Varaha (Sanskrit: वराह, IAST:Varāha) is the avatar of the
Vishnu who takes the form of a boar to rescue goddess
Varaha is listed as third in the Dashavatara, the ten
principal avatars of Vishnu.
In a symbolic Hindu mythology, when the demon
the earth (personified as the goddess Bhudevi) and its inhabitants,
she sinks into the primordial waters.
Vishnu took the form of the
Varaha, descended into the depths of the oceans to rescue her. Varaha
slew the demon and retrieved the Earth from the ocean, lifting her on
his tusks, and restored
Bhudevi to her place in the universe.
Varaha may be depicted completely as a boar or in an anthropomorphic
form, with a boar's head and human body. The rescued earth lifted by
Varaha is often depicted as a young woman called Bhudevi. The earth
may be depicted as a mass of land balanced on his tusk.
4.1 Udayagiri Cave Varaha
5 Sculpture and temples
6 See also
9 External links
The Sanskrit word Varāha (Devanagari: वराह) means "wild
boar". The corresponding
Proto-Indo-Iranian term is uarāĵʰá,
meaning boar. It is thus related to
Avestan varāza, Kurdish beraz,
Middle Persian warāz, and New Persian gorāz (گراز), all meaning
Varaha is found in Rigveda, for example, in its verses such
as 1.88.5, 8.77.10 and 10.28.4 where it means "wild boar". It
also means "rain cloud" and is symbolic in some hymns, such as Vedic
deity Vritra being called a
Varaha in Rigvedic verses 1.61.7 and
10.99.6, and Soma's epithet being
Varaha in 10.97.7. Later the
rain-relationship led the connotation of the term evolve into
vara-aharta, which means "bringer of good things".
Like Vishnu's first two avatars -
Matsya (fish) and
the third avatar
Varaha is depicted either in zoomorphic form as an
animal (a wild boar), or anthropomorphically. The main difference in
the anthropomorphic form portrayal is that the first two avatars are
depicted with a torso of a man and the bottom half as animal, while
Varaha has an animal (boar) head and a human body. The portrayal
of the anthropomorphic
Varaha is similar to the fourth avatar
Narasimha (portrayed as a lion-headed man), who is the first avatar of
Vishnu that is not completely animal.
Zoomorphic Varaha, Khajuraho. On its body are carved saints, sages,
gods, seven mothers and numerous beings which he symbolically
protects. The goddess earth is ruined and missing.
In the zoomorphic form,
Varaha is often depicted as a free-standing
boar colossus, for example, the monolithic sculpture of
Khajuraho (c. 900-925) made in sandstone, is 2.6 metres (8 ft
6 in) long and 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) high. The
sculpture may not resemble a boar realistically, and may have his
features altered for stylistic purposes. The earth, personified as the
goddess Bhudevi, clings to one of Varaha's tusks. Often the colossus
is decorated by miniature figurines of gods and goddesses and other
world creatures appearing all over his body, which signify the whole
of creation. Such sculptures are found in Eran, Muradpur, Badoh,
Jhansi and Apasadh.
In the anthropomorphic form,
Varaha often has a stylized boar face,
like the zoomorphic models. The snout may be shorter. The position and
size of the tusks may also be altered. The ears, cheeks and eyes are
generally based on human ones. Early sculptors in Udayagiri and Eran
faced the issue of how to attach the boar head to the human body and
did not show a human neck. However, in Badami, the problem was
resolved by including a human neck. While some sculptures show a mane,
it is dropped and replaced by a high conical crown - typical of Vishnu
iconography - in others.
Varaha sculptures generally look up to the
right; there are very rare instances of left-facing Varaha
Varaha has four arms, two of which hold the
Sudarshana chakra (discus)
and shankha (conch), while the other two hold a gada (mace), a sword,
or a lotus or one of them makes the varadamudra (gesture of blessing).
Varaha may be depicted with all of Vishnu'a attributes in his four
hands: the Sudarshana chakra, the shankha, the gada and the lotus.
Varaha may carry only two of Vishnu's attributes: a shankha
and the gada personified as a female called Gadadevi.
Varaha is often
shown with a muscular physique and in a heroic pose. He is often
depicted triumphantly emerging from the ocean as he rescues the
A rare right-facing
Varaha holding Bhudevi, 7th century CE,
The earth may be personified as the goddess
Bhudevi in Indian
Bhudevi is often shown as a small figure in the icon. She
may be seated on or dangling from one of Varaha's tusks, or is seated
on the corner of his folded elbow or his shoulder and supports herself
against the tusk or the snout, as being lifted from the waters. In
later Indian paintings, the whole earth or a part of it is depicted
lifted up by Varaha's tusks. In Mahabalipuram, a rare portrayal shows
Varaha looking down to Bhudevi, who he carries in his
arms. The earth may be portrayed as a globe, a flat stretch of
mountainous land or an elaborate forest landscape with buildings,
temples, humans, birds and animals. The defeated demon may be depicted
trampled under Varaha's feet or being killed in combat by Varaha's
gada. Nagas (snake gods) and their consorts Naginis (snake goddesses),
residents of the underworld, may be depicted as swimming in the ocean
with hands folded as a mark of devotion.
