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Iconography of Varahi


IMAGES OF VARAHI — An Iconographic Study: Haripriya Rangarajan, Sharada Publishing House, 40, Anand Nagar, Inderlok, Delhi-110035. Rs. 1750.

THE INFLUENCE of the boar-headed Goddess Varahi on the minds of the people may be gauged from the presence of this deity as a part of the group of seven Mothers — the Saptamatas — in every village in Tamil Nadu. In ancient India every village had temples dedicated to different deities located in appropriate directions, as prescribed in Vastu texts.

A temple for the Saptamatas is a must for every village. Literally thousands of such temples exist from the seventh Century A.D. dedicated to Saptamatas, often called as temple of "Pidari" or "Grama devata".

Haripriya Rangarajan analyses in this fascinating book to show that the Varahi images are nothing but the Goddess of Speech (Vak devi) extolled in the Upanishadic, Puranic and other literatures.

The value of the book lies in the meticulous documentation of all concepts and references to this Goddess from various sources and a critical evaluation of them. The extensive citations from the Rig Veda show that the faculty of speech of men is personified as Sakti, the feminine power which is responsible for human evolution. Vak is also identified with Goddess Saraswathi very early in Indian civilisation.

Drawing our attention to the presence of Varahi as "Vakdevi" on the snout of Varaha, the author shows that this Vak is the power of speech of Vishnu in His manifestation as "Yajna Varaha". The Saivaites, Vaishnavites, Saktas, and the Buddhists worship Her.

It is clear, remarks the author, that "Varaha and His Sakti are inseparable. Varaha is the embodiment of Brahman and His attributes is Varahi. Without speech nothing would be known, neither truth nor falsehood, neither good nor bad, neither the pleasant nor the unpleasant."

Though Varahi appears as a part of the Saptamata group in most cases, She is also worshipped as an independent deity — Pradhana devata. She is portrayed seated, standing or dancing and wielding different weapons, like plough and noose, or Sankha and Cakra, or fish and a drinking bowl, and so on.

As a counterpart of Vishnu She holds all the four emblems of Vishnu — Sankha, Cakra, Gada and Padma. She often carries a child in Her arm and has Sesha naga, Garuda, "Mahisha" or a lion as Her vehicle. She dances with Siva in the Saptamata group and is also identified with Rudrani.

Haripriya also draws our attention to Varahi appearing as the consort of Vishnu in His incarnations as Varaha, Rama and Krishna. She is worshipped in a highly secretive way by the Saktas in Vama marga.

This tradition can be seen in the Kalaratri temple on the banks of the Ganges where worship is offered to Her only during the night and the temple remains closed throughout the day.

She is also identified with the Yoganidra of Vishnu and holds in Her womb all the creations and hence is shown pot-bellied. Further according to Sakta tradition Lalita Tripurasundari manifested as Varahi and yet in another context She is said to be the commander-in-chief of Goddess Lalita and goes by the name "Dandanayika" or "Dandanatha".

Above all She is adored as Para Vidya of the Sri Vidya tradition. In the Buddhist context Varahi appears in three forms; first as Vajra Varahi, the progenitor of the Moha family and secondly as the consort of Heruka and thirdly as Marichi in a chariot drawn by seven pigs.

The author has divided the whole book into a well-structured treatise, beginning from the prehistoric origin of the Mother Goddess worship to the Vedic and other literary traditions, iconographic details of Varahi, sculptural representation, Mantras and Yantras relating to Her worship followed by 99 illustrations.

She points out that the Mantras and the Yantras are for the emancipation of the devotees and also for attainment of miraculous powers. The book is certainly a fine model of comprehensive research. It shows how what was considered an insignificant Goddess turns out to be an all- encompassing primordial Goddess.

The author has taken great care in collecting rare and representative illustrations from which it may be seen that some of the Varahi sculptures are superlative specimens of art. It will remain an excellent reference work on the subject for all times.

R. NAGASWAMY

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