Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘(4): Cosmological ideas reflected in the mythology of Hayashira Vishnu’ of the study on Lord Hayagriva as found in Sanskrit Literature such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Puranas and Tantras. Hayagriva as an incarnation of Vishnu is worshipped as the supreme Lord of knowledge and wisdom but also symbolizes power and intelligence. His name means “the horse-headed one”.

(4): Cosmological ideas reflected in the mythology of Hayaśira Viṣṇu

Before entering into the discussion of the prime myth of Hayaśira Viṣṇu, we need to go through the cosmological ideas or the description of the innumerable creation and also great dissolution mentioned.

From the primitive time men were eager to know about the origin of the universe. The perennial questions as to how, when and why the universe came into existence have excited human minds from times immemorial. In the ancient cultures like the Greek, Egyptian, Iranian, Indian etc. people were passionate about different theories on creation or cosmogony. They introduced different cosmological explanations that were sometimes mythological and sometimes much scientific. Since cosmogony is concerned mostly with this Universe it is a very important topic of discussion for the scientists also.

The theory of creation of the universe continues in the Vedic and post-vedic literature.

Hence here in the Mahābhārata with the context of Hayaśira myth, Vaiśampāyaṇa narrates about it:

“Dharaṇyāmatha līnāyāmapsu caikārṇve purā/
Jyotirbhūte jale cāpi līne jyotiṣi cānile//
Vāyau cākāśasaṃlāne ākāśe ca mano’anuge/
Vykte manasi saṃlīne vykte cā vyktatāṃ gate//
Avykte puruṣaṃ yāte puṃsi sarvvagate’api ca/
Tama evābhavat sarvaṃ na prājñāyata kiñcana//”[1]

At the beginning, the element of Earth was immersed in water and nothing was visible except the vast expanded waters. Water then merged into heat, heat into wind, wind into space, and space merged with mind. Mind merged into the Manifestation or Ego, Manifest merged into the unmanifest Prakṛti that merges into Puruṣa or Jivātman that finally merged with the Supreme Brahman. Then Darkness spread across the universe, and nothing could be seen. The transformation took place in the following order: Apaḥ (Water)˃ Agni (Heat)˃ Vāyu (Wind)˃ Space˃ Manas (Mind)˃ Prakṛti˃ Puruṣa or Pradhāna. This configuration of cosmological theory reminds us about the theory of creation advocated by the Sāṅkhya school of Indian Philosophy.

From that primeval Darkness emerged Brahman and assumed the form of Puruṣa developed by its own potency into the idea of the universe. Such Puruṣa known as Aniruddha, is recognized otherwise by the name of Pradhāna.

Pradhāna is also identified as Manifest, or the combination of the threefold attribute:

“Tamaso brahma saṃbhūtaṃ tamo mūlāmṛtātmakaṃ/
Tadviśvabhāvasaṅjñāntaṃ pauruṣī tanumāśritaṃ//
So’niruddha iti proktastat pradhānaṃ pracakṣate/
Tadavyktamiti jñeyaṃ triguṇaṃ nṛpasattama//”[2]

According to the Vedas, the cosmology has been described in the four sūktas of the Ṛgveda viz. Puruṣasūkta,[3] Hiraṇyagarbhasūkta,[4] Nāsadīyasūkta[5] and Sṛṣṭisūkta[6] . In these four sūktas the science of creation has been narrated in detail. The other Vedas too propagate such theories. The Nāsadīya sūkta of the Ṛgveda includes a number of cosmological thought, one of which questions the origin of the cosmos.[7] At the end of a cycle of the universe everything becomes finer and is resolved back into the primal undifferentiated state from where it emerged. This state has been described in this sūkta as ‘ānīda vātaṃ,’ ‘it vibrated without vibration’.

The Puruṣa sūkta of the Ṛgveda gives a description of the universe. It presents the nature of Puruṣa or the cosmic being as both immanent in the manifested world and yet transcending it. The Puruṣa is defined in verses 2 to 5 of the sūkta.[8] Puruṣa is described as a being that encompasses everything conscious and unconscious universally.

