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Hilsa is most well known as a Bengali’s darling in cuisine but there is more to the fish than the taste. Known as Tenualosa ilisha, ilish, hilsa, hilsa herring or hilsa shad it gives livelihood to more than 5 million people.
Hilsa seems to be a very sociable fish. It has many other names all over India and abroad: ellis, palla fish, Tamil – Ullam, Sindhī: pallu machhi, Telugu: pulasa, Gujarat – modenn or palva, Jatka in Pakistan and in Iraq as Soboor.
In ancient days before the Bengali madness, Hilsa was very popular among the people. It even had a Sanskrit title. Hilsa was called Matsyaraja – the king of fishes. It was said Illisah jitapiyusah (hilsa surpasses nectar).
The biggest Hilsa ever caught is nowhere near Bengal. It was caught at Tapti Estuary, Gujarat. It was 614 mm long and 614 mm wide and weighed a full 4250 grams. This proudly holds record of the largest hilsa caught from Indian waters.
Jhulelal is an community deity of Sindhi people. He is also associated with Lord Varuna and also Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a Sufi saint. The shrine of Jhulelal in Sindh is a place of harmony for hundreds of years amongst all the strife. The Hindus and the Muslims come and pray here at the same place peacefully. One can see him sitting on his mount of the Pala (Hilsa) fish. It is believed that the Hilsa fish came to land from his abode in the heavens.
This is probably the most interesting fact on Hilsa and Bengalis may start to feel their chest swell with pride. We know the legend of Lord Vishnu taking his first avatar as the Matsya Avatar to save the people from the great flood. Many believe that the fish form taken was of the Hilsa fish as per description and stories in the ancient scriptures.
Not very difficult to believe though, after all it is the Matsyaraja and the fish from the heaven. Most people who have tasted a well made Ilish dish would surely veto for its divinity.
Credits – Wikipedia, Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute, Subhan and I: My Adventures with Angling Legend of India, 4.bp.blogspot.com, thehindu.com, telegraph.co.uk