Varuna

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For other uses, see Varuna (disambiguation).
Varuna
God of water,the Night Sky (space) and ocean, Keeper of the Souls of the Dead
Varunadeva.jpg
The God Varuna on his mount makara, 1675-1700 Painted in: India, Rajasthan, Bundi placed in LACMA museum
Devanagari वरुण
Sanskrit Transliteration Varuṇa
Affiliation Aditya,
Deva,
Guardians of the directions
Abode Celestial ocean (Rasā)
Mantra Oṃ Vaṃ Varuṇāya Namaḥ
Weapon Pasha (Lasso) or Varunastra
Consort Varuni
Mount Makara

In Vedic religion, Varuna (/ˈvɜrʊnə, ˈvɑːrə-/;[1] Sanskrit: Varuṇa वरुण, Malay: Baruna), is a god of the water and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law of the underwater world. A Makara is his mount. In Hindu mythology, Varuna continued to be considered the god of all forms of the water element, particularly the oceans.

In the Vedas[edit]

As chief of the Adityas, Varuna has aspects of a solar deity though, when opposed to Mitra (Vedic term for Surya)[citation needed], he is rather associated with the night, and Mitra with the daylight. As the most prominent Deva, however, he is mostly concerned with moral and societal affairs than being a deification of nature. Together with Mitra–originally 'agreement' (between tribes) personified—being master of ṛtá, he is the supreme keeper of order and god of the law. The word ṛtá, order, is also translated as "season".

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath, and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna (a dvandva compound). Varuna is also twinned with Indra in the Rigveda, as Indra-Varuna (when both cooperate at New Year in re-establishing order [2]).

The Rigveda and Atharvaveda[3] portrays Varuna as omniscient, catching liars in his snares. The stars are his thousand-eyed spies, watching every movement of men.

In the Rigveda, Indra, chief of the Devas, is about six times more prominent than Varuna, who is mentioned 341 times. This may misrepresent the actual importance of Varuna in early Vedic society due to the focus of the Rigveda on fire and Soma ritual, Soma being closely associated with Indra; Varuna with his omniscience and omnipotence in the affairs of men has many aspects of a supreme deity. The daily Sandhyavandanam ritual of a dvija addresses Varuna in this aspect in its evening routine, asking him to forgive all sins, while Indra receives no mention.

Both Mitra and Varuna are classified as Asuras in the Rigveda (e.g. RV 5.63.3), although they are also addressed as Devas as well (e.g. RV 7.60.12), possibly indicating the beginning of the negative connotations carried by Asura in later times.

In post-Vedic texts Varuna became the god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned. As such, Varuna is also a god of the dead, and can grant immortality. He is attended by the nagas. He is also one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the west.

Later art depicts Varuna as a lunar deity, as a yellow man wearing golden armor and holding a noose or lasso made from a snake. He rides the sea creature Makara.

In the Ramayana[edit]

Raja Ravi Varma Painting - 'Rama Conquers Varuna'

Faced with the dilemma of how to cross the ocean to Lanka, where his abducted wife Sita is held captive by the demon king Ravana, Rama (an Avatar of Vishnu) performs a penance (tapasya) to Varuna, the Lord of Oceans, fasting and meditating in perfect dhyana for three days and three nights. Varuna does not respond, and Rama arises on the fourth morning, enraged by the God's arrogance. With his bow and arrow, he angrily begins attacking the oceans with celestial weapons—burning up the waters and killing its life and creatures. The Vanaras (Monkeys) are dazzled and fearful at witnessing the enraged Rama demolish the oceans, and his brother, Lakshmana, prays to calm Rama's mind. Just as Rama invokes the brahmastra, considered the most powerful weapon capable of destroying all creation, Varuna arises out of the oceans. He bows to Rama, explaining that he himself was at a loss to answer Rama's question. Begging him not to destroy the oceans with the missile, he suggests that Rama re-direct the weapon at a demonic race that lives in the heart of the ocean. Rama's arrows destroys the demons, and establishes a purer, liberated environment there. Varuna promises that he would keep the oceans still for all of Rama's army to pass, and Nala constructs a bridge (Rama's Bridge) across to Lanka. Rama justifies his angry assault on the oceans as he followed the correct process of petitioning and worshipping Varuna, but obtaining the result by force for the greater good.[4]

In contemporary Hinduism[edit]

Worship of Varuna is an integral part of the evening ritual of the Sandhyavandanam, of a dvija Hindu. However, popular worship is primarily limited to Hindus of Sindhi origin. (See Jhulelal)

In Zoroastrianism[edit]

"Varun" is one of 101 names of Ahura Mazda, meaning "Deliverer from evil".

