Mythology is the root from where a lot of legends and some even reoccurring have appeared. It talks not only about God but also about the times in which its tales are based. We get to learn about how people lived at the time, what developments were taking place, and how the society functioned. History has preserved many writes from mythological tales, and in this article, we shall be looking into two of those. It has been a matter of investigation, that the legend of Noah’s Ark and that of Lord Vishnu appearing as a Matsya Avatar are somewhat interrelated. There are certainly some unmistakable similarities between the two, but we can spot some differences as well.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN BEHIND NOAH’S ARK?
There have been many variations and reoccurrences of this tale, from Jews to Christians, even the Holy Quran mentioning it and also being retold by the Baha’i Faith, but the essence has remained the same. There have been a few alterations here and there about what the ark looked like and the form that God appeared in, but here we are considering the text that the Holy Bible mentions.
The story about Noah’s Ark starts with God being disappointed in the world that he had created and feeling remorse for all the evil that had taken over. He thought that the world was walked on by utterly wicked people and so he said, “I will destroy from the earth the people I have created. And with them, the animals, birds, and creeping things.” He planned to flood the planet with water until everything was submerged under it. Noah was a righteous man and he found favor with God when He allowed Noah to go in an ark with his wife, his three sons, and their wives. The ark was built with gopherwood and had three platforms, as instructed by God.
God also told Noah to take seven pairs of all clean animals, males, and females, and a pair of animals that are not clean, and birds of the heavens, to keep their offsprings alive. Then the earth started flooding with what was called the Genesis Flood, and it kept going for 150 days when God remembered Noah and his ark. The water receded and his ark comes to rest at a place called Ararat. Soon after, Noah and the animals were told to procreate and flourish the world with life again. Then Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings to the Lord on it. And God said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man or send a flood to destroy all living things, even though mankind’s heart is evil from childhood.”
WHY DID LORD VISHNU APPEAR AS MATSYA AVATAR?
Lord Vishnu had pledged that he would visit earth when Adharma appears and thus when Adharma emerged in the form of Hayagriva, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a fish. Hayagriva was a demon born to Sage Kashyapa and his wife Danu. While Kashyapa was said to be a boon to humanity, his son was the exact opposite and was chosen to be Danav Raj (king of demons). Lord Vishnu had handed over the four Vedas to Lord Brahma, to protect them from being stolen by Hayagriva.
However, he succeeded in stealing them, and to free the Vedas from his clutches, Lord Vishnu incarnated the form of a fish. Brahma knew that people of the earth would not be able to make use of the Vedas until they are purified, and the social values of the population had degenerated, so it was time to re-establish humanity. He sought help from Shiva to destroy the planet and Shiva planned to do so by flooding the earth and submerging everything underwater.
Manu and Shatarupa were conceived by Lord Brahma as the first man and woman on the planet, and Manu had vowed to himself to save humanity from self- destruction. Lord Vishnu took the form of a fish and tested Manu’s kindness and compassion, Manu passed the test by not only harboring Lord Vishnu in the form of the Matsya and pleased by him and his companion, but he also gave them a lease of life. Lord Vishnu handed Manu a boat and asked him to take samples of all the flora and fauna he wanted to save., but he also proved his worth by saving the Saptarishis, who symbolized learning and knowledge for the emancipation of the human race.
HOW ARE THE TWO TALES SIMILAR?
The similarity of the two stories, Noah’s Ark and Matsya Avatar lies in their premise. They both originate as events that occurred due to the degradation of humanity and human values. In both cases, the Lord is not pleased with the kind of world that He had created and thus wanted to recreate it. It is a witness to the creation, un-creation, and recreation of the times that they are based in.
Secondly, it has the commonality of a righteous devotee. In the case of Noah’s Ark, its Noah himself, and in the case of Matsya Avatar, its Manu. They are the ones whom God himself has chosen to be the re-generators of the world and procreate life after its destruction. Another common factor between the two is that God himself tells them the remedy and they did not discover it themselves. It can be interpreted as the all-pervading power that one associated with God, that He is the one who operates the world and no one can step out of His order unless He allows them to.
Lastly, in both cases, plant and animal life has been asked to save. In the case of Noah’s Ark, God wanted him to take seven plants and animal species with him, and in the case of Matsya Avatar, Lord Vishnu asks Manu to pick samples of plants and animals that he liked. Another common factor that can be spotted between the two is the number seven, although it might just be a coincidence. As mentioned formerly, Noah was to take seven plants and animals with him and in Matsya Avatar, Manu took the Saptarishis, which means seven saints with him.
HOW DO THEY DIFFER?
The stories do differ in some way, the first one being that Noah was a righteous devotee from the beginning, whereas Manu had to prove his worthiness and was tested by Lord Vishnu for that. In Noah’s Ark, God had decided to destroy to world independently and he was the one who chooses to save Noah, on the other hand, in Matsya Avatar, Lord Brahma was the one who wished to destroy the world, and Shiva was appointed to cause the destruction and then, Lord Vishnu was the one who had decided to save Manu. He had taken the form of a fish, thus the name Matsya Avatar and conveyed the message to Manu.
In Matsya Avatar, Hayagriva had stolen the Vedas and thus is the antagonist of the tale, in Noah’s Ark, however, the evil in the humanity itself is the antagonist. Also, in Noah’s Ark, there is no basis for the re-generation of the society after the world had been flooded, in Matsya Avatar, the Vedas were protected because they were the guide book for the re-establishment of the population.
In Noah’s Ark, he was given very specific instructions as to which and how many animals and plants he could save, and even their positions on the boat had been narrated to him by God. But in Matsya Avatar, Manu was asked to save as many plants and animals as he wanted and there wasn’t any specificity for that.
One can perceive the two stories to be parallel versions of each other, as in both cases it talks about the rise of inhumanity amongst the humans, which leads to the destruction of the planet. But on the other hand, there are minute differences as well, which leads us to believe that they might be different. In mythology, many tales are derivatives of former stories from different religions or cultures. The coincidence of Matsya Avatar and Noah’s Ark also falls on that category. But whether it is a derivative or a completely different plot, the message that both of them want to convey comes through and has continued to be talked about to date.
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An aspiring civil servant, a curious mind but also an avid binge watcher- Prerna is currently pursuing BA Prog in English and Political Science from Kirori Mal College. She belongs to Chandigarh but really enjoys the hustle of Delhi. Her favourite pastime is taking naps and recognises herself as a pro at it.