Fish, Tortoise and Crocodile Stories in Mahabharata


Matyavatar= Fish incarnation of Lord Vishnu

Written by London swaminathan

Research Article no. 1709; dated 11 March 2015

Up loaded at 20-35 London time

2.Strange Animal Stories in Mahabharata! – Part 2

Part 1 :Snakes and Snake bites in Mahabharata appeared yesterday.


Adrika, an Apsaras, was cursed by Brahma to become a fish. She ate the ‘seed’ of human being and became pregnant. When it was caught by the fishermen, they saw two human beings in the womb of the fish 1-63

Fishermen gave the babies to the King of fishermen Dashraja. A boy fish Matsya was given to king. Girl fish Matsyaa was raised by Dashraja as Satyavati. Later Satyavati was married to King Shantanu 1-100

Shambara and Fish

Demon Shambara kidnapped Krishna’s son Pradyumna when he was only ten days old. He threw him into ocean and was swallowed by a fish. Later Pradyumna was recovered from the fish. When Pradyumna grew as an adult killed Shambara and married his widow Mayavati.

My comments: Fish devouring people and coming out alive from the stomach of the fish is a common theme in Indian literature. Fish becoming pregnant with human beings is also common.

Pradyumna marrying a demon’s widow shows that they are also as human as everyone else. We have several stories of inter marriages between the demons and angels. Dubbing one as Drvida and the other as Arya is absurd.

Shambara’s name is also common among demons. We have Shambara in the Rig Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata. In future we have to name them Shambara I, Shambara II, Shambara III, Shambara VI etc. Foreigners without knowing the number of people with the same name, wrote a confusing history.


Indus seal of crocodile and fish


Arjuna came across a region where there was a beautiful lake with crocodiles. Brahmanas migrated to different regions fearing those crocodiles. Arjuna purposefully bathed in the tank and caught a crocodile which turned into an Apsara called Varga. She asked Arjun to catch other 4 crocodiles. Arjuna caught those man eating crocodiles and they became Apsara women too.1-216

Crocodiles eating man or animals is a common theme in Tamil and Sanskrit literature. Adi Shankara of Kaladi in Kerala became an ascetic only after caught by a crocodile. Tamil saints revived boys eaten by crocodiles. Tamil poet Tiru Valluvar used the Crocodile’s strength in water as a simile. Gajendra Moksha sculpture is famous from the days of the Gupta dynasty in which the elephant caught by a crocodile was saved by Vishnu. India being a tropical country was infested with crocodiles and all the rivers from Tamil Nadu to Himalayas had crocodiles. Indus valley civilisation seals show a fish in the mouth of a crocodile.

tortoise mandapa, kanchi

Tortoise Mandapa in Kanchi


Tortoise figures in Indradyumna story in the Mahabharata (3-199).

Indradyumna went to heaven, but had to come down to earth when he spent all the merits he earned through good deeds. He was going from place to place to see old faces who he could remember. At last he found an old tortoise in a Himalayan lake who recalled all the good deeds done by Indradyumna. He again ascended to heaven. Even a tortoise can help a king to ascend to heaven.

Tortoise and Fish form the earliest of the Ten Avatars (Incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. So both of them attained divine status.

In Kerala temples the Dwajasthambas are on top of mysterious tortoise!

In Tamil Nadu,  Temple Mandapas are on tortoise in Kancheepuram, Tirukkazukundram, Tiruchengodu and many other places.

Tortoise was the foundation when Devas and Asuras churned the ocean in Hindu mythology.

Panchatantra fables have several stories of intelligent and stupid tortoises.

panchatantra story, kopeshwar temple

Tortoise story in Panchatantra

Tomorrow we will see the birds in the Mahabharata

Leave a comment


  1. Govindaswamy

     /  March 12, 2015

    Dear Mr Swaminathan

    Was not Vyasa born to Sathyavathi through Parasara, prior to her marriage and did he not father Drtharashtra and Pandu. If so, is he not the genetic pithamaha of Kauravas?

    Why Bhishma is called as Pithamaha of Pandavas?


  2. ஒருவேளை வியாசர் துறவி வாழ்க்கை வாழ்ந்ததால், இருக்கலாம். பீஷ்மர் போல குடும்ப விஷயங்களில்,
    நாட்டு விவகாரங்களில் தலையிடாமல், கௌரவர்கள் — பாண்டவர்களிருவருக்கும் பொதுவாக — தொலைவில் நின்றதால்
    அவரை குடும்ப- உறுப்பினராகப் பார்க்காமல், தேசத் துறவியாகப் பார்த்திருக்கலாம்.

    இது எனனூகமே. வேறு விடை கிடைத்தால், எழுதுகிறேன்.

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