Varaha may be also depicted
standing on a snake or other minor creatures, denoting the cosmic
Two iconographical forms of
Varaha are popular.
Yajna (sacrifice) - is seated on a lion-throne and flanked by
Bhudevi and Lakshmi. As
Varaha - indicative of lifting the
earth from the stage of the pralaya (the dissolution of the universe),
he is depicted only with Bhudevi.
Varaha may be depicted with
Lakshmi alone too. In such sculptures, he may be depicted identical to
Vishnu in terms of iconography with Vishnu's attributes; the boar head
identifying the icon as Varaha.
Lakshmi may be seated on his thigh in
Varaha often features in the
Dashavatara stele - where the ten major
Vishnu are portrayed - sometimes surrounding Vishnu. In the
Vishnu (four headed Vishnu) images, the boar is shown as the
left head. Varaha's shakti (energy or consort) is the
goddess) Varahi, who is depicted with a boar head like the god.
Varaha stands on Nagas, rises from the waters with the earth (Bhudevi)
on his elbow, National Museum, New Delhi.
Varaha was originally described as a form of Brahma, but later on
evolved into the avatar of Vishnu. The earliest versions of the
Varaha legend are found in the
Taittiriya Aranyaka and the Shatapatha
Brahmana. They narrate that the universe was primordial waters. The
earth was the size of a hand and was trapped in it. The god Prajapati
(Brahma) in the form of a boar (varaha) plunges into the waters and
brings the earth out. He also marries the earth thereafter. The
Shatapatha Brahmana calls the boar as Emusha. According to J. L.
Brockington, there are two distinct boar mythologies in Vedic
literature. In one, he is depicted as a form of Prajapati, in other an
asura name Emusha is a boar that fights Indra and Vishnu. In section
14.1.2 of the Shatapatha Brahmana, these two myths are merged, Emusha
is conflated into Prajapati.
The epics are the first to associate
Varaha with Vishnu. The
legends in the epics begin with a demon
Hiranyaksha stealing goddess
earth and throwing her into cosmic ocean.
Vishnu fights the injustice,
kills the demon and rescues earth. Various
Puranas including the
Agni Purana, the Bhagavata Purana, the Devi Bhagavata Purana, the
Padma Purana, the
Varaha Purana, the
Vayu Purana and the
narrate the legend of Varaha, but these stories vary in their
In some of the Puranas, the story begins with gate-keepers of Vishnu's
abode Vaikuntha, Jaya and Vijaya. They once block the four Kumaras,
sages who roam the world in the form of children, from visiting
Vishnu. The sages curse Jaya and Vijaya that they be born as asuras
(demons). The two are born on earth as
Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu
to the sage
Kashyapa and his wife
Diti and were one of the Daityas, a
race of demons originating from Diti. The demon brothers are
manifestations of pure evil and create havoc in the universe. The
Hiranyaksha practises tapas (austerities) and is blessed
Brahma with a boon that makes him indestructible by any animal or
human. He and his brother torment the inhabitants of earth as well as
the gods and engage in war with the latter.
Hiranyaksha kidnaps the
earth (personified as the goddess Bhudevi) and hides her in the
primordial waters. In some versions of the tale, the earth gives a
loud cry of distress as she is kidnapped by the demon; in others, she
assumes the form of a cow and appeals to
Vishnu to rescue her from the
clutches of the demon. In some variants, the distressed gods led by
Brahma along with the sages go to
Vishnu for help. In some
versions, the earth sinks to Rasatala (underworld) due to the weight
of mountains or because the demon
Hiranyaksha tormenting the earth and
its inhabitants. In either case, when
Varaha tries to rescue earth,
he is attacked by the demon.
Hiranyaksha had not included the boar in the list of animals
that would not be able to kill him,
Vishnu assumes this form with huge
tusks and goes down to the primordial ocean. In the Bhagavata Purana,
Varaha emerges as a tiny beast (a size of a thumb) from the nostrils
of Brahma, but soon starts to grow. Varaha's size increases to that of
an elephant and then to that of an enormous mountain. The scriptures
emphasize his gigantic size. The
Vayu Purana describes
Varaha as 10
yojanas (The range of a yojana is disputed and ranges between 6–15
kilometres (3.7–9.3 mi)) in width and a 1000 yojanas in height.
He is large as a mountain and blazing like the sun. Dark like a rain
cloud in complexion, his tusks are white, sharp and fearsome. His body
is the size of the space between the earth and the sky. His thunderous
roar is frightening. In one instance, his mane is so fiery and
fearsome that Varuna, the god of the waters, requests
Varaha to save
him from it.
