Varaha Images in Madhya Pradesh (An Iconographic Study)

Varaha Images in Madhya Pradesh (An Iconographic Study)

Item Code: IDD851
Author: Haripriya Rangarajan
Publisher: Somaiya Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8170392144
Pages: 232 (B & W Illus: 173)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8" X 7.6"
Weight 800 gm


About the Book:


The salient feature of the book is the description of the minute iconographic details of the images of Varaha found in Madhya Pradesh. The author has critically examined the zoomorphic and zooanthropomorphic forms of Varaha in terms of cosmology and 'Uplift of goddess Earth' from the Nether region. While explaining the cosmological aspect of Varaha in zoomorphic form, the author has interpreted, for the first time, the symbolic significance of the following representations which are mainly depicted on the vertebral column of Varaha. They are:

  1. Figures of pure Creation;


  2. Figures of trinity of gods of the Puranas and their synchronization with the Vyuha theory of Pancaratra;


  3. Depiction of four lokas such as Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svah and Patala;


  4. Figures of Trayi Vidya (Surya); and


  5. Figures of Matsya.

Similarly the author has identified, for the first time, the personifications of different components of Yajna shown on the limbs of Varaha. While explaining the zooanthropomorphic form of Varaha, she has emphasized the fertility aspect of Varaha in addition to the concept of uplifting of Earth.


About the Author:


Haripriya Rangarajan received her Ph.D. in Indian Culture from the Gujarat University in 1987. She specializes in the iconography of Visnu and has contributed articles to academic journals and popular magazines. Her doctoral thesis was published under the title Spread of Vaisnavism in Gujarat A.D up to 1600 (A Study with Special Reference to the Iconic Forms of Visnu) in 1990. Besides the current publication, her book on Ramanuja Sampradaya in Gujarat (A Historical Perspective) has already been published. She has been the recipient of a fellowship from the Indian Council of Historical Research for her research studies.



Madhya Pradesh is the only State in India where the earliest image of Varaha in zoomorphic and zooanthropomorhic forms has been found. The earliest image of zoomorphic from of Varaha datable to A.D.500-512 is still standing majestically in Eran (District Vidisa).Similarly, the earliest image of zooanthropomorhic from of Varaha belonging to the A.D. 5th century is found in the Varaha court in cave No.5 in Udayagiri (District Vidisa).The image of Varaha found in Madhya Pradesh belong to the period beginning from the A.D. 5th century to the 14th century. During this period, Madhya Pradesh was ruled by different royal dynasties such as the Guptas, Aulikaras Nalas, Pandus, Uccakalpas, Gurjara Paratiharas, kalacuris, Kacchavahas (Kacchapaghaghatas), Candellas and Pramaras who patronized the construction of temples of Varaha in both form, i.e., zoomorphic and zoo anthropomorphic. The total number of image of Varaha, datable to this long period, found in the State is 86, of which 29 are in zoomorphic form. These are found in places such as Eran, Khoh, Badoh, Muradpur, Karitalai, Bilhari, Jabalpur, Panagar, Majhouli, khor, Indore, Hinglajgarh, Bhopal, Ujjain, Dudhai, Candpur, khajuraho, Bunjar, Samasgarh, Mamlesver, Omkaresvar, Karohan, Udayagiri,Mandsaur, Ramgarh, Nachna, Rajim, Tigowa, Thanagoan, Sirpur, Mahua, Bargaon, Sohagpur, Shahdol, Modi, Badnawar, Bandhogarh, Mandla, Gyaraspur, Ashapuri, Doni, Kadvaha, Dhamdha, Suhania, Tewar, Sagar, Jangjir, Kohla and Mandu. Some of them are preserved in the museums of the State.

