Varaha – Third


·         Introduction

·         Legends of the Varahavtar

·         Iconography of Varah

·         Temples

·         Worship

·         Symbolism



Being the protector of this earth, Vishnu saves it from calamities and demons. Though there is no destruction of Asuras in his first two Avatars. But he took his third form of Varah to protect the earth.

नमस्तस्मै वराहाय लीलयोद्धरते महीम् ।

खुरमध्यगतो यस्य मेरुः खणखणायते ॥ वराह पुराण १.२

Namastasmai varahay lilayoddharate mahim|

Khurmadhyagato yasya meru: khankhanayte ||

–    Varah Puran 1.2

I salute the Varah who saved the earth by his ‘Lila’(endeavour). The mountain Meru has caught in between his hoofs sounds as ‘khan’, ‘khan’.




Legends of Varahavtar (The Varah Incarnation)

Varah is the third ‘Lilavtar’ of Vishnu. He took this form to kill demon ‘Hiranyaksha’. It is also called as ‘Yadnyavarah’. Varah has its origins in Vedic literature. Satapath Brahmhan says that ‘Emush’, a boar, raised the earth up. Also the Taittiriya Aranyak mentions that the earth is raised up by a black boar with a hundred arms.

According to the Vedic tradition, the creator god, Prajapati was travelling through the space in the form of ‘Vayu’. There was water everywhere and he saw the earth submerged in the water. He took the form of Varah and uplifted the earth with the help of his tusks.

According to many texts, Varah is the first ‘Avatar’ of Vishnu. According to Padm Puran, Hiranyaksa was a great demon. He conquered all the deities and their celestial adobe. With his immeasurable body and thousands of arms, he removed the earth along with mountains, oceans, islands and all living beings. Then he put the earth on his head and entered the Nether land. When the gods found that the earth is gone, they prayed Vishnu. Vishnu took form of a huge boar. Having large fangs and arms, he struck the demon with one fang and killed him. Then he lifted the falling earth with his fangs and placed it back at its place.

Various Purans speak differently about the Varah avatar of Vishnu. The Vishnu Puran, Ling Puran and the Garud Puran describe that Brahmha uplifted the earth from the water; at the same time, they recognize Brahmha as Narayan or Vishnu.

The agamas and the tantras attribute this incarnation to Vishnu.

Iconography of Varah

The boar incarnation of Vishnu, called ‘Emush’, is described as ten yojans in breadth, thousand yojans tall, black in colour with sharp tusks. He is also described as ‘Chaturbahu’(four armed), ‘Chaturmukh’(four headed), ‘Chaturnetra’(four eyed) in many puranas. It is represented in various forms. They are:

1.   Bhuvarah, Adivarah or Nruvarah

2.   Yajnyavarah

3.   Pralayavarah

4.   Mahavarah

5.   Varah in the boar form

1.   Bhuvarah, Adivarah or Nruvarah

According to Vaikhanas Agam, this form of Vishnu is represented as the face of a boar over a human body. He has four arms, of them two upper hands hold Shankh (conch) and Chakr. Of remaining two hands, the lower left hand is supporting Bhudevi, seated on his bent right lap with her legs hanging down; while the right hand is shown holding the waist of Bhudevi.

The right leg of him is slightly bent and rest upon the jeweled hood of the serpent called ‘Adishesh’. Adishesh is sculptured with its consort.

According to the Shilpashastra, Nruvarah should have Gada and Padma and carry Bhudevi on the tusk. One of his feet should rest upon the serpent and the other on tortoise. According to Vishnudharmottarpuran, this avatar symbolizes the defeat of ignorance in the form of Hiranyaksha by the eternal wisdom and almighty power incarnated as Varah, i.e Vishnu.

2.   Yajnyavarah

This form of Varahmurti, as described in Vaikhanas Agam, has to be of white complexion, four arms. Two of which should hold Shankh and Chakr. The figure should be seated upon Simhasan with right leg hanging down and the left resting on the seat. It should be clothed in yellow garments and adored with ornaments.

There should be a seated figure of Lakshmi at his right holding lotus in left hand and right hand should be rested on seat. Bhudevi should be at his left holding ‘nilotpal’ flower in her right hand and left hand should rest on seat.

3.   Pralayavarah

Pralayavarah form of image has to be seated upon a Simhasan with right leg hanging down and the left resting on the seat. The image should have four hands, upper two of which should be carring Shankh and Chakr. Out of two lower hands, right hand should be in Abhaya mudra and left should be resting on lap.

Bhumidevi should be on the right of Pralayavarah with right leg hanging down and left bent and rest on seat. She has to be holding an ‘utpal’ flower in her left hand and her right hand should rest on seat.

4.   Mahavarah

The Matsya Puran informs that Mahavarah should hold a mace and a lotus in his hands. One of his feet should be placed upon the Adishesha and the other on Kurma. Pruthvi should be seated on his elbow carrying ‘nilotpal’ flower in her one hand and her other hand should be kept around Varah.

5.   Varah in Boar form

According to Shilparatna, the Varah should be depicted as a whole boar. It should be shown with thick snout, broad shoulders, long tusks and a colossal body. The Vishnudharmottara Puran recommends this Varah image in exclusive boar form amidst of asuras.


Images of Varah can be seen at many places all over the India. From 2nd-1st century BC, Varah has been depicted in various forms in anthropomorphic form and in the form of a boar as well.

Varah Temple, Khajuraho

The Varah temple at Khajuraho is a rectangular shrine standing on a foundation of rock. The structure has a pyramidal roof with receding tiers and fourteen pillars. Its shrine has no platform and is balanced on a ten feet plinth. A flight of steps approaches to the shrine. The steps are built in sandstone and granite. The shafts of pillars are circular on top, sixteen sided in the middle and octagonal at the base. The pillars carry circular capitals.

The colossal image of Varah stands at the centre of the shrine. It is canopied by a beautiful lotus ceiling. It is carved in yellow sandstone and finely finished. This exquisite image is decorated with around 675 figures of various deities all over. These figures depict almost all important Hindu deities.

The other temples in India include Varah temple at Pushkar, Varah temple at Hampi. The sculptural depiction of Varah can be seen at many places like Udaygiri, Varah cave temple at Mahabalipuram, Ellora caves, Cave temple at Badami etc.


It is believed that Vishnu incarnated himself as Varah on Magh Shuddh Dvadashi. Thus idol of Varahavtari Vishnu is worshipped mainly on this day.


According to the Padma Puran and Vayu Puran, the Varah avatar symbolises the ritual of Yajnya. Its various limbs represent the parts and functions of a yajnya.

1.   Four legs are the four vedas

2.   Tusk is the Yupa-stambha (the ritual pole)

3.   His mouth is the altar and the tongue is the sacred fire.

4.   The hair denotes the Darbha.

5.   The two eyes of the varah are said to be day and night.

6.   The head represents the priest – Brahmhin.

7.   His name constitutes hymns of the vedas.

8.   Prayaschhita is represented by his hoofs and knees stand for the pashu – ritual animal victim.

9.   His blood is the Somras.

Thus Varaha Avatar stands for the restoration of order and Dharma.

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