Manu was an honest and upright man while the people around him were dishonest and crooked. He was so disheartened to see wickedness all over that he wanted to leave the Earth.
One morning, as he was washing his hands with a pot of water, he heard a voice squeak, “Help me, please!”
Manu looked around but could see nothing. He peered into the water in the pot and saw a horned fish saying to him, “Please save me and I will look after you.”
Manu wondered how such a small fish could help him. So he asked, “You are so small that you cannot be of any help to me.”
The fish replied, “Wait and see, how I shall come to your rescue.”
Manu smiled and kept the pot on a high stand away from the sight of his children. Daily he would feed and talk to the fish. Gradually the fish began to grow bigger and bigger till it outgrew the pot. Manu moved it to a tank but the fish grew still bigger. Manu took it and dropped it in a lake. But even the lake became too small for it. Seeing Manu’s plight, the fish called Matsya said to him, “Take and drop me into the ocean, but do not forget to come and see me every day.”
Manu did as told and every day, he would go and stand near the shore, wait for the fish to appear and feed it. The fish would come daily, eat the puffed rice that Manu scattered on the sand and dive back into the water. One day the fish said to Manu, “Manu, I want you to build a ship and keep a seed of each of all living things in it. You too must begin living in it once it is complete and leave your home behind.”
Somewhat bemused at the fish’s command, Manu decided to do as told as he was curious to know what the final outcome would be. He went deep into the forest and daily chopped wood to build his ship. His family and friends laughed at his folly but Manu ignored them. As usual, the next day, when he went to the ocean, the fish came out and said, “Soon a storm will arise and the land will get flooded. Living creatures will die, but you must stay in the ship and I shall come to you.”
Manu took it as a warning signal and told his friends and family to join him in the ship but they all ignored him. That night a violent thunderstorm arose and it rained heavily for days till all land got submerged in water. Manu, however, waited in his ship till he saw the fish arrive. The fish said, “Manu fasten the rope of your ship to my horn and I shall carry you away from the floods and downpour.”
Manu religiously followed the instructions as the fish swam carrying him through the swirling waters for days till Manu began to miss human life. He asked the fish, “Matsya, I find life very lonely living this way. I have an overpowering desire to see human beings again.”
Manu was granted his wish so that when the floods subsided, he began to lead a normal life again with other human beings. His children became the ancestors of mankind. Matsya was the first avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu.