The boar avatar Varaha, the third incarnation of Viṣṇu, stands in front of the decapitated body of the demon Hiranyaksha
Some of the Puranas present him as the son of Diti and Kashyap. Kashyapa (Sanskrit: कश्यप kaśyapa) was an ancient sage (rishis), who is one of the Saptarshis in the present Manvantara; with others being Atri, Vashishtha, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni, Bharadwaja. He was the father of the Devas, Asuras, Nagas and all of humanity. He married Aditi, with whom he fathered Agni, the Aditya. With his second wife, Diti, he begot the Daityas. In this Puranic version, the good Suras and evil Asuras are the children of the same Kashyapa, and there is a constant war between good and evil.
Once, Hiranyaksha assaulted the defenseless Mother Earth and pulled her deep into the cosmic ocean. The demi-gods appealed to Vishnu to save the earth goddess and all life. Vishnu took the avatar of a man-boar (Varaha) and went to rescue the goddess. Hiranyaksha blocked him. He was then slain by Vishnu.
Origins and significance
The Hindu legend has roots in the Vedic literature such as Taittariya Samhita and Shatapatha Brahmana, and is found in many post-Vedic texts. These legend depict goddess earth (Bhudevi, Prithivi) in an existential crisis where neither she nor the life she supports can survive. She is drowning and overwhelmed in the cosmic ocean. Vishnu emerges in the form of a man-boar avatar. He, as the hero in the legend, descends into the ocean, finds her, she hangs onto his tusk, he lifts her out to safety. The good wins, the crisis ends, and Vishnu once again fulfills his cosmic duty. The Varaha legend has been one of many historic legends in the Hindu text embedded with right versus wrong, good versus evil symbolism, and of someone willing to go to the depths and do what is necessary to rescue the good, the right, the dharma.
Hiranyaksha had an younger Brother named Hiranyakashipu, who tried to persecute his son Prahlada for his faith in Lord Vishnu. While Hiranyaksha was slain by Varaha, the boar avatar of Lord Vishnu, the younger brother Hiranyakashipu was killed by Narasimha, the man-lion avatar of Vishnu.
In some texts, Hiranyaksha is an incarnation of one of the dwarapalas of Vishnu named Vijaya. He, along with his brother Jaya (Born as Hiranyakashipu, brother of Hiranyaksha) were cursed to be born as evil asuras three times, since they had angered the four kumaras (devotees of Lord Vishnu) by not letting them see Lord Vishnu.
- Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.
- George M. Williams (2008). Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Oxford University Press. pp. 154–155, 223–224. ISBN 978-0-19-533261-2.
- H. von Stietencron (1986). Th. P. van Baaren; A Schimmel; et al., eds. Approaches to Iconology. Brill Academic. pp. 16–22 with footnotes. ISBN 90-04-07772-3.
- Debala Mitra, ’Varāha Cave at Udayagiri – An Iconographic Study’, Journal of the Asiatic Society 5 (1963): 99-103; J. C. Harle, Gupta Sculpture (Oxford, 1974): figures 8-17.
- Joanna Gottfried Williams (1982). The Art of Gupta India: Empire and Province. Princeton University Press. pp. 42–46. ISBN 978-0-691-10126-2.