Varuna is not attested in the texts of the Avesta. The closest sea deity in Zoroastrian cosmology is Vourukasha; and the nearest homonym is Varena, the four-cornered fourteenth region of the world (Vendidad 1.17) and populated by "fiends" and "savage, non-Aryan natives" (Vd 7.10). In Yasht 15, Haoshyangha begs for a boon that he might smite "two-thirds of the daevas of Mazana and of the fiends of Varena". (Yt 15.2.6) An individual who does not follow daena "[the good] religion" is an anya-varena. (Yasna 16.2; Vd 12.21, 15.2)

Too late to be of relevance to a reconstruction of what might have happened to Indo-Iranian *vouruna (if at all such a predecessor figure existed) in Iran is the "Varuna" of the circa 9th century texts of Zoroastrian tradition (the so-called "Pahlavi" texts), and in the early New Persian Shahnameh. In both cases this Varuna is a dim-witted, easily tricked demon of "backwards"-ness, which is the literal Middle Persian meaning of his name.

Assuming that Vedic Varuna is not a purely Indian development (i.e. assuming that he derives from an Indo-Iranian *vouruna), there are several different theories on what might have happened to Indo-Iranian *vouruna in Iran:

Nyberg (Die Religionen des alten Iran, 1938:282ff) sees Varuna represented as the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta "Best Righteousness", an opinion—with extensions—that Dumezil (Tarpeia 1947:33-113) and Widengren (Die Religionen Irans, 1965:12-13) also follow. This theory is based on Vedic Varuna's role as the principal protector of rta, which in Iran is represented by asha [vahishta].

Kuiper (IIJ I, 1957) proposes that none less than Ahura Mazda is a development from an earlier dvandva *vouruna-mitra. The basis of Kuiper's proposal is that the equivalent of Avestan mazda "wisdom" is Vedic medhira, described in Rigveda 8.6.10 as the "(revealed) insight into the cosmic order" that Varuna grants his devotees. In Kuiper's view, Ahura Mazda is then a compound divinity in which the propitious characteristics of *mitra negate the unfavorable qualities of *vouruna.

Zimmer (Münchner Studien 1984:187-215) observed that Varuna has the byname (cult epithet) bhaga, an adjective that also appears in the Avesta (as baga). It may then be that the Avestan adjective is likewise a cult epithet, the proper name having been forgotten—a not uncommon occurrence. This may be seen to be reflected in Artaxerxes III's invocation of ahuramazda ura mithra baga "Ahura Mazda, Mithra, and the Baga" (Boyce, Acta Iranica 21, 1981:59-73).

Another epithet of Vedic Varuna is asura, and there may be a remnant of Varuna in those Gathic passages (generally presumed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself) refers to the ahuras (plural) without (aside from Ahura Mazda) explicitly naming them. While Ahura Mazda is uniformly "the mightiest Ahura" (e.g. Yasna 33.11), in the only two occurrences of the term where the word does not refer to Ahura Mazda, the poet uses the expression mazdasca ahurano (Yasna 30.9, 31.4). This phrase, generally understood to mean "the Wise [Mazda] One and the (other) Ahuras", is in "common opinion" (so Boyce 1984:159) recognized as being archaic and in which the other Ahuras are *mitra and *varouna. Boyce (Mithra the King and Varuna the Master, 2001) sees this supported by the younger Avestan dvandvah expression mithra ahura berezanta "Mithra and the High Lord", the latter being unambiguously Ahura Berezainti, "High Lord" Apam Napat, the third member of the Ahuric triad (Gray, Foundations, 1929:15), and with whose Indian equivalent (also Apam Napat) Vedic Varuna is closely associated.

In modern age[edit]

Varuna, the Indian Neptune, USS Varuna (1861) & USS Varuna (1943)

Two ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Varuna for Varuna, the Vedic god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned.

  • The first Varuna was a screw gunboat launched in 1861 and sunk by enemy action in April 1862.
  • The second Varuna (AGP-5) was a motorboat tender, commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1946.

INS Varuna is a sail training vessel of the Indian Navy. Varuna was completed in April 1981 by Alcock-Ashdown in Bhavnagar. It can carry 26 cadets.

The Varuna class of ship of Indian Navy are sail training vessels. They consist of the following three ships.

The dwarf planet candidate 20000 Varuna is named after Varuna.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Varuna". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ F. B. J. Kuiper, Ancient Idian Cosmopony, Beombay 1983
  3. ^ Shaunakiya Atharvaveda 4.16, corresponding to Paippalada 5.32.
  4. ^ Ramesh Menon (2004), The Ramayana, pp. 376–81