Moreover, in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, there is a description of the creation from Puruṣa, who desired and at once his manifestation or creation started.[9] apaḥ (water) and agni (fire) gave birth to the golden Egg, which got converted in the form of Puruṣa, who is Prajāpati.[10]

The history of cosmogony or creation is portrayed in several Upaniṣads also. In the Aitareya Upaniṣad[11] and the Taittirīya Upaniṣad[12] the account of creation of this universe and the world is described. The concept of god as supreme power and the creator is more explicit. The whole activity regarding creation revolving round a supreme power must identify the divinity. The creation, whether by a divine power, or by time, or by nature, or by the rules of law, have to be followed for the same. Bṛhadāraṇyak Upaniṣad says that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever in the Universe. By Hiraṇyagarbha, indeed, all this was covered by hunger.[13] Chāndogya Upaniṣad states that “In the beginning, this universe was sat alone, one only without a second.” Others say that in the beginning asat was alone, only one without a second; and from that being was born.[14]

Sat’ and ‘asat’ in the Nāsadīya Sūkta of the Ṛgveda is similar to the vyaktaavyakta reflected in Sāṃkhya. The hymns about Puruṣa had also influenced Sāṃkhya.[15] The Sāṃkhya concept of buddhi or mahat denotes the Hiraṇyagarbha, as appears in the Ṛgveda and also the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad. [16]

According to Sāṃkhya philosophy, the interaction of two independent concepts Puruṣa or soul and Prakṛti or nature, produce matter and the worlds.

Puruṣa is described as omniscient, omnipresent and indivisible entity. Prakṛti or nature which is always active intermingles with Puruṣa to produce worlds. The Prakṛti comprises of three elements—tamas (darkness), rajas (active) and sattva (goodness). The equipoise of the Prakṛti is disturbed by the Puruṣa. Puruṣa quits the equilibrium, and intellect or buddhi is born. ahaṃkāra is born from buddhi, manas or mind emerges from ego and this formed the basic creative cycle of kalpa in Sāṃkhya concept.

The theory of creation or cosmology is also available in the first chapter of Manusmṛti. Here it is said that before creation “the universe existed in the form of darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed as it were, in deep sleep. Then the divine self existent, Svayambhu himself, imperceptible.... the great elements and the rests, discernible, appeared with creative power, dispelling the darkness.... he desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first.... created the waters and placed his seed in them. That became a golden egg, he himself was born as Brahman, the progenitor of the whole world.”[17]

Here we see a much more comprehensive and elaborate discussion regarding creation related to its parallel verses in the Vedas.

Footnotes and references:


Mahābhārata, 12.335.12-14.


Mahābhārata, 12.335.15-16.


Ṛgveda, 10.90.5.


Hiraṇyagarbhaḥ samavaratāgre bhūtasyajātaḥ patireka āsīt/
Sadādhāra pṛthivīṃ dyāmutemāṃ kasmai devāya haviṣā vidhema//” ibid.,,10.121.1.




“Sūryacandramasaudhātā yathāpūrvamakalpate/
Divaṃ ca pṛthivīṃ cāṃ tarikṣamathā svaḥ//” ibid.,,10.190.3.


“Nāsaadāsīnno sadāsīttadānīṃ nāsīdrajo no vyom pa̱ ro yat/
Kimāvarīvaḥ kuha kasya śarmannambhaḥ kimāsīdgahanaṃ gabhīraṃ//
Na mṛtyurāsīdamṛtaṃ na tarhi na rātryā ahna āsītpraketaḥ/
Ānīdavātaṃ svadhayā tadekaṃ tasmāddhānyanna paraḥ kiñcanāsaa//
Tama āsīṯ tamasā gūlhamagre praketaṃ salilaṃ sarvā’ idaṃ/
Tucchyenābhvapihitaṃ yadāsīttapasastanmahinā jāyataikaṃ//
Kāmastadagre samavartatādhi manaso retaḥ prathamaṃ yadāsīt/
Sato bandhu masati niravindanhṛdi pratīṣyā kavayo manīṣā//
Tiraścīno vitato raśmireṣāmadhaḥ svi̍dāsīdupari̍ svidāsīt/
Retodhā āsanmahimāna āsantsvadhā avastātprayatiḥ parastāt//
Ko addhā veda ka iha pra vocatkuta ajātā kuta iyaṃ visṛṣṭiḥ/
Arvāgdevā asya visarjanenāthā ko veda yata ābabhūva//
Iyaṃ visṛṣṭiryata ābabhūva yadi vā dadhe yadi̍ vā na/
Yo asyādhyakṣaḥ parame vyomantso aṅga veda yadi̍ vā na veda//” ibid.,10.129.1-7.


