|Order (ṛta), Law, the Sky and the Ocean|
Aditya, Asura but later on as a Deva, |
Guardians of the directions
|Abode||Celestial ocean (Rasā)|
|Mantra||Oṃ Vaṃ Varuṇāya Namaḥ|
|Weapon||Pasha (Lasso) or Varunastra|
In Vedic religion, Varuna (Sanskrit varuṇa वरुण) is a god of the sky, of water and of the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law and of the underworld. He is the most prominent Asura in the Rigveda, and lord of the heavens and the earth.
In the Vedas
As chief of the Adityas, Varuna has aspects of a solar deity though, when opposed to Mitra, he is rather associated with the night, and Mitra with the daylight. As the most prominent Asura, 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.
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 ).
As a sky god, Varuna may either correspond to, or rule over, the dark half of the sky—or celestial ocean (Rasā)—or represent the 'dark' side of the Sun as it travels back from West to East during the night.
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 to 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. Varun which means wind. 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.
Varuna and Uranus
Georges Dumézil made a cautious case for the identity of Varuna and the Greek god Uranus at the earliest Indo-European cultural level. Dumézil's identification of mythic elements shared by the two figures, relying to a great extent on linguistic interpretation, but not positing a common origin, was taken up by Robert Graves and others. The identification of the name Ouranos with the Hindu Varuna, based in part on a posited PIE root *-ŭer with a sense of "binding"— ancient king god Varuna binds the wicked, ancient king god Uranus binds the Cyclopes— is widely rejected by those who find the most probable etymology is from Proto-Greek *worsanos, from a PIE root *wers- "to moisten, to drip" (referring to the rain). Other theories identify Varuna with the Greek God Poseidon or Roman Neptune of the seas.
Uranus is associated with the night sky as his name literally means "Sky", and Varuna is a god of the sky and the celestial ocean which is the milky way or Kshira (क्षीर, milk) sagar. Laksmi is said to have arisen from the ocean of milk and therefore be the daughter of Varuna. Aphrodite is said to have been born from the falling of the testicles of Uranus in the ocean after his castration. Both Laksmi and Aphrodite are associated with the planet Venus. This shared nature of the two deities also leads to their identity being linked together.
In the Ramayana
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.
In Contemporary Hinduism
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)
Varuna is not attested in the texts of the Avesta. 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.
- FBJ Kuiper, Ancient Idian Cosmopony, Beombay 1983
- According to Dumezil, Varuna is the god of "masses of water", while falling rain is rather related to Mitra
- Sieg, Der Nachtweg der Sonne 1923
- Shaunakiya Atharvaveda 4.16, corresponding to Paippalada 5.32.
- Dumézil, Ouranós-Váruna: Étude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne (Paris:Maisonneuve 1934).
- R. Menon, The Ramayana, pp. 376-81
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