Shri Matsya Narayana

Shri Matsya Narayana


Partha Desikan


Gururgurutamo dhaama satyah satyaparaakramah |

Nimisho (a)nimishah sragvee vaachaspatir udaaradheeh ||

Agraneer graamaneeh shreemaan nyaayo netaa sameeranah |


The above three lines constitute the full shloka 23 and the first half of shloka 24 of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama from the Anushaasanika parva of Maharishi Vedavyasa’s ancient epic. The fifteen names numbering 211 to 225 of the Lord are covered by these lines.


 1. The first name consists of two words, Guruh and Gurutamah. Together it means the greatest of Gurus.


 2. Dhaama is an abode. Holding, containing, acting as refuge.


 3. Satyah  is the eternally existing, the Truth.


 4. Satyaparaakramah displays the limitless valour, capacity, power of the eternal Truth.


 5. Nimishah is the eye closing momentarily, the Infinite refusing to favour the enemies of existence with so much as a look.


 6. Animishah is the one with his eye unblinking, intently watching over the Sadhus whose protection he has always promised.


 7. Sragvee, Vishnu wearing the unique Vaijayanti garland, or his vanamaalaa, whatever the form or shape of his advent.


 8. Vaachaspatih is the Lord of Shrutis, namely of the spoken Vedic knowledge that he himself released.


 9. Udaaradheeh who is generous with the dispensation of wisdom.


10. Agraneeh, who leads and takes his following ahead.


11. Graamaneeh, who is the natural leader of such a community.


12. Shreemaan, always associated with Mother Lakshmi, whatever the nature of his avataara.


13. Nyaayah, the fair, the just one.


14. Netaa, the one who takes decisions on behalf of his following.


15. Sameeranah, the dynamic activator, a driving force, like Vayu.



Vishishtaadvaitis have learnt to depend upon the erudite bhaashya for Sri Vishnu Sahasranaama provided by Shri Paraashara Bhattar of the 12th century. This great scholar saw in the assembly of this bouquet of 15 names in sequence, the attributes of the first of the ten celebrated avataaras of Vishnu, the Matsya, responsible for 1) offering refuge in a boat to a host of new living beings under the leadership of Satyavrata Rishi during a deluge (pralaya flooding), 2) taking all decisions about the conduct of the boat and leading the boat to safety, 3) remaining unblinkingly alert throughout the voyage, 4) showing just enough evidence about himself to Satyavrata to instill confidence in him, while not offering the Grace of a look to any evil force that would have endangered the passage, till the trip was successfully accomplished and finally 5) saving the Vedas taken away by the demon Hayagriva and hidden under the sea, after fighting and killing the demon.  That the Rishi who devotedly followed the instructions of this eternal Satya had the name Satyavrata is not a mere coincidence. He was also to be later conferred the position of a Manu.


Let me offer salutations to the Matsya Guru, who is the Acharya of all Acharyas responsible not only for the preservation of Vedic knowledge, but also for its spread later through Brahma and a host of Rishis. At his command,  the Earth took  the form of a boat, and the Lord offered safety in it for the surviving forms of life after the great pralaya flood and thus allowed Life to flourish again on earth. He took entire charge of the safe passage of the boat along with Satyavrata, all living specimens that the Rishi managed to bring, and the Saptarishigana who had joined them.


My thoughts go back to the 15 name bouquet offered by Vedavyasa to SriVedanarayana, who is Sri Matsya Narayana and notice that the first word of the first name refers to a Guru and the last word/name to Vayu.  I recall another flood that managed to submerge most of Sri Krishna’s Dwaraka at the beginning of the present kaliyuga and the story of the Murti of Sriman Narayana worshipped by the Yadu kings traveling all along the Arabian sea close to the peninsular Indian west-coast, all the way to the Kerala town which has subsequently become known as Guruvayupura, guided by the devata in charge of the planet Guru and the Dikpala deva, Vayu.


