Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘Central Myth (6): Birth of Madhu-Kaitabha’ 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”.

Central Myth (6): Birth of Madhu-Kaiṭabha

At that time the qualities tamas and rajas were born personified as Madhu and Kaiṭabha respectively, according to the desire of the Lord Nārāyaṇa. With the effulgence of the Sun in the primeval lotus, two drops of water were created by Nārāyaṇa. Of the two drops of water one was very beautiful and bright like honey, and the other was very firm. At the command of Nārāyaṇa, demon Madhu was born from the honey like drop with the attributes of tamas or darkness.

The demon Kaiṭabha was born from the other drop of water having the attribute of rajas:

“Pūrvameva ca padmasya patre sūryāṃśusaprabhe/
Nārāyaṇakṛtau vindu apāmāstāṃ guṇottarau//
Tāvapasyat sa bhagavānanādinidhano’cyutaḥ/
Ekastatrābhavadvindurmmadhvabho ruciraprabhaḥ//
Sa tāmaso madhurjjātastadā nārāyaṇājñayā/
Kaṭhinastvaparo vinduḥ kaiṭabho rājasastu saḥ//”[1]

Madhu and Kaiṭabha, are the demons associated with cosmic myth of Hayaśira Viṣṇu. Immediately after their birth, they found Brahmā engaged in creating the four Vedas in a delightful mood. The envious daityas suddenly stole the Vedas from Brahmā and quickly took them away to the nether region, rasātala.[2] Brahmā was filled with grief.[3] Having lost the Vedas, he felt that he had lost his sight and he started praying Nārāyaṇa to bring back the stolen Vedas.[4]

Brahmā said that—

“The Vedas are my great eyes. The Vedas are my great strength. The Vedas are my great shelter. The Vedas are my high Brahman. All the Vedas, however, have been forcibly taken away from me by the two dānavas. Without the Vedas, the worlds have become enveloped in darkness to me. Devoid of the Vedas, how shall I succeed in excellent creation too? Alas, I suffer in such a major grief consequence of loss of the Vedas. My heart is very much pained. It has turn into the abode of a great sorrow. In this stage of crisis who will rescue me from this ocean of grief in which I am sunk? Who will bring me the lost Vedas? Who is there that will take compassion on me?”[5]

The word Veda is originated from the root ‘vid[6] , and primarily means sacred knowledge or wisdom. The Veda means to know. According to Pāṇinī, the word Veda comes from five verbs.[7] Maharṣi Dayānanda Sarasvatī derives it from four roots.[8] A.A. Macdonell provides only two roots instead of five like, ‘vid’–‘to know’ and ‘vid’–‘to obtain’ in his Vedic grammar.[9] Some traditional scholars also explain the word ‘Veda’ based upon these derivations.[10] The word Veda or its root ‘vid’ has often been found in almost every language of the Indo-European family. Maxmular says that “If the word Veda is related to wisdom or vision, it would mean darśana. The word Ṛgveda is also sometimes derived from the root dṛś to see.”[11]

Vedas are also known in various names in the later Vedic literature such as, ‘śruti’,[12]āmnāya’, ‘trayī’, ‘nigama’ etc. It contains everything in it.

Hence Manu says—

“Vedo’khilo dharmamūlaṃ/
Sarva jñānamayo hi saḥ
Sarvaṃ vedāt prasidhyati//”[13]

The division of the Vedas is fourfold viz. Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda, and Atharvaveda. In the Bṛhadāraṇyak Upaniṣad it is stated that,

“Etasya vā mahato bhūtasya niḥśvasitametad yad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo’tharvavedaḥ”[14]

The Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda are out pouring or Breath of the Supreme Being. Mahābhārata also sings the glory of the Veda—

“Anādinidhanānityā, vāgutsṛṭā svayaṃbhutvā/
Ādau vedamayī divyā, yataḥ sarvā pravṛttayaḥ//”[15]

At the time of origin of this universe, self-existent god revealed the eternal Vedas as the source of all human activities. When the eternal, unperceivable, all pervading, all-comprehensive, exceedingly subtle, un-decaying, supreme knowledge and wisdom Vedas were stolen by the demons Madhu-Kaiṭabha and quickly took them away to the nether region, rasātala.

Crisis and its prevention were generated simultaneously, for the creatures and also for the creation. History shows that whenever there is a crisis, strength also emerges to solve the crisis. When Madhu-Kaiṭabha, the two demons, forcibly robbed the Vedas from Brahmā and quickly took them away to the nether region, Brahmā started praying to his progenitor Nārāyaṇa to prevent the situation. Brahmā prayed with hymns to bring back the stolen Vedas, the sacred knowledge, without which successful creation was impossible.[16] Subsequently Nārāyaṇa woke up from his yoga slumber.