According to the Vedic scriptures and the early Puranas, the form of Varaha was assumed by the creator who after bringing the soil from the deep waters created the universe. There is, however, one difference- while the scriptures name the creator as Prajapati, the Puranas call him Brahma. In these texts there is neither mention of Visnu nor his incarnation of Varaha. These Puranas, however, refer to Supreme Narayana who in Brahmahood assumed the Varaha from and brought goodness Earth from Patala. The early Puranas, while describing the cosmic aspect of Varaha, compare each and every limb of it with the various components of Yajna and call it Yajna Varaha. The later Puranas and the Silpasastras attribute the action of 'uplifting the goodness Earth' exclusively to Visnu. According to them Visnu incarnated himself in the form of Varaha to save goddness Earth from the hands of Hiranyksa in the Nether region.

In Madhya Pradesh while the concept of srsti (creation) and yajna (sacrifice) are depicted on the zoomorphic image the concept of avatara (incarnation) is brought out in the anthropomorphic images of Varaha. For explaining the concepts of srsti the sculptor depicted the figures of divinities associated with 'Pure creation ' and the lokas such as Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svah and Patala on the vertebral column of zoomorphic Varaha. Similarly, different components of Yajna were personified and depicted on the neck, ears tusks, eyes, forehead and limbs of the zoomorphic Varaha. This from was called Yajna Varaha. For representing Varaha as 'Uplifter of goddess Earth' the zoo anthropomorphic from was chosen with human body and boar face and this from was called Bhu Varaha. In the zoomorphic form of Varaha she is shown mostly seated either on left shoulder or left elbow of Varaha. In some cases, she is shown standing in the centre of the left palm or on the left knee of Varaha.

In all the images of Yajna Varaha and Bhu Varaha the figure of Sesa is rarely missing. Sesa is always regarded as the bed of Lord Narayana and during the intervals of two cosmic cycles, Lord Narayana (Visnu) is said to be resting upon Ananta Seaa. It means that even if the creation disappears God remains unaltered and with him the only one of his creation, exists and that is Sesa. Accourding to the Padma Purana, Sesa is said to be holding the fallen goddness Earth on his head when she fell from the head of demon Hiranyaksa.

The sculptor of Madhya Pradesh realizing the importance of Sesa represented him with both forms of Varaha. In the zoomorphic from of Varaha, Sesa is shown with the figure of Brahma on the head of Varaha, with the tail of Varaha and between the legs of Varaha at the bottom on the ground. In the case of zooanthropomorhic from of Varaha the figure of Sesa with Nagi is shown sitting near the left foot of Varaha who is then shown standing in alidhasana pose, by keeping his left leg on the hoods of Sesa.

Along with the figure of Sesa the figure of Garuda is shown in both forms of Varaha. It indicates its close intimacy with Visnu who has got the epithet of Garudarudha Visnu'. Secondly, the depiction of Garuda explains the concept of sustenance on the earth. The figure of Garuda with amrtakalasa at Khoh and Majhouli supports the idea of sustenance.

The puranas and the Silpasastras describe Varaha as resting his right foot on Kurma's shell. According to the Satapatha Brahmana the lower shell of Kurma represents earth, the upper shell heaven and what is between the shells is the air - prana. In Madhya Pradesh, while the zoomorphic form of Varaha is depicted as standing on the Kurma shell, the zooanthropomorphic from of Varaha is shown resting his right foot on its shell.

My first publication was on the iconography of Visnu image in Gujarat. The study dealt with not only the various forms of Visnu but also the ten avataras. Of the various avataras, the one that attracted the most was Varaha because it was through this avatara the earth was brought up from the deep waters heralding the beginning of life on earth. Madhya Pradesh is a State which has produced the images of Varaha in abundance. This book is an attempt to capture the diversity and significance as well as the beauty and grandeur of this image.

At last I think it is my duty to point out to the readers that while I was going through the different Puranas in the context of the iconographic canons of Varahas I have come to know that there are some variations with regard to the description of Varaha in the texts of the slokas of the Puranas.








List of Illustrations


Historical Background

Varaha Myths in Ancient Indian Tradition

Iconography of Varaha

Varaha Icons in Madhya Pradesh






Sample Pages

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