Matsya Avatar

Raja Ravi Varma and Ravi Varma PressCirca 1920

The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation

The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation
Bengaluru, India

MATSYA AVATAR: Matsya Avatar is the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of a fish. The Matsya Purana and the Bhagavata tell the story of how Manu performed severe austerities seeking a boat which could ferry all the living beings to safety during the deluge of final dissolution (pralaya). Lord Vishnu manifested himself in the form of a fish which carried all the living beings to safety. Iconographically the form of Matsya is to be depicted as the lower part of the body being a fish and the upper part as a human being. The human being should have four arms carrying the conch and discus.

This print by the Ravi Varma Press derived from a painting by Raja Ravi Varma follows the description as stated in the scripture with the addition of Vishnu carrying babies in his arms. These babies are symbolic of the life forms or the four vedas which Vishnu saves in the Matsya Avatar.


  • Title: Matsya Avatar
  • Creator: Raja Ravi Varma, Ravi Varma Press
  • Date Created: Circa 1920
  • Physical Dimensions: 35 x 25 cms
  • Provenance: The Hemamalini and Ganesh Shivaswamy Collection, Bengaluru.
  • Subject Keywords: Raja Ravi Varma, Hinduism, Gigapixel
  • Type: Chromolithograph
  • Rights: The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, Bengaluru.
  • Creator's Biography: Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was a prolific Indian artist who is recognized for his resorting to the academic realistic style of painting. His portraits of English and Indian royalty and aristocracy were well received. His paintings on Hindu religious and mythological subjects and paintings from classical and literary sources were highly sought after even during his lifetime. He painted several copies of his works and this demand led to the suggestion to have his paintings printed in the form of oleographs. The Ravi Varma Fine Art Lithographic Press was established in Bombay (now Mumbai) and commenced operations in 1894. Many of Ravi Varma's paintings were printed as chromolithographs at this Press. These chromolithographs would have a tremendous impact on religion, society and aesthetics. They went on to democratize art leading to immortalize Ravi Varma in the minds of the people of the Indian subcontinent.

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