He decided to regain the Vedas and assumed a new form of Hayaśiraḥ [Hayaśiras]:

“Evaṃ stutaḥ sa bhagavān puruṣaḥ sarvatomukhaḥ/
Jahau nidrāmatha tadā vedakāryyārthamudyataḥ//
Aiśvareṇa prayogeṇa dvitīyāṃ tanumāsthitaḥ/
Sunāsikena kāyena bhūtvā candraprabhastadā//
Kṛtvā Hayaśiraḥ śubhraṃ vedānāmālayaṃ prabhuḥ/
Tasya mūrddhā samabhavaddyauḥ sanakṣatratārakā//
Keśāścāsyābhavaddīrghā raveraṃśusamaprabhaḥ/
Karṇāvākāśapātāle lalāṭaṃ bhūtadhāriṇī//
Gaṅgā sarasvatī puṇyā bhruvāvāstāṃ mahānadī/
Cakṣuṣī somasūryyau te nāsā sandhyā punaḥ smṛtā//
Oṃkārastvatha saṃskāro viddyujjihvā ca nirmmitā/
Dantāśca pitaro rājan! Somapā iti viśrutāḥ//
Goloko brahmalokaśca oṣṭhāvāstāṃ mahātmanaḥ/
Grīvā cāsyābhavadrājan! kālarātrirguṇottarā//
Etaddhayaśiraḥ kṛtvā nānāmūrttibhirāvṛttaṃ/
Antardadhe sa viśveśo viveśa ca rasāṃ prabhuḥ//”[17]

The Lord furnished his body with a superb nose, became as brilliant as the moon. His head assumed the form of a horse’s head with great lustre, the abode of the Vedas. The entire cosmos, with all luminaries and galaxy, became his crown. His tresses were long and graceful with the magnificence of the rays of the sun. The heaven and nether land became his two ears and earth became his forehead. His two hips were the rivers Gangā and Sarasvatī, his two eye-brows were the two oceans. The sun and the moon formed his two eyes. The twilight was his nose. The syllable ‘Om’ as his memory and intelligence and lightning became his tongue. The Pitṛ’s drinking soma were his teeth. Goloka and Brahmaloka, became his upper and lower lips. His neck could be equated to the terrible night preceding universal destruction that transcends the three attributes. His limbs represented diverse things. This Lord of universe left at once and move forward to the nether worlds.”[18] The concept of the Virāṭ puruṣa emancipates the beautiful illustration of the Hayaśira Viṣṇu that manifests the entire universe.

Lord Nārāyaṇa having assumed this Hayaśiraḥ form entered into the nether region and began to recite the Vedic hymns in a melodious voice—

“Rasāṃ punaḥ praviṣṭaśca yogaṃ paramamāsthitaḥ/
Śaikṣaṃ svaraṃ samāsthāya omiti prāsṛjat svaraṃ//”[19]

Adopting a voice controlled by the rules of science of śikṣā, he began to spell aloud the Vedic mantras. His pronunciation was explicit and resonant through the air, and was canorous in every aspect.[20]

In some, the word ‘udgīthaṃ’ is used instead of ‘Om’. The commentator says that—

“Sa viśveśaḥ rasāṃ rasātalaṃ praviṣṭaḥ punaḥ paramaṃ yogamāsthitaścasan, śaikṣaṃ śikṣāsamvandhinaṃ śikṣāśāstroktaṃ svaramudāttādikaṃ samāsthāya abalamvya, udgīthaṃ gānātmakaṃ svaraṃ prāsṛjat//”[21]

It the previous parva of the Mahābhārata, Nārada described the nether world or pātāla as the world of snakes where during auspicious occasions, Hayaśiraḥ with golden complexion is evoked as ‘suvarṇābha’, and the world becomes filled with waters and Vedic hymns.[22] Here it is to be noted that the term ‘udgīthaṃ’ referred to as the act of udgāna or the part of sāma, described as the sacred syllable ‘Om’ in connection with Hayagrīva as the supreme lord of knowledge and wisdom is reflected in the Hayagrīvopaniṣad.

The word udgītha literally means a song sung (from the root gai) highly (ut) or an exalted song. Sāma has five parts, viz., hiṅkāra, prastāva, udgītha, pratihāra, nidhāna; and this is the most significant, high pitched middle portion of the chant known as udgītha

“Lokeṣu pañcavidha sāmopāsīta, pṛthivī hiṅkāraḥ/ Agniḥ prastāva antarīkṣaṃ udgītha ādityaḥ pratihāro dyaurnidhanamityūrddheṣu//”[23]

The Chāndogya Upaniṣad uses this word to indicate the sacred syllable ‘Om’—

Omiti hyudgāyati, tasyopavyākhyānaṃ//”[24]

Here the word udgītha neither denotes the act of udgāna nor the part of sāma known as such, but it signifies the udgātṛ himself.

