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What is the Story of the Rainbow Fish?

 
By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. January 31, 2017
What is the Story of the Rainbow Fish?

According to Hindu tales, the Rainbow Fish was as large as a whale. This sea creature ate Lord Buddha, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, but since Vishnu was a god, the mythical giant fish did not survive the experience! When the Rainbow Fish was caught and killed by fishermen, Lord Buddha - Vishnu - was freed from its stomach. Legends also say the rainbow fish provided all of the nation with food for as long as one year.

Do you want to know more about what is the story of the Rainbow Fish? Stay with us at AnimalWised and read on!

You may also be interested in: What is the Story of Nandi the Bull?

Does the Rainbow Fish exist?

While there are real fish called rainbowfish (Melanotaeniidae), they are freshwater species that do not live near India nor in the Indian Ocean. Instead, they live in the Pacific, near Australia and Indonesia. Moreover, real-life rainbowfish are very small, not surpassing 12 cm (5 in) long. Therefore, a rainbowfish definitely did not eat Lord Buddha.

The Rainbow Fish from Hindu mythology, on the other hand, is much bigger. It is called the "rainbow fish" because its scales are red, blue, green and yellow.

What is the Story of the Rainbow Fish? - Does the Rainbow Fish exist?

Who is Vishnu the Pervader?

We said that in the story of the Rainbow Fish, the colorful sea monster eats the incarnation of Vishnu. But who is Vishnu? In Hinduism, he is the ideal divine king. Vishnu is a principal deity of Hindu believers, and and in Sanskrit his name stands for “pervader”; he is in everything, and therefore he is everything.

In Rig Veda, Vishnu is also a sun deity. He preserves and protects the created world; in fact, he was the first being to be created. Lord Vishnu is also believed to be the sole source of the universe himself, that is, he is the creator too.

Vishnu occasionally descends to Earth to help humanity fight evil. In order to do so, he takes avatars or incarnations. The main ten avatars of Vishnu include:

  • Fish: Matsya
  • Tortoise: kurma
  • Boar: Varaha
  • Dwarf: Vamana
  • Lord Rama
  • Narasimha
  • Parasurama
  • Krishna
  • Buddha
  • Kalkin

As you can see, Buddha, the main figure of Buddhism, is considered by some Hindus to be an incarnation of the god Vishnu. In the Rainbow Fish story, when the god is eaten by the fish he is currently incarnated in Buddha.

What is the Story of the Rainbow Fish? - Who is Vishnu the Pervader?

The Rainbow Fish and the four elements

Hindu cosmology holds that the entire universe is made up by five elements. The colors of the scales of the Rainbow Fish represent the four elements:

  • Green scales: Made of grass, they represent Earth or Prithvi. Earth is found in all objects, animate and inanimate, including the human body. Its character paramanu (the atom) is eternal and its character karya (work) is perishable.

  • Blue scales: Made of ice, they represent water or Jal. Water also has an eternal or atomic character and a perishable one, which you can see in rain, rivers and other bodies of water.

  • Yellow scales: Made of lightning, they represent air or Vayu. Air is that which can be felt when you breathe. The Puranas mention 49 types of air. The atoms of air are eternal, while its manifestations in winds and storms are temporary.

  • Red scales: Made of flames, they represent fire or Agni. Fire also has an eternal and a perishable side.

The fifth element is ether, or sound. It is eternal and never physical or perishable, which is why the Rainbow Fish has no scales to represent it.

The Rainbow Fish: A Hindu parallel?

Much like Jonas and the Whale, the story of the Rainbow Fish is about a prophet who is swallowed by a fish because he chooses not to follow the right path. According to some Hindu accounts, Lord Buddha is considered a prophet who misleads his followers. In the age of Kali, by stating that the universe has no creator, he leads people down the wrong path. As punishment for these misleading teachings, he is swallowed by the Rainbow Fish.

In the story from the Old Testament, what happens to the prophet Jonas or Jonah is quite similar. Jonas too tries to escape Nineveh and head to Joppa, but when the sea becomes angry at his un-prophet like actions, Jonas is dumped into the sea by sailors fearing for their lives. Miraculously, the whale swallows Jonas whole and he is rescued from its belly in three days.

The fishermen in the tale of the Rainbow Fish rescue Lord Buddha by carrying out a similar rescue.

Do you love stories about sea monsters? If so, don't miss our article about the real-life five biggest marine animals in the world, the one about amazing marine prehistoric animals and the one about the five oldest extant species in the world. Unlike the real rainbowfish, these animals really can swallow a Buddha-sized person whole!

If you want to read similar articles to What is the Story of the Rainbow Fish?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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