The Matsya Purana is one of the eighteen major Puranas (Mahapuranas), and among the oldest and better preserved in the Puranic genre of Sanskrit literature. The text is a Vaishnava text named after the fish avatar of Vishnu.
The text is notable for providing one of earliest known definition of a Purana genre of literature. A history written with five characteristics is called a Purana, states Matsya Purana, otherwise it is called Akhyana. 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. The Purana also describes 20 styles of Hindu temples, such as Meru,Mandara and Kailasa designs. The text lays out guidelines on foundation, spaces within the core temple where people visit, and then the spire (Vimana or Shikhara). The Matsya Purana in other chapters presents its theories on layout of towns and public works such as water reservoirs.