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Sri Lakshmi-Hayagriva
knowledge and wisdom
Affiliation Avatar of Vishnu
Consort Lakshmi

Lord Hayagreevar Temple, adjacent to Koodal Azhagar Temple

Hayagriva (also Hayagreeva) is a horse-headed deity that appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism.


In Hinduism, Hayagriva is an avatar of Vishnu. He is worshipped as the God of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Hayagriva is celebrated in the Puranas for rescuing the Vedas from the demons Madhu and Kaitabha and teaching them again to Brahma. Symbolically, the story of Hayagriva represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.

Hayagriva is a very important deity in the Vaishnava tradition. His blessings are sought when beginning study of both sacred and secular subjects. Special worship is conducted on the day of the full moon in August (Sravana-Paurnami) (his avatara-dina) and on Mahanavami, the ninth day of the Navaratri festival. He is also hailed as "Hayasirsa".[1] HayaSirsa means haya=Horse, Sirsa=Head.

jnAna-Ananda-mayam devam nirmala-sphaTikAkRtim
AdhAram sarvavidyAnAm hayagrIvam upAsmahe!

This verse is originally from the Pancaratra Agamas but is now popularly prefixed to the Hayagriva Stotram of the 13th century poet-philosopher Vedanta Desika. It is very popular among devotees of Hayagriva.

Hindu iconography

Vedanta Desika's loving meditation on Hayagriva typifies this deity's depiction in Hindu iconography:

He has four lotus hands, with one in the mode of bestowing knowledge; another holds books of wisdom, and the other two hold the Conch and Discus. His beauty, like fresh cut crystal, is an auspicious brilliance that never decays. May this Lord of speech who showers such cooling rays of grace on me be forever manifest in my heart!

-- Hayagriva Stotram, v.32

Invariably, Hayagriva is depicted seated, most often with his right hand either blessing the supplicant or in the vyaakhyaa mudraa pose of teaching. The right hand also usually holds a aksha-maalaa (rosary), indicating his identification with meditative knowledge. His left holds a book, indicating his role as a teacher. His face is always serene and peaceful, if not smiling. Unlike his Buddhist counterpart, there is no hint of a fearsome side in the Hindu description of this deity. Indeed, the two deities seem to be totally unrelated to one another.

Hayagriva is sometimes worshipped in a solitary pose of meditation, as in the Tiruvahindrapuram temple. This form is known as Yoga-Hayagriva. However, he is most commonly worshipped along with his consort Lakshmi and is known as Lakshmi-Hayagriva. Hayagriva in this form is the presiding deity of Mysore's Parakala Mutt, a significant Srivaishnava monastic institution.

In Sakta mythology

In the Sakta tradition of Hinduism, Hayagriva occupies a different role. Here, a demon named Hayagriva first appears as son of Kashyapa Prajapati. Through great penance the demon managed to obtain a boon from the Goddess Durga that he can only be killed by another "Hayagriva". This instilled a sense of invincibility and he started harassing the Devas. The Devas turned to Vishnu for aid, but despite a long struggle he was also unable to kill Hayagriva.

Tired and drained after the battle, Vishnu proceeded to Vaikuntha Dham to rejuvenate and meditate in padamaasna (a yoga posture) with his head supported by the upper end of his taut bow. The Devas once again approached Vishnu for help against Hayagriva but were unable to rouse him from his meditation. The Devas asked a swarm of termites to assist in waking Vishnu by gnawing away the string of the bow upon which he was resting. However, the snapping of the bow string produced such a resonant sound that the universe trembled, and the broken string lashed out with such force that Vishnu's head was severed from his body.

The Devas were mortified, and prayed to the goddess Durga for guidance. Durga was pleased with their prayers and told the Devas that they need not fear, as no incident in this universe was without some purpose. She then told them of her boon to Hayagriva and asked them to attach the head of a horse to Vishnu so that he in the guise of "Hayagriva" (that is, one with a horse's neck) could kill his foe.

Brahma attached the head of a white horse to Vishnu's body and the revived Vishnu entered into battle with Hayagriva and eventually killed him.

Another legend has it that during the creation, the demons Madhu and Kaitabha stole the Vedas from Brahma, and Vishnu then took the Hayagriva form to recover them. The two bodies of Madhu and Kytdhaba disintegrated into 2 times 6 — which is twelve pieces (two heads, two torsos, four arms and four legs). These are considered to represent the twelve seismic plates of the Earth. Yet another legend has it that during the creation, Vishnu compiled the Vedas in the Hayagriva form.

Some consider Hayagriva to be one of the Dashavatars of Vishnu. He along with Krishna, Rama and Narasimha is considered to be an important avatar of Vishnu.

Hayagriva Mahatyam

A great devotee named Sri Vadirajatirtha of Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt used to offer cooked horse oats(Kollu) to Lord Hayagriva.[2] He used to recite the Hayagriva Sloka and keep the offerings on his head. Lord Hayagriva would come in a beautiful white horse form and will have oats. Such a very staunch devotee. He would recite the following sloka -

Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi MangaLam

Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi Paavanam

Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi Dhaivatham

Na Hayagrivam Pranipathya Seedhathi!

There is no other auspiciousness which is greater than Hayagrivan There is nothing more sacred than Sri Hayagrivan to destroy our accumulated sins There is no God superior to Hayagrivan There is no one grieves after performing Saranagathi at the sacred feet of Hayagrivan.

He is called as Veda Moorthy. He is the Akararthan. He protects all creatures. He who taught knowledge to Goddess Saraswati. Without his grace, we cannot obtain good knowledge.

Haygriva as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu is confirmed from the Canto 10 (skandh 10), chapter 40 of Srimadbhagawatam, where Akrur's prayer contains Hayagriva's name when he had a vision while bathing in Yamuna water.


Hayagriva, known as Bato Kannon in Japan

In Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism, Hayagriva is a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. There are believed to be 108 forms of Hayagriva.[3] His special ability is to cure diseases, especially skin diseases even as serious as leprosy, which is said to be caused by the Nāgas (water spirits with serpent bodies).

It is said that Tibetan horse-dealers worshiped Hayagriva because he could frighten away demons by neighing like a horse. When invoked he announces his coming by neighing, the sound of which pierces false appearances and disguise.

Buddhist iconography

In his simplest form Hayagriva is depicted with one face, two arms and two legs. Everything about him is wrathful - a scowling face with three glaring eyes, a roaring mouth with protruding fangs, a pose of warrior's aggressiveness, a broad belly bulging with inner energy, a sword raised threateningly in his right hand, his left hand raised in a threatening gesture and snake ornaments. This terrifying aspect expresses compassion's fierce determination to help us overcome inner egotism and outer obstructions.

See also

  • Vishnu
  • White horse (mythology)


External links

bo:རྟ་མགྲིན། hi:हयग्रीव ja:馬頭観音 ru:Хаягрива