Matsya avatar fighting Hayagriva
Pigments and gold on paper
India, Kangra, circa 1800
Height Miniature: 14; Page: 20,4 Width Miniature: 19,2; Page: 25,5 cm
Provenance: formerly in the Servier collection, acquired from Joseph Soustiel Paris before 1983, the back of the old frame bears a Joseph Soustiel label.
This painting probably comes from a Dashavatara series, literally “ten avatars”, illustrating the ten major incarnations of Vishnu, appearing to destroy evil and restore balance in the world. Matsya means «fish»: in this fine painting Vishnu’s avatar as a fish is fighting Hayagriva, a horse headed asura. After stealing all the Vedas during Brahma’s sleep, Hayagriva was hiding deep inside the ocean, thinking that nobody would find him there. Matsya, after having been protected by king Manu who allowed him to grow to a gigantic and powerful fish without being disturbed, found him, fought him and recovered the Vedas in order to pass them to Brahma and allow the passage to the next era or Yuga. This charming painting is a rare depiction of the recovery of the Vedas and the preservation of knowledge between the cycles or Yugas. There are four Yugas in total and each is lasting 4320 billion human years corresponding to a day of Brahma’s life. In the end of each cycle, Brahma is going to sleep. When he wakes up it is thanks to the Vedas that he can recreate the world for another era or Yuga. The idea of stealing the Vedas and endangering the continuity of the cycles or eras and the episode illustrating Matsya avatar is more often depicted using the story of Mahdu and Kaitabha fought by Matsya.