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 with funds contributed by Miss Anna Warren Ingersoll, Nelson Rockefeller, R. Sturgis Ingersoll, Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee, Dr. I. S. Ravdin, Mrs. Stella Elkins Tyler, Louis E. Stern, Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Levy, Mrs. Flagler Harris, and with funds from the bequest of Sophia Cadwalader, funds from the proceeds of the sale of deaccessioned works of art, the George W.B. Taylor Fund, the John T. Morris Fund, the John H. McFadden, Jr., Fund, the Popular Subscription Fund, and the Lisa Norris Elkins Fund from the Stella Kramrisch Collection, 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.