This magnificent gold-like lustrous brass-statue, each part conceived and cast with a jeweler’s precision and minuteness of details, a tall robust figure, the form of boar by face but the rest, a man’s physiognomy, represents Varahavatara : Lord Vishnu in Boar incarnation, carrying Bhudevi, the Earth goddess, over his upper left arm. In scriptural tradition this anthropomorphic form of Vishnu is known as Narvaraha or Nravaraha : man-boar. In his main ten incarnations Varahavatara is the third. A tiny form of a five-hooded mythical snake, half human and half viper, paying homage to Varaha with folded hands, holding the deity’s left foot on its hooded head, is a symbolic representation of the great serpent Shesha believed to uphold the earth on its hood and is her custodian, and hence, this expression of gratitude for restoring the goddess to her pristine status.
The incidence of Varahavatara is linked with demon Hiranyaksha, one of
the two sons of Diti by sage Kashyapa, other being Hiranyakashipu, the
father of Prahlad. The pre-birth accounts of the two brothers are
obscure, greater unanimity being with one linking them with Jaya and
Vijay, the two arrogant guards of Vishnu in Vaikuntha. As the myth has
it, once when sages Sanakadi went to see Vishnu in Vaikuntha Jaya and
Vijay not only stopped them from entering the palace gate but also
insulted. Infuriated they cursed the arrogant guards to be born on the
earth and to get re-entry in Vaikuntha only after Vishnu redeemed them
by killing them in three different births. In their first birth the
two brothers, Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, were born as twins to
Diti by sage Kashyapa.
Extremely powerful, notorious and atrocious, Hiranyaksha sought great
delight in torturing gods and holy ones in particular. When unable to
confront him, gods fled from Vaikuntha and hid here and there. It
enraged Vishnu. He waged a war against Hiranyaksha. The war went on
for a long thousand years compelling Hiranyaksha to flee from
battlefield. Vishnu chased him wherever he ran. Finally he descended
into ‘Patala’ : the mythical nether world under the cosmic oceans,
though on his way from Vaikuntha to ‘Patala’ he uprooted the earth
from its place and dragged it along to the nether world. For better
confronting the demon inside the waters Lord Vishnu incarnated as
‘Maha-Varaha’ – Great Boar, entered the waters and after a long battle
killed him. Then, holding on its two tusks the Great Boar brought the
earth above the waters and installed it in its place. As usual, among
other things the myth deified the earth as the goddess with Bhudevi :
Earth goddess, as her name.
Characteristically to Vishnu’s iconographic standards, he has been
represented with tall, mighty, robust figure. With one of his legs
raised upwards as in moving posture, a winner’s bearing on face,
swelled breast and the gesture of hands, the lower right and upper
left in particular, the figure seems to burst with energy and action.
His four-armed form is usual but instead of carrying his regular four
attributes he is holding just two, ‘chakra’ – disc, and ‘shankha’ –
conch, the other two, lotus and mace are missing. Instead, his lower
right hand reveals the gesture of dismissal or putting aside something
as insignificant suggesting perhaps that the notice of what is left
behind need not be taken. A boar’s face, it has atop a lavish tall
Vaishnava crown. His entire figure has been adorned with ornaments
appropriate for an image of Vishnu. A mere loincloth comprises his
ensemble, however it is most richly embellished and added with
waist-ornaments, girdles and others. The tiny figure of Bhudevi, cast
pursuing norms of a female figure’s modeling, a tall, delicate and
slender build, has been as gracefully bejeweled and attired.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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