“Puruṣa evedaṃ sarvaṃ yadbhūtaṃ yacca bhavya/
Utāmṛtatvasyeśāno yadannenātirohati//
Etāvānasya mahimāto jyāyāṃśca puruṣaḥ/
Pādo’sya viśvā bhūtāni tripādasyāmṛtaṃ divi//
Tripādūrdhv udait puruṣḥ pādo’syehābhavat punaḥ/
Tato viṣvaṅvykrāmat sāśanānaśane abhi//
Tasmādvirā’jāyata virājo’dhi puruṣaḥ/
Sajāto’tyaricyata paścādbhūmi mathopuraḥ//” ibid.,10.90.2-5.


“Yo’yaṃ puruṣa prajāpatirkāmayat brahmaiva prathama sṛjat tryīmeva vidhema//” Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa,


“Āpoḥ vā idamagre salilamevāsa/ tat kāmayanta/ kayamanuprajāyemahi iti/ tasu tapasta mānāsu hiraṇyamantamasambubhava//” Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa,


“Auṃ Ātmā vā idameka evāgra āsīt/ nānyat kiñcanamiṣat/ sa īkṣata lokāntu sṛjā iti//” Aitareya Upaniṣad, 1.1.1.


“Asadvā idamagraāsīt/ tatau ve sadajāyata/ tadātmānaṃ svayaṃ kuruta/ tasmāttatsukṛtamucyate iti//” TaiU, 2.7.1.


“Naiveha kiñcanāgra āsīt mṛtyunaivedamāvṛtamāsīdaśanāyayā, aśanāyā hi mṛtyustanmano’kurutātmanvī syāmiti/ so'rchannacharat tasyārccata apo'jāyantārchate vai me kamabhūditi tadevārkasyārkatvaṃ kaṃ ha vā asmai bhavati, ya evametadarkasyārkatvaṃ veda//” Bṛhadāryaṇaka Upaniṣad, 1.2.1.


Sadeva somya edamagra āsīdekanevādvitīyaṃ / taddhaika āhurasadevedamagra āsīdekamevadvitīyaṃ tasmādasataḥ sajjāyata//” ChU, 6.2.1.


Larson, Gerald James: Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning, pp.59,79-81.


Larson, Gerald James: ibid., p.82.


“Āsīd idaṃ tamobhūtaṃ aprajñātam alakṣaṇaṃ/
Apratarkyaṃ avijñeyaṃ prasuptaṃ iva sarvataḥ//
Tataḥ svayaṃbhūr bhagavān abyakto vyñjayanna idaṃ/
Mahābhūtādi vṛtta ojāḥ prādurāsīd tamonudaḥ//
Yo asāv atīndriyagrāgrāhya avyaktaḥ sanātanaḥ/
Sarvabhūtamayo acintyaḥ sa eva svayaṃ udvabhau//
Yoabhidhyāya śrīrāt svāt sisṛkṣur vividhāḥ prajāḥ/
Apa eva sasarja adau tāsu vīryaṃ avāsṛjat//
Tad aṇḍaṃ abhavadda haimaṃ sahasrāṃśusamaprabhaṃ/
Tasmiñc jajñe svayaṃ brahmā sarvaloka pitāmahaḥ//
Āpo narā iti proktā āpo vai narasūnavaḥ/
Tā yad asyāyanaṃ pūrva tena nārāyaṇaḥ smṛtaḥ//
Yat tat kāraṇaṃ avyaktaṃ nityaṃ sad asad atmakaṃ/
Tad visṛṣṭaḥ sa puruṣo loke brahmā i krīyate//” Manusmṛti, 1.5-11.

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