Varaha complies and folds his mane.
Varaha tramples the fallen demon with
Bhudevi on his shoulder,
In the ocean,
Varaha encounters Hiranyaksha, who obstructs his path
and challenges him to a duel. In some versions, the demon also mocks
Varaha as the beast and warns him not to touch earth. Ignoring the
Varaha lifts the earth on his tusks. Hiranyaksha
charges towards the boar in rage with a mace. The two fiercely fight
with maces. Finally,
Varaha slays the demon.
Varaha rises from the
ocean with the earth in his tusks and places her gently above it in
her original position, as the gods and the sages applaud Varaha's
In one version, the earth goddess is called Bhumi Devi. She falls in
love and marries her rescuer
Varaha true form, the Maha Vishnu.
Bhudevi gives birth to Varaha's son, an asura called Narakasura.
Varaha Purana states that it was narrated by
Vishnu to Bhudevi, as
Varaha. Some Saiva
Puranas narrate a tale in which the god Shiva
takes the form of a winged lion and defeats Varaha. In the minor
Purana named Kalika Purana, for example,
Bhudevi have three
boar sons named Suvrtta, Kanaka and Ghora. They create mayhem in the
Varaha ignores out of affection for his sons. The gods go
Varaha and remind him of the dharma. Vishnu's soul then returns to
Shiva to take the form of
Sharabha (also called
Varaha Shiva), to kill the body of
Varaha and the three sources of
Varaha represents yajna (sacrifice), as the
eternal upholder of the earth. Roshen Dalal describes the symbolism of
his iconography, in this text as follows: "His feet represent the
Vedas (scriptures). His tusks represent sacrificial stakes. His teeth
are offerings. His mouth is the altar, tongue is the sacrificial fire.
The hair on his head denotes the sacrificial grass. The eyes represent
the day and the night. The head represents the seat of all. The mane
represents the hymns of the Vedas. His nostrils are the oblation. His
joints represent the various ceremonies. The ears are said to indicate
rites (voluntary and obligatory)." Thus, states
Vishnu Purana, the
Varaha is the embodiment of the Supreme Being who brings order amidst
chaos in the world by his sacrifice.
Varaha symbolizes the
resurrection of the earth.
A different interpretation of the
Varaha iconography is one that
describes the role of warrior king, who goes to the depth to preserve
dharma and rescue goddess earth (kingdom) from forces of persecution
and evil. He is the protector of the innocent goddess and
the weak who have been imprisoned by the demonic forces.
The sculpture typically show the symbolic scene of the return of
Varaha after he had successfully killed the oppressive demon
Hiranyaksha, found and rescued goddess earth (Prithivi, Bhudevi), and
the goddess is back safely. Whether in the zoomorphic form or the
anthropomorphic form, the victorious hero
Varaha is accompanied by
sages and saints of Hinduism, all gods including
Shiva and Brahma.
This symbolizes that just warriors must protect the weak and the
bearers of all forms of knowledge and that the gods approve of and
cheer on the rescue.
Udayagiri Cave Varaha
The Cave 5 of the
Udayagiri Caves in
Madhya Pradesh is
that can be firmly dated because of inscriptions found at the site.
Varaha is dated to between 400 and 410 CE, and it is a
Vishnu in his man-boar avatar rescuing goddess earth in
Varaha legend depicted embeds Varaha's success in
rescuing goddess earth from a demon who kidnaps her, torments her and
the inhabitants. It is a symbolism for the battle between right versus
wrong, good versus evil, and of someone willing to go to the depths
and do what is necessary to rescue the good, the right, the
Varaha panel presents the goddess earth as the
dangling woman, the hero as the colossal giant. His success is cheered
by a galaxy of the divine as well as human characters valued and
revered in the 4th-century. Their iconography of individual characters
is found in Hindu texts.
Varaha panel in Cave 5 is one of the most studied reliefs from the
Gupta Empire era. It narrates the
Hindu mythology about a man-boar
Vishnu (Varaha) rescuing goddess earth (Bhudevi, Prithivi)
from the depths of cosmic ocean.
The panel shows (the number corresponds to the attached image):
Vishnu as Varaha
Goddess earth as Prithivi
Brahma (sitting on lotus)
Shiva (sitting on Nandi)
Adityas (all have solar halos)
Agni (hair on fire)
Vayu (hair airy, puffed up)
Ashtavasus (with 6&7,
Ekadasa Rudras or eleven Rudras (ithyphalic, third eye)
Rishis (Vedic sages, wearing barks of trees, a beard, carrying water
pot and rosary for meditation)
Gupta Empire minister Virasena
Gupta Empire king Chandragupta II
More Hindu sages (incomplete photo; these include the Vedic
Narada playing guitar
Tumburu playing Vina
Sculpture and temples
Vishnu Avatar) on a
Gurjara-Pratihara coin 850-900
CE, British Museum.
