Chausath Yogini Temple: Varahi

How many of you have some idea about ‘Vishnu Dasamavatar’ — the ten incarnations (avatars) of Vishnu, the Indian male counterpart of Goddess Mahalakshmi? It is a concept that is familiar to many of us who love reading Indian mythology or the ‘Puranas’.

One of the ten incarnations of Vishnu is ‘Varaha’ — portrayed in the ancient texts as a gigantic boar supporting the world on its tusks during the time of a great cosmic crisis. But how many of us are aware of the reference of the female counterpart of Varaha in Indian mythology? Some ancient texts mention that Varahi was born out of Varaha.

As you enter the Chausath Yogini Temple, at Hirapur in Orissa, start walking clockwise from your left-hand side and carefully observe the ninth yogini figurine. You come face to face with the form of Varahi who is one of the 64 yoginis. A ‘kirita mukuta’ adorns the head of the ornamented figurine of the yogini. The boar-faced deity — carved out of black chlorite — has four arms, out of which three have been demolished (probably by invaders). The lower left arm supports staff and the unbroken left upper arm holds the skull cup, which reminds us of occult and Tantric practices. She is mounted on a buffalo, which probably represents the masses.

Probably, Varahi is considered a shapeshifter because we observe changes in her appearance, postures, weapons, and ‘vahan’ (vehicle) as per various religious sects (Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Shaktas) and various forms of Puranas. Shaktas consider the deity as the manifestation of the goddess Lalita Tripurasundari/ Dandanayika/ Dandanatha. In the ancient Indian texts, Varahi is often associated with Kamala, one of the Mahavidyas.

The deity is depicted as a boar with two/ four/ six/ eight arms and three eyes and is seated under a Palmyra tree. Being the fifth amongst the ‘Saptamatrikas’ (Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Mahendri, and Chamundi), she is known as ‘Panchami’. In Devi Purana, she is referred to as ‘Vaivasvati’ (Yami, the female counterpart of Yama/ Vivasvan). In Vamana Purana, she is shown arising from Goddess Chandika’s back.

In Markendeya Purana, the goddess is praised as a granter of boon and the regent of the northern direction (Matrikas are shown as the protectors of the directions). In its ‘Raktabeeja’ episode, she is also depicted as a boar seated on a corpse and slaying the ‘asuras’ (demons) with her tusks.

As a Tantric goddess, Varahi is also known as Dhruma Varahi and Dhumavati. It is said that she should be worshipped between sunset and sunrise (preferably at the midnight, as mentioned in ‘Parsurama Kalpasutra’) — on the fifth day from the new moon/ full moon day.

As we explore the other cultures of the world, we get some insight into the Nepalese, Tibetian, Celtic, and Egyptian traditions. In Tibetian Buddhism, ‘Vajravarahi’ (Buddhist Varahi/ Vajrayogini) is one of the Dakinis (the enlightened compassionate souls in female form). In Nepal, she is known as ‘Barahi’. In Egypt, ‘Shai’ (female counterpart: Shait), the god of fate, is a serpent-headed pig. And ‘Seth’ in the Egyptian tradition, at times, is depicted as a pig. In the Celtic tradition, the boar-faced goddess is referred to as the ‘Old White Sow’.

The ‘Varahi’ Temples in India are found under various names — ‘Chaurasi’ at Orissa; ‘Patala Bhairavi’ at Varanasi; ‘Varahi’ at Mylapore, Chennai; ‘Brihadeeswarar’ (worshipped during Ashada Navaratri) at Thanjavur; ‘Uttari Bhawani’ at Gonda district; ‘Dadhaniya’, Dadhana village in Gujarat; and ‘Nava Shakti Maha Varahi Devi’ at Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.

The association between human beings and animals form of sculptures often reflect the psychological state of our mind. In Tibetan Buddhism, the boar represents general and material attachments, greed, and lust. Vajravarahi represents the controlled energy of courage and fearlessness when these dark emotions go out of control and gain momentum. In China, the boar represents the wealth of the forest while in Japan, the boar depicts courage. The Celts and Welsh traditions believe that the boar represents courage and strong warriors.

(to be continued…) The write-up is based on the knowledge acquired from a teacher, my observation, and my research work when I had visited the Chausath Yogini Temple thrice between the years 2015 and 2018.

The boar-faced goddess reminds us that we need to stand tall and take up any challenges by the horn, and not succumb to arrogance and greed. Invoking her reminds us of the ultimate truth in life!

Originally published at https://www.speakingtree.in.

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