep Matsya, who couldn’t just stay in his hands?  He needed something that would hold water.  And he needed it really quickly or all the water would drain from his hands, and then Matsya wouldn’t be able to breathe, since a fish can only breathe in water.


He remembered a hut he had seen many years ago, just a little way further along on the river bank, and as fast as he could go, he ran toward it. Maybe there were kind people who lived there who would help him. Manu’s knees hurt a little; he wasn’t used to running since he’d just spent ten thousand years standing still on one leg, but he ran as fast as he could.


Outside the door of the hut, he shouted, “Hello!  Hello! Is anybody home?”


The door flew open, and there was an elderly woman.  Her hair was gray, and going in all directions.  On the floor beside her was a little dog and two hens, all looking very surprised and slightly alarmed.  “What do you want?” she said rather abruptly.


“Oh, kind lady, I’ve saved this little baby fish, and I need something that will hold water to keep him in.  Can you please help?”


“Oh, of course, why didn’t you say so?”  She went back inside, and Manu could hear pots and pans banging about.  The dog and the hens looked even more alarmed and hid under a table by the door.  Finally, she reappeared, with an earthen jar.  She brushed past Manu, and went down to the river, and was back in an instant with the jar filled with water. “Here,” she said, extending the jar, “Put him in this.  He’ll be safe.”


Manu slipped Matsya into the jar, which was the perfect size, just big enough so he had room to swim and splash about.  “Thank you so much.  You’ve been so very helpful!” said Manu.  The woman smiled, and was already busy feeding the dog and the hens.


Manu walked along the riverbank back to the house he used to live in such a very long time ago.  There his house was, just as before.  He placed Matsya’s jar very gently on a table, where he would be completely safe.  Matsya was looking sleepy, he’d had such a long and stressful day already, and he was only a baby.


What was he going to feed Matsya?  He would be hungry when he woke up.  Back down by the river, Manu found some water lilies that looked just like the right food for Matsya.  They had green leaves and pink flowers. Matsya lived happily in the jar in Manu’s house for many, many months.  Manu fed him various plants and grasses that grew in the river, and because Manu was very inventive, he created a special machine that could pump air into the jar, making lots of bubbles, so that Manu would have enough oxygen to breathe.


He learned exactly how to take care of the little fish, and raised him very successfully.


In fact, he raised him so successfully that Matsya got bigger and bigger and bigger.


Finally, one day, Matsya said to Manu, “This jar is too little for me now.  I have to have something bigger to swim in.  I can hardly turn around.  Please, may I go to a pool?”


To be continued…


Illustration: Avohitatevs /