There used to be a king named Vaivasvata Manu. He was the son of the sun-god Vivasvana. When it was time for Manu to retire to the forest, he handed over the kingdom to his son Ikshvaku. Manu then went to the foothills of Mount Malaya and started to perform tapasya (meditation). Thousands and thousands of years passed. Such were the powers of Manu‘s meditation that Brahma appeared before him. ―I am pleased with your prayers,‖ said Brahma. ―Ask for a boon.‖ ―I have only one boon to ask for,‖ replied Manu. ―Sooner or later there will be a destruction (pralaya) and the world will no longer exist. Please grant me the boon that it will be I who will save the world and its begins at the time of the destruction.‖
Brahma readily granted this boon.
Days passed. On one particular occasion, Manu was performing ablutions in a pond near his hermitage. He immersed his hands in the water so that he might offer some water to his ancestors. When he raised his cupped hands, he found that there was a minnow (shafari) swimming around in the water. Manu had no desire to kill the minnow. He placed it carefully in his water-pot (kamandalu).
But the minnow started to grow and within a day, it was sixteen fingers in length. ―Save me, king.‖ said the fish. ―This water-pot is too small for me.‖
Manu then placed the fish in a vat. But the fish continued to grow and, within a day, it was three hands in length. ―Save me, king.‖ said the fish. ―This vat is too small for me.‖
Manu put the fish in a well, but the well soon became too small for the fish. Manu transferred the fish to a pond, but the pond was also too small for the fish. Manu now removed the fish to the holy river Ganga, but even this was too small for the fish. Finally, Manu transferred the fish to the ocean. There the fish grew so much that it soon occupied the entire ocean. ―Who are you?‖ asked Manu. ―I have never seen or heard of such wonders. Are you a demon that is deluding me with its illusions? No, I do not think that you are a demon. You must be the great Vishnu himself. Please tell me the truth and satisfy my curiosity.‖
Vishnu then revealed that it was indeed he who had adopted the form of a fish. He told Manu that the earth would soon be flooded with water. Vishnu had got a boat built by the gods. When the earth was flooded, Manu was to place all living beings in the boat and thus save them.
Vishnu would himself arrive in his form of the fish and Manu was to tie the boat to the fish‘s horn. Thus the living beings would be saved. And when the waters of the flood receded, Manu could populate the world afresh and rule over it.
Vishnu disappeared, and for a hundred years there was a terrible drought on earth. The drough led to famine and people died of starvation. Meanwhile, the sun blazed in fury and burnt up the entire world. When everything had burnt to ashes, dark clouds loomed in the sky. These are the clouds that appear at the time of destruction and there are seven classes of cush clouds, known as samvarta, bhimananda, drona, chanda, valahaka, vidyutapataka and kona. From the clouds, rain began to pour and soon, water engulfed the entire earth. The land mass was flooded. As instructed by Vishnu, Manu gathered together living beings inside the boat. And when the fish appeared, he tied the boat to the fish‘s horn. What do you think Manu used a rope? He used a gigantic snake.
While the boat was thus thethered and dragged around by the fish, Manu asked Vishnu several questions. The answers that Vishnu provided form the text of the Matsya Purana.
Let us start with the account of the creation.