Varaha images are found in Mathura, dating to the 1st and
2nd century CE. The Gupta era (4th-6th century) in Central India
temples and archaeological sites have yielded a large number of Varaha
sculptures and inscriptions. These include the anthropomorphic
Udayagiri Caves and the zoomorphic version in
Eran. Other early sculptures exist in the cave temples in
Karnataka (6th century) and
Varaha Cave Temple
Varaha Cave Temple in
Mahabalipuram (7th century); both in South India and
Ellora Caves (7th
century) in Western India. By the 7th century, images of Varaha
were found in all regions of India. By the 10th century,
temples dedicated to
Varaha were established in
but worship has ceased), Udaipur,
Jhansi (now in ruins) etc.
Chalukya dynasty (543–753) was the first dynasty to adopt Varaha
in their crest and minted coins with
Varaha on it. The
Mihira Bhoja (836–885 CE) assumed the title
of Adi-varaha and also minted coins depicting the
Varaha was also adopted as a part of royal insignia by the
century BCE–1279 CE) and Vijayanagara Empires (1336–1646 CE) of
South India. In Karnataka, a zoomorphic image of
Varaha is found
in a carving on a pillar in Aihole, which is interpreted as the
Vijayanagara emblem, as it is seen along with signs of a cross marked
Sun, a disc and a conch.
Since the 12th century, due to
Muslim influence and the Islamic view
about the polluting pig, the boar has become associated with something
dirty. This has led to some change in the attitude towards Varaha,
though historically it was a symbol of potency and a royal icon
depicting the admired protection of kingdom and dharma during the
Chola and Vijayanagara rule.
Part of a series on
Brahma (Dvaita, Acintyabhedabheda)
The most prominent temple of
Varaha is the Sri Varahaswami Temple in
Tirumala, Andhra Pradesh. It is located on the shores of a temple
pond, called the Swami Pushkarini, in Tirumala, near Tirupati; to the
north of the
Venkateswara Temple (another temple of
the form of Venkateswara). The region is called Adi-
the abode of Varaha. The legend of the place is as follows: at the end
Satya Yuga (the first in the cycle of four aeons; the present one
is the fourth aeon), devotees of
Varaha requested him to stay on
Varaha ordered his mount
Garuda to bring his divine garden
Kridachala from his abode
Vaikuntha to Venkata hills, Tirumala.
Venkateswara is described as having taken the permission of
reside in these hills, where his chief temple,
Temple, stands. Hence, pilgrims are prescribed to worship
and then Venkateswara. In the Atri Samhita (Samurtarchanadhikara),
Varaha is described to be worshipped in three forms here: Adi Varaha,
Yajna Varaha. The image in the sanctum is of Adi
Another important temple is the Bhuvarahaswami Temple in Srimushnam
town, to the northeast of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. It was built in the
late 16th century by Krishnappa II, a Thanjavur Nayak ruler. The
Varaha is considered a swayambhu (self manifested) image, one
of the eight self-manifested Swayamvyakta Vaishnava kshetras. An
inscription in the prakaram (circumambulating passage around the main
shrine) quoting from the legend of the Srimushna Mahatmaya (a local
legend) mentions the piety one derives in observing festivals during
the 12 months of the year when the sun enters a particular zodiacal
sign. This temple is venerated by Hindus and Muslims alike. Both
communities take the utsava murti (festival image) in procession in
the annual temple festival in the
Tamil month of Masi
(February–March). The deity is credited with many miracles and
Varaha saheb by Muslims.
Varaha shrines are also included in
Divya Desams (a list of 108 abodes
of Vishnu). They include Adi
Varaha Perumal shrine Tirukkalvanoor,
located in the
Kamakshi Amman Temple
Kamakshi Amman Temple complex,
Thiruvidandai, 15 km from Mahabalipuram.
In Muradpur in West Bengal, worship is offered to an in-situ 2.5
metres (8 ft 2 in) zoomorphic image of
Varaha (8th century),
one of the earliest known images of Varaha. A 7th century
Varaha image of Apasadh is still worshipped in a
relatively modern temple. Other temples dedicated to
located across India in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana Pradesh
at Baraha Kalan, and Lakhmi
Varaha Temple, .
Maravanthe and Kallahalli, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh,
Odisha at Yajna
Varaha Temple, and Lakhmi
Varaha Temple, Aul
Rajasthan at Pushkar,
Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Varaha.
Avatars of Vishnu
1 The list of ten avatars varies regionally. The two
substitutions involve Balarama,
Krishna and Buddha is considered the
avatar of Vishnu.
Krishna is almost always included; in exceptions, he
is considered the source of all avatars.