by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words
This page relates ‘Establishment of Hayagriva in different Puranas as an Avatara’ 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”.
Aśva refers to Hayagrīva Viṣṇu with the head of a Horse, who is said to manifest after the end of a grand sacrifice, performed by Brahmā. He breathed the Vedas through his nostrils as mentioned in second book of the Bhāgavatapurāṇa. The fourth avatāra is always elsewhere to be the Vāmana or dwarf, but in the Viṣṇupurāṇa, Aśva is mentioned as fourth avatāra of Viṣṇu. Interestingly Varāha, Aśva and Siṃha are anthropomorphic, bearing boar’s head or horse’s head as well as lion’s head respectively in the human body. However, they are somehow different from the Matsya avatāra. Study of the purāṇa texts reveals that Matsya, Varāha and Aśva form of Viṣṇu symbolize a direct or indirect association with revival of the earth from drowning.
Again the same purāṇa describes in context with Jambudvīpavarṇanaṃ, that such incarnations reside in certain regions—
In Bhadrāśva, the twice born one, Viṣṇu resides, as horse headed Hayaśiras; in Ketumāla, as the Varāha; as the Kūrma in Bhārata; as the Matsya in Kuru; in his all pervasive role, the omnipresent Hari is everywhere.
There are four principle regions in relation to mount Meru which is at the centre and a) Bhadrāśva is in the east of Mount Meru, b) Ketumāla is west of Mount Meru, c) Bhārata in the south of Mount Meru and d) Kuru that is in the north of Mount Meru. Willson states that, Meru is confined in north and south by the two mountains Nīla and Niṣadha, and in the east and west by Gandhamādana and Mālyavān. The mountains appear as pericarp of a lotus with Meru within. The petals of the lotus world are represented by the countries Bhārata, Ketumāla, Bhadrāśva, and Uttarakuru. 
2) Bhāgavatapurāṇa contains four lists of incarnation of Viṣṇu found in the first , second , the tenth and the eleventh skandhas. The second, third and the forth list of avatāras include Hayagrīva as the tenth , second and the sixth incarnation of Viṣṇu respectively, while in the first list of avatāra Hayagrīva is not available.
In the second list Brahmā narrates various forms of Viṣṇu with their specific activities. Regarding Hayagrīva Brahmā states:
That glorious lord incarnated as Hayagrīva, horse necked god, of complexion like gold is the Yajñapuruṣa presiding deity of all sacrifices. He is the main object of worship in the Vedas or Veda incarnate, the sacrifice incarnate for whose grace sacrifices are performed and who is the soul of all the deities. From the breath out of his nostrils beautiful words i.e., Vedic hymns came forth.
Here in this reference Hayagrīva is associated with the Yajñapuruṣa. It may be the indication of the later Vedic myth found in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and Taittirīya Āraṇyaka where Yajña’s head was cut off and again replaced by a horse’s head. The complete verse portrays Hayagrīva as an avatāra and also the source of sacrifice and the Vedas. In this manner Hayagrīva, the horse headed god is the embryonic entity, an embodiment that portrayed in the famous Puruṣa Sūkta of Ṛgveda.
My bow to you, the fish incarnation, the cause of the world who moved freely in the cosmic water of the ocean of deluge. Hail to you who assumed the form of Hayagrīva, horse necked god for killing the demons Madhu-Kaiṭabha.
For the welfare of the world Lord Viṣṇu personified in his own resplendence, in the form of a swan to expound jñānayoga to god Brahmā.... Taking a horse necked form god Hayagrīva, killed the demon Madhu and retrieved the Vedas.
Both the third and fourth lists refer Hayagrīva as associated with the recovery of the stolen Vedas and slaying of the demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha. These references remind us of the myth of Hayaśīra Viṣṇu as found in the Mahābhārata. It gradually developed into the purāṇic myth of Hayagrīva at a later period.
3) The Vāmanapurāṇa primarily mentions Hayagrīva as the third incarnation of Viṣṇu. In this text no incarnation is mentioned after
4) In the Agnipurāṇa Hayagrīva is reflected as the fifth incarnation of Viṣṇu:
Salutations, O Boar, lord as Man lion, lord as dwarf, Trivikrama, lord as Horse necked Hayagrīveśa, lord of all beings, Hṛṣīkeśa Viṣṇu the lord of all senses, destroy my impurity.
Here Hayagrīva is mentioned along with some of the traditional avatāras of Viṣṇu with respect to ritual. The traditional avatāras and Hayagrīva are mentioned here in regard to “Mode of Cleansing oneself and others” in which the god agni narrates the ritual of cleansing prescribed with an intention to free oneself from suffering and conquer the joy. Agnipurāṇa contains probably the earliest list of the twenty four avatāras of Viṣṇu.
