Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘Yogini Tantra’ 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”.

Yoginī Tantra

The Yoginī Tantra, is one of the most famous tantra texts of Assam Sanskrit Literature, contained in the Śākta school of Assam, written in seventeenth century. The tantrapīṭha of Kāmakhyā is the oldest bench of tāntrik tradition and probably from here it spreaded to other parts of the country. Naturally the Śakti cult leads the religious beliefs expanded by the tāntrik works. B.N. Śāstri described the significance of Yoginī Tantra in his introduction to the tāntrik work.[1] It is referred to in Yoginī Tantra that, makārādi mahipatiḥ invaded Assam and kept the state under occupation for one year.[2]

Barthakuria says,

“Having a name with the initial letter ‘m’, the king refers to general Mirjumla of Mughal army who attacked Assam in 1662 A.D. During the reign of Ahom (Saumāra) king Jayadhvaja Singha the capital city Gargaon and the vast part of Assam was under Mughal occupancy till January 1663. Mir Jumla finally left for Dhaka after an agreement with the Ahom king and died there.”[3]

From this historical reference found in the Yoginī Tantra, it is clear that this period started from 1662 and ended in 1673 when Barphukan recovered Assam from Mughals.[4] Thus it is clear that the Yoginī Tantra was written after 1663 AD and it is not only a pure tantric text but also a source of ancient Assam’s history.

Yoginītantra portrays a clear image of the religious life of Assam. Śiva and Pārvati occupy the supreme position in this text and the content proceeds through conversation between the divine pair about religious and philosophical matters. In particular, the tantric goddess in Yoginī Tantra occupies an equally significant role as the other gods Viṣṇu, Indra, Śiva in the purāṇas. Though it is a śākta work where the importance is laid on the worship of Kāmākhyā, but this text also adequately honours Viṣṇu. From the reverential remarks in the Yoginī Tantra, it is clear that Viṣṇu was a great god and there were many places where lord Viṣṇu was worshipped in different forms at the time of the Yoginī Tantra.

Hayagrīva Viṣṇu is worshipped with proper dignity and honour in the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple situated on the Maṇikūṭa hill of Hājo [See notes regarding the term ‘Hājo’], Assam. In this context it may be noted here that the Kālikāpurāṇa, another Sanskrit text, originated in Assam, refers to several manifestations of Viṣṇu or Mādhava in Kāmarūpa and also mentions the names of places where they are being worshipped.[5] It also provides detailed description about the Hayagrīva on the Maṇikūṭa hill. The mountains Manikūṭa and Gandhamādana of Bhadrāśvavarṣa[6] , through which the river lauhitya passes, is the place where Viṣṇu in his Hayagrīva form killed not only the feverous demon Jvarāsura but also the demon Hayagrīva in his equine form. After slaying the demon, Jvarāsura, the compassionate Lord Viṣṇu in Hayagrīva form took rest at Maṇikūṭa hill for the welfare of all beings. He then had a healing bath in a nearby lake known as ‘apunarbhava’,[7] because a dip into it puts an end to rebirth. The legend of Viṣṇu in the form of Hayagrīva, killing Jvarāsura is different from the earlier and other legends relating to Hayagrīva. Some say that the killing of Jvarāsura by Viṣṇu Hayagrīva symbolised the expulsion of the Buddhist hold over the vaiṣṇava cult. It may be noted here that N.K. Bhattasali has referred to two images of the Pāla period found in Dacca. The main goddesses in both the sculptures are the Buddhist deity Parṇaśavarī. In one sculpture two divinities occupy the right and the left sides. One is Hayagrīva, the Hindu god, the presiding deity of fever and the other is Sītalā, the Hindu goddess, presiding deity of small pox.[8] On the other sculpture these deities are depicted as flying to escape the wrath of the Buddhist goddess Vajrayoginī who is destroyer of all diseases. These two images speak of the sādhanā most precisely in all details.[9]

A poetical work written in Assamese language by Sri Ramchandra Barapatra (1686 A.D) under the name Maṇikūṭa, is another account of Hayagrīva Mādhava. According to this account, once a sage named Ūrba, while meditating in the Maṇikūṭa hill, was disturbed by Hayāsura, Jvarāsura and three other asuras. The sage prayed to Lord Viṣṇu to save him from the demons’ hands. Then Viṣṇu came to the rescue of the sage and killed the asuras. When Viṣṇu was ready to conquer Hayāsura the demon begged the Lord to reside at that place. Viṣṇu fulfilled the demon’s request, remained at Maṇikūṭa and thereafter the sage established the temple, which was known as Hayagrīva Mādhava temple.

There is another version in the Kālikāpurāṇa regarding the killing of a demon Hayagrīva, Viśvanātha the Lord of the world (Jagatpatiḥ) is said to have fought against Hayagrīva and after killing the demon, he migrated to Maṇikūṭa. However, it is not clear whether the Lord of the world is referred to as Lord Viśṇu or Śiva. The context appears to have pointed at Śiva as the killer of Hayagrīva.[10] But Yoginītantra simply states that Viṣṇu resides on the Maṇikūṭa in the form of Hayagrīva .

Footnotes and references:


“Why this work is called Yoginī Tantra? The answer of this question can be traced in the narration of the 8th Paṭala of the first part of Yoginī Tantra. It says that when Kāli, wearing a garland of human heads with dishevelled hairs and protruding tongue, was standing on the bosom of Mahākāla, crores of yoginīs emerged from her radiant body.” Barthakuria, A.C: The Tantric Religion of India, p.44.


“Tato raṇe ca saumāraṃ jitvā yavana īpsitaṃ//
Varṣamevākarodrājyaṃ makarādirmmahīpatiḥ//” Yoginī-tantra, 1.12.48-49.


Barthakuria, A.C: Op.Cit, p.41.


Barthakuria, A.C: ibid.,Op.Cit, p.42.


The fish incarnation is worshipped in the Matsyadhvaja mount to the east of Maṇikūṭa, Mādhava in the form of Bhairava named Pānḍunātha in Rakṣakūṭa, the boar incarnation in the Chitrakūṭa mount, Vāsudeva Kṛṣṇa in the Dikkaravāsinī etc. KāP, 81.75; 82.50, 65,74; 83/90.


The Viṣṇu (2.2.17;2.2.22; 2.2.49), Mārkaṇḍeya (Tr. Pargiter, text 59.8-10, p. 388) and Vāyupurāṇas (5.45;54.96,100,132) associates Bhadrāśvavarṣa with horse