agna sruthi jaala maargaNa dasaa dathakshaNair veekshaNai:
antha: thanvadhiva aravinda gahanaan oudanvatheenaam apaam /
nishprathyooha tharanga ringaNa mitha: prathyooDa paatha: chaDaa
Dola AarOha sadOhaLam bhagavatha: maatsyam vapu: paathu na: //” 2
“The Lord dived into the ocean in the form of a fish searched with His lotus eyes, rapidly viewing on all directions creating an illusion of lotus flowers blossoming everywhere - all in search of the Vedas that had been stolen by an Asura. The ebb and flow of the waves of the Ocean seemed to be a swinging cradle that soothed and almost lulled Him into a comfortable reverie. May this Lord of “Matsya Avataara” protect us”
It will be noticed that Swami Desika does not dwell at length on the story behind the scene in His drama. In some cases, he gives just a hint and in others he leaves it to the imagination of the readers. For the information
of those not familiar with the story part, we give the background for a better appreciation of the Avatara Rahasyam and Swami Desika’s composition.
STORY OF MATSYA AVATAARAM
At the end of one of the Kalpas, after a day's strenuous work, as nightfall was approaching Brahma felt sleepy. As his eyelids closed and his mouth opened involuntarily for a yawn the Vedas slipped out of his mouth without his noticing. But a demon by name Hayagriva did not fail to notice this and hurried to devour the Vedas. Sri Vishnu who is all pervading and omniscient observed this and decided to retrieve the Vedas and restore them to Brahma to enable him to go ahead with his work of creation during the next Kalpa (day break).
While Sri Vishnu could have wrested the Vedas from the demon by his sheer will-power (Sankalpa), he chose to wait for performing a two-in-one feat of conferring his blessings on a Bhakta, SATYAVRATA by name while destroying the demon. As the deluge (Pralaya) was near at hand, he decided to descend `down to earth' in the form of a `fish' to accomplish both the tasks.
Satya Vrata was a great and good King. Once he went to the river KRITAMALA for offering water (Argya) during Sandya vandana. A small fish came into his hands as he cupped his palms to lift water. He dropped it back in the water. But every time he lifted water the fish was sure to get into his hands. The King left it in a tub but it grew so fast that the tub could not hold it. The king transferred into a well, pond, lake, river and finally the sea as it overgrew so rapidly that none of them could contain it. Satyavrata was amazed, when the fish revealed himself as Lord VISHNU. When the Lord asked the king what he wanted, he did not desire anything for himself. He did not even want Moksha. All that he sought was that even during the impending Pralaya, he should be instrumental in saving the life of worthy souls from destruction.
The fish told him that on the 7th day from then a great deluge(Mahapralaya) would take place when a severe tornado would rip through the Universe and destroy it. But, if Satyavrata could muster herbs, seeds and a pick of beings he wanted for the next Kalpa and keep ready, the fish would send a spacious boat in which all of them as also the Saptarishis (7 sages) would be accommodated and saved. The fish advised that Vasuki, the serpent should be brought and used as a rope for fastening the boat to the horns of the fish. Satyavrata did exactly as advised by the fish and the entire crew was saved. As the boat sailed throughout the night of Brahma, Lord Vishnu taught Satyavrata and the Saptarishis what is known as “Matsya Purana.”. Thus, Vishnu saved true devotees from destruction and endowed them with divine knowledge. During the 7 day waiting period the Lord in his gigantic fish form sought after the demon Hayagriva, killed him in a straight fight and retrieved the Vedas.
Thus, He accomplished the three tasks of saving the righteous, destroying the demon and retrieving Vedas for establishing Dharma. This SATYAVRATA later became the Manu during Chakshusha Manvantara.
Swami Sri Vedanta Desika calls this Avatar as `ICHA MEENA' in his Dasavatara Stotra to indicate that the Lord took the form of a fish by his desire (Icha or Sankalpa)
1. Swami Desika makes no mention about this story. Since Leela rasam is the main focus, SD highlights the salient Rasa anubhavam. Here it is “Ichaa”- desire. What is His desire? Taking the form of a huge fish swimming in the
waters of the ocean.
2. Nirmagna Sruti jaala = Vedas that were submerged under the waters
3. Maargana dasaa= in the act of searching
4. Datta kshanai Veekshanai = casts His magic spell through His glances. The ebb and flow of the waters during the forceful swimming of the fish serves as a swing for the Lord!
5. In His hurry to search for the Vedas, His glimpses wandered hither and thither swiftly. So, like a rotating fireball that seems to be everywhere, his lotus eyes were also seen everywhere.
6. Unlike in the picture drawn by Raja Ravi Varma with a half-fish and half- human, the figure depicted by SD shows the figure as a behemoth fish precisely as it is seen in the Archaamurthis in the Dasavatara Sannidhi in
7. A subtle dig at the Lord can also be seen in this description. SD seems to suggest that whatever form the Lord might take, the unique specialty of His (Pundarika aksha) lotus eyes could not be camouflaged! In Stotra Ratnam,
the Acharya describes “Matsya kamala lochanam”, SD goes a step further to say that when His glances wherever they fell created the appearance of bunches of lotus flowers in full bloom.
8. Why this phenomenon? Because the Lord moved so fast, His eyes directed in all directions so swiftly that the underwater seemed to be all lotus flowers.
9. As fish is believed to nourish its little ones by its sheer glance and therefore, known never to bat its eyelids - the MATSYA Lord would save His devotees by his mere glance. The dirt that gets accumulated in beings who
languish in the ocean of SAMSARA - is cleansed by MATSYA Lord’s very glance.