5) The Dhyāna mantra of Garuda Purāṇa (chapter 202) provides us a list of various forms or mūrtis of Viṣṇu along with others. The traditional ten incarnations are present here, but there are several others including Hayagrīva. They are respectively: (i) Matsya, (ii) Trivikrama, (iii) Vāmana, (iv) Nṛsiṃha, (v) Varāha, (vi) Nārāyaṇa, (vii) Kapila, (viii) Hayagrīva, (ix) Nārada, (x) Kūrma, (xi) Dhanvantari, (xii) Śeṣanāga, (xiii) Yajña, (xiv) Vyāsa, (xv) Buddha, (xvi) Kalkin, ma(xvii) Viṣṇu, (xviii) Madhusūdana, (xix) Mādhava, (xx) Hṛṣīkeśa, (xxi) Janārdana, (xxii) Śrīdhara, (xxiii) Padmanābha, (xxiv) Vāsudeva. Hayagrīva is mentioned here as the eighth incarnation of Viṣṇu.
Although there is no clear reference of Hayagrīva as the redeemer of the Vedas from the demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha, by slaying them, however the text contains the idea of worship and iconographical details of Hayagrīva.
6) Form the reference of Matsyapurāṇa it seems that Hayagrīva might be an antecedent to the Matsyāvatāra. Moreover, the text contains the core concept of the Vaiṣṇava myth about Hayagrīva who recovered the Vedas from the demons Madhu and Kaiṭabha by slaying them. However, here is no explicit description of Hayagrīva as Viṣṇu.
In both the Vāmanapurāṇa and Matsyapurāṇa it might not be intended to indicate a fixed list of avatāras of Viṣṇu but the purāṇakāra’s intention might be to mention the image as the destroyer of evil.
This concept of Hayagrīva as an avatāra in several Vaiṣṇava purāṇas might be followed from the Hayaśiras avatāra as mentioned in the account of śānti parva of the Mahābhārata. The śānti parva simply refers to Hari’s taking of horse head as a second form. The specific terminology associated with the horse-headed manifestation, however, is not yet that of the classical avatāra doctrine. Van Gulik finds the oldest avatāra list that unquestionably includes the horse form to be that of Viṣṇupurāṇa.  Gonda also pointedly agree with him. According to Kramrisch, the iconic form of Hayagrīva along with a brief reference to his rescuing of the Vedas from the two demons is given in the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa.  This description of Hayagrīva follows the man-lion and the boar.
Footnotes and references:
Cakāra jagato yo’hajaḥ yo’hadya māmālapiṣyati//”Viṣṇu Purāṇa, 5.17.11.
(i) Varāha, (ii) Suyajña, (iii) Kapila, (iv) Dattaḥ, (v) Four sages: Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, Sanatkumāra, (vi) Nārāyaṇa and Nara, (vii) Dhruva, (viii) Pṛthu, (ix) Ṛṣabha, (x)Hayagrīva, (xi) Matsya, (xii) Kūrma, (xiii) Nṛsiṃha, (xiv) Gajendra, (xv) Vāmana, (xvi) Dhanvantari, (xvii) Paraśurāma, (xviii) Rāma, (xix) Balarāma, (xx) Kṛṣṇa, (xxi) Buddha, (xxii) Kalkin. ibid.,2.7.1-38.
(i) Matsya, (ii) Hayagrīva, (iii) Kūrma, (iv) Varāha, (v) Nṛsiṃha, (vi) Vāmana, (vii) Paraśurāma, (viii) Rāma, (ix) Buddha and (x) Kalkin. ibid.,10.40.17-22.
(i) Four sages: Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanātana, Sanatkumāra, (ii) Varāha, (iii) Nārada, (iv) Nara and Nārāyaṇa, (v) Kapila, (vi) Dattātreya the son of atri, (vii) Yajña, (viii) Ṛṣabha, (ix) Pṛthu, (x) Matsya, (xi) Kūrma, (xii) Dhanvantari, (xiii) Mohinī, (xiv) Nṛsiṃha, (xv) Vāmana, (xvi) Paraśurāma, (xvii) Vyāsa the son of Parāśara, (xviii) Rāma, (xix) Kṛṣṇa, (xx) Balarāma, (xxi) Buddha and (xxii) Kalkin. ibid.,1.3.1-25.
Bhāgavata Purāṇa, 10.40.17.
Shastri. J. L, Tagare. G. V: Op.cit. p.1501.
Bhāgavata Purāṇa, 11.4.17.
Shastri, J. L, Tagare. G. V: Op.cit. pp.1918-1919.
Hazra, R.C: Studies in the Purāṇic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, p.87.
Shastri, J. L, Bhatt. G. P, Gangadharan.N. The Agni Purāṇa (Part 1), p.82.
Gonda, J: Aspect of Early Viṣṇuism, p. 148.