I recall the fervour with which this Murti was installed in a shrine there and the kavya tribute Sriman Narayana received much later from Sri Narayana Bhattadri called Narayaneeyam, a ratnamala of 100 chapters containing 1000 Shloka-gems. Shri Vaishnavas always do the 24 akshara Gayatri Japa along with Narayana’s  8-Akshara Nama Japa and therefore consider the number 32 as very sacred. I look at the 32nd dasaka (chapter of 10 verses) in Narayaneeyam and am not surprised that it is devoted totally to the Vedanarayana story, the story of Matsyavataara. The account closely follows the one given in Sri Vishnu Purana, Srimad Bhagavata, Sri Matsya Purana and other Puranas.  A simple English rendering of the 10 verses is given below.


Long ago, in the previous kalpa and at the end of its sixth antara (interval), Brahma fell asleep and the Vedas started slipping out of his mouth. The great demon Hayagriva stole them and your matsyarupa had to manifest!


The Dramila Rishi Satyavrata was doing libations in a river at the time and in his cupped hands you appeared as a resplendent little young fish.


Seeing that you did not want to be thrown back into the river, the sage took you in his kamandala. You grew and grew and in just a few days the sage had to transfer you to a pot, a well and a pond in close sequence, my Lord!


His own yogic prowess supporting him, the sage followed your command and took you to the ocean. When asked by him, you explained the imminent end of the world and asked him to wait for it to happen in just a week.


When the week foretold by you was over and the deluge poured over the earth submerging it, the Rishi, accompanied by the Saptarishis and overwhelmed by the immeasurable onslaught by the waters, took refuge in you.


Mother Earth, who implements all your wishes, appeared then and there in the form of a boat and they all climbed in. They trembled because of its movements and you appeared again on the ocean’s waters in your huge fish-form.


In your fish form, you appeared to be a hundred thousand yojanas long and were shining with higher than normal splendour. The sages were delighted looking at you and taking your advice, they bound the boat to your magnificent front horn.


Dragging the boat along and pointing out  to the Rishis the dividing lines between the universe itself and the worlds, while receiving Satyavrata’s homage, you swam on, teaching the ultimate knowledge, para jnaana to the sages.


When the kalpa ended you reestablished the saptarishis in their appointed location as before, and established the saviour of the Earth’s beings, the Rishi Satyavrata as the Vaivasvata Manu, Manu derived from Vivasvaan. Then assuming rage, you ran after Hayagrivaasura.


You pierced his chest with your beautiful horn and felled him. Grabbing the Vedas from him, you took them back to Brahma who accepted them with joy, O Vayupura’s Lord! Please save us.


Sri Bhattadri’s sweet account is necessarily brief. He therefore omits some puranic details. The puranas cite the serpent Vasuki as having been used as the rope to bind the horn of the mighty fish to the boat. They also mention the Lord’s direction to Satyavrata to be ready with specimens of all varieties of living beings before the flood. All these climbed aboard the Earth-boat along with Satyavrata and the Saptarishis. As for the first detail, if the Matsya bhagavan asked the Rishis to tie the boat, it is obvious he helped them to find the rope. As to the second, the poet refers to Sage Satyavrata as Satyavrata bhoomipa in shloka 9, where his being established as a Manu is described. I have translated the phrase as Satyavrata, the saviour of the Earth’s beings. Perhaps that is what the Poet implied as well.


South of the   concrete jungle that is Bangalore South, you have the beautiful Omkar Hills which separates the city from the lush Turahalli forest. The Hills house the Omkar Ashram which has a grand Matsya Narayana temple, popular among the residents in the neighbourhood. It is new, but its speciality is that it is one among two large temples known to be dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the Matsya form in our country. The other one is of course older. You can read about the Nagalapuram Vedanarayana temple from sites such as the one linked by


A shrine for Sri Matsya has recently come up at Kovalam, near Chennai and there probably are a few other small shrines for the Lord in this form in Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu.



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