In this context of udgītha Bṛhadāraṇyak Upaniṣad says that—

“Dvayā ha prajātyā devāścāsurāśca, tataḥ kānīyasā eva devā jyāyasā asurāḥ, ta eṣu lokeṣvasparddhanta, te ha devā ūcurhantāsurān yajña udgīthenātyayāmeti//”[25]

Śaṅkara points it out in his commentary that ‘udgīthena’ (by udgitha) it is explicit that by the accomplishment of the self of the agent of the udgīthaact’ (udgītha-karma-padārtha-kartṛ-svarupāśrayaṇena) the gods tried to subdue the demons.[26] Udgītha implies the chief prāṇa or the life-spirit, as the singer (udgatṛ) of the mystic sāma also the udgītha-devatā. The gods made a thorough search for udgītha or the udgītha-devatā in different spheres of their own existence before finding him and after finding him their search ended.

The two demons Madhu-Kaiṭabha were attracted by the melodious recitation of the Vedic hymns and went to find out its origin.

At that time, god Hayaśirodhara went to the place where the Vedas were kept by the demons, quickly picked up the Vedas and returned them to Brahmā—

“Tatastāvasurau kṛtvā vedān samayabandhanāt/
Rasātale vinikṣipya yataḥ śavdastato drutau//
Etasminnantare Rājan! Devo hayaśirodharaḥ/
Jagrāha vedānakhilān rasātalogato hariḥ//
Prādācca brahmaṇe bhūyastataḥ svāṃ prakṛtiṃ gataḥ/
Sthāpayitvā hayaśira udakpūrve mahodadhau/
Vedānāmālayañcāpi vabhūvāśvaśirāstataḥ//”[27]

Having restored the Vedas to Brahmā, He kept his horse-head form (Hayaśirorupa [Hayaśirorūpa?]) in the north-eastern sea to assume the natural form of Nārāyaṇa. Commentator says—

Aśvaśirā hariḥ udakpūrve uttarapūrvakoṇasthe mhodadhau vedānāmālayaṃ hayaśirastarūpaṃ, sthāpayitvā svāṃ prakṛtiṃ nārāyaṇarūpaṃ gato vabhūva//”[28]

In the context of the above mentioned last verse P.C Roy states that—

“It is difficult to settle the reading of this Verse. The Bengal texts have ‘ālayaḥ’, the Bombay edition has ‘ālayaṃ’. At any rate, Verse 58 seems to contradict the previous Verse. If after restoring the Vedas to Brahmā, Nārāyaṇa returned to his own nature, where would his form be that had the horse-head?”[29]

Footnotes and references:


Mahābhārata, 12.335.21-23.


Rasātala is the bottom end of the earth covered by Lord Viṣṇu’s one of the three feet and is the abode of the dānavas and daityas, who are mighty but cruel. They are the eternal foes of devas. They live in holes like serpents. Mani. Vettam: Puranic Encyclopaedia: A Comprehensive Dictionary with Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature, pp. 580–581. In Sanskrit cosmology, the universe is divided into the three worldssvarga, pṛthivī and pātāla or the netherworld. Rasātala is often translated as underworld or netherworld and it is a realm of pātāla. The Viṣṇupurāṇa states the seven realms of pātāla, which are located one above the other, below the earth’s surface. In this purāṇa, they are named as from the highest to the lowest as: Atala, Vitala, Nitala, Garbhastimat, Mahātala, Sutala and Pātāla. In the Bhāgavatapurāṇa and the Padmapurāṇa, they are called atala, vitala, sutala, talātala, mahātala, rasātala and pātāla. The Vāyupurāṇa calls them rasātala, sutala, vitala, gabhastala, mahātala, srītala and pātāla.


“Dadṛśāte’aravindasthaṃ brahmāṇamamitaprbhaṃ/
Sṛjantaṃ prathamaṃ vedāṃścaturaścāruvigrahān//
Tato vigrahavantau tau vedān dṛṣṭvāsurottamau/
Sahasā jagṛhaturvedān brahmanaḥ paśyatastadā//
Atha tau dānavaśreṣṭhau vedān gṛhya sanātanaṃ/
Rasāṃ viviśatusturṇamudakpūrve mahodadhau//” Mahābhārata, 12.335.25-27.


Vedā me paramaṃ cakṣurvvedā me paramaṃ valaṃ/
Vedā me paramaṃ dhāma vedā me brahmacottaraṃ//
Mama vedā hṛtaḥ sarve dānavābhāṃ balāditaḥ/
Andhakārā hi me lokā jātā vedairvvinākṛtāḥ/
Vedānṛte hi kiṃ kuryyāṃ lokānāṃ sṛṣṭimuttamāṃ//
Aho vata mahad duḥkhaṃ vedanāśanajaṃ mama/
Prāptaṃ dunoti hṛdayaṃ tīvraṃ śokaparāyaṇaṃ//
Ko hi śokārṇave magnaṃ māmito’adya samuddharet/
Vedāṃstāṃścānayennaṣṭān kasya cāhaṃ priyo bhave//
Ityevaṃ bhāṣamāṇasya brahmaṇo nṛpasattama/
Harestotrārthamudbhūtā buddhirbuddhimatāmvara/
Tato jagau paraṃ japyaṃ prāñjalipragrahaḥ prabhuḥ//” Mahābhārata, 12.335.29-33.


Roy. P.C: The Mahabharata, p.604.


Apte, V.S: Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.337.


Vid: jñāne -to know; vid: sattāyām -to be; vid: lābhe -to obtain; vid: vicāraṇe -to consider; vid: cetanākhyānanivāseṣu- to feel, to tell, to dwell. According to Pāṇinī, (III.3.19,) the sufix ‘ghañ’ is added to each of these roots in the sense of instrument or location. Accordingly it means, of which or in which all persons know, acquire mastery in, deliberate over the various lores or live or subject upon them.


Vid: jñāne - ‘to know’ (Adādi, seṭ, Parasmaipada)–vetti; vid: sattāvāṃ - ‘to exist’ (Divādi, Aniṭ)–vidvate; vid: vicāraṇe–‘to discriminate’ (Rudhādi, Aniṭ)–vinte; vid: lābhe–‘to obtain or acquir’ (Tudādi, Seṭ)–vindati or vindate. Ṛgvedadi-bhāṣya-bhūmikā, Saṅkhyā, chapter.2.


Macdonell, A.A. A Vedic grammar for students. Appendix I, p. 418.


“Pratyakṣenānumityā vā yastupāyo na budhvate /
Enaṃ vidanti vedena tasmād vedasya vedatā //” Ṛgveda Bhāṣva. Introduction of Sāyaṇa, Hindi trans. by Virendra Varma, p.105. “Iṣṭaprāptyaniṣṭaparihārayoralaukikamupāyaṃ yo vedayati sa vedaḥ//” Sāyaṇa's remark in his introduction to Taittirīya Saṃhitā Bhāṣya.


Dharmadhikari,T. N: Vedas-A Broad Perspective, Saṃvijñānam, Felicitation Volume of Dr. T. N. Dharmadhikari. (2006). p.106.


The word śruti derived from the root śru- śravaṇe -to hear. So śruti means, which is learned by an oral transmission.


ManuS, 2.6.


Bṛhadāryaṇaka Upaniṣad, 4.5.11.


Mahābhārata, 12.232.24.


“Oṃ Namaste brahmahṛdaya! Namaste mama pūrvaja!/
Lokādya! bhuvanaśreṣṭha! sāṃkyayoganidhe vibho!//
Vyktāvyktakarācintya! kṣemaṃ panthānamāsthita!/
Viśvabhuk sarvvabhūtānāmantarātmannayonija!//
Ahaṃ prasādajastubhyaṃ lokadhāmne svayambhuve/
Tvatto me mānasaṃ janma prathamaṃ dvijapūjitaṃ//
Cākṣuṣaṃ vai dvitīyaṃ me janma cāsīt purātanaṃ/
Tvatprasādacca me jamna tṛtīyaṃ vācikaṃ mahat//
Tvttaḥ śravaṇajañcāpicaturthaṃ janma ma vibho!/
Nāsikyṃ cāpi me janma tvattaḥ pañcamamucyate//
Aṇḍajañcāpi me janma tvattaḥ ṣaṣṭhaṃ vinirmmitaṃ/
Idañca saptamaṃ janma padmajaṃ me’mitoprabha//
Sarge sarge hyahaṃ putrastava triguṇavarjjitaḥ!/
Prathitaḥ puṇḍarīkākṣaḥ pradhānaguṇakalpitaḥ//
Tvamīśvarasvbhāvaśca svayambhuvaḥ puruṣottamaḥ /
Tvayā vinirmmito’haṃ vai vedacakṣurvayo’tigaḥ//
Te me vedā hṛtāścakṣurandho jāto’smi jāgṛhi/
Dadasva cakṣuṃṣi mahyaṃ priyo’haṃ te priyo’si me//” Mahābhārata, 12.335.34-42.


Mahābhārata, 12.335.83-89.


Roy. P.C: Op. cit. p.605.


Mahābhārata, 12.335.50.


ibid., p.605.


Bāratakaumudī, commentary of Siddāantavāgīśa, Mahābhārata, p.3732.


Mahābhārata, 5.97.5.


CU., 2.2.1.




BU, 1.3.1.


Śaṅkara’s commentary on BU, p.91.


Mahābhārata, 12.335.52-54.


Commentary of the Bengal edition of Mahābhārata, 12.331.58. p.3724.


Roy. P.C, The Mahābhārat. pp.605-606.

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