Matsya Purana

The opening page of chapters 13-14, Matsya Purana (Sanskrit, Devanagari)

The Matsya Purana (IAST: Matsya Purāṇa) is one of the eighteen major Puranas (Mahapurana), and among the oldest and better preserved in the Puranic genre of Sanskrit literature in Hinduism.[1][2] The text is a Vaishnavism text named after the half-human and half-fish avatar of Vishnu.[1][3] However, the text has been called by the 19th-century Sanskrit scholar Horace Hayman Wilson, "although a Shaivism (Shiva-related) work, it is not exclusively so"; the text has also been referred to one that simultaneously praises various Hindu gods and goddesses.[4][5]

The Matsya Purana has survived into the modern era in many versions, varying in the details but almost all of the published versions have 291 chapters,[6] except the Tamil language version, written in Grantha script, which has 172 chapters.[4]

The text is notable for providing one of earliest known definition of a Purana genre of literature.[7] A history written with five characteristics is called a Purana, states Matsya Purana, otherwise it is called Akhyana.[7] These five characteristics are cosmogony describing its theory of primary creation of the universe, chronological description of secondary creations wherein the universe goes through the cycle of birth-life-death, genealogy and mythology of gods and goddesses, Manvantaras, legends of kings and people including solar and lunar dynasties.[8]

The Matsya Purana is also notable for being encyclopedic in the topics it covers.[9] Along with the five topics the text defines a Purana to be, it includes mythology, a guide for building art work such as paintings and sculpture, features and design guidelines for temples, objects and house architecture (Vastu-shastra), various types of Yoga, duties and ethics (Dharma) with multiple chapters on the value of Dāna (charity), both Shiva and Vishnu related festivals, geography particularly around the Narmada river, pilgrimage, duties of a king and good government and other topics.[1][10][11]


The Matsya Purana, like all Puranas, was revised and updated continuously. The composition of the text may have begun in the last centuries of the 1st-millennium BCE, and its first version complete by about the 3rd-century of the common era, asserts Ramachandra Dikshitar – known for proposing ancient dates for Indian literature.[4] Other scholars, such as Pandurang Vaman Kane, place the earliest version of the text to between c. 200–500 CE.[4][11][12] The Matsya Purana, in chapter 53, includes a note stating that as a Purana, it is supposed to be edited and revised to remain useful to the society.[13]

Wendy Doniger dates the Matsya Purana to have been composed between 250 to 500 CE.[14] The general consensus among scholars is that Matsya Purana is among the older Purana, with its first version complete in the 3rd-century CE, but sections of it were routinely revised, deleted and expanded over the centuries, through the 2nd-millennium CE.[1][15]

The Matsya Purana, like all Puranas, has a complicated chronology. Dimmitt and van Buitenen state that each of the Puranas is encyclopedic in style, and it is difficult to ascertain when, where, why and by whom these were written:[16]

As they exist today, the Puranas are a stratified literature. Each titled work consists of material that has grown by numerous accretions in successive historical eras. Thus no Purana has a single date of composition. (...) It is as if they were libraries to which new volumes have been continuously added, not necessarily at the end of the shelf, but randomly.

— Cornelia Dimmitt and J.A.B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas[16]