Matsya (Fish), an Avatar of Vishnu

Artist/maker unknown, Indian

Made in Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia
Probably made in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, India, Asia

Medieval Period

c. 11th century


15 × 10 1/8 × 4 3/4 inches (38.1 × 25.7 × 12.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
South Asian Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased from the Stella Kramrisch Collection with funds contributed by R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Nelson Rockefeller, and other generous donors, the bequest of Sophia Cadwalader, the Popular Subscription Fund, and proceeds from the sale of deaccessioned works of art, 1956

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In the first of his ten incarnations, the god Vishnu took the form of Matsya (a fish) to save primeval man from the deluge that consumed the world. Here Vishnu is shown as a complete fish rather than the more usual interpretation of the god as a human torso with the lower body of a fish. Vishnu is supported on a lotus pedestal, as in many other representation of the gods, but here the lotus, which grows in water, is elaborated into a fantastic plant with a pillar and tendrils rising from the seed in order to emphasize the importance of water in this story. Miniature representations of North Indian temples, with tall curved spires, top the side pilasters of the relief. This image probably came from a niche on the exterior of a temple structure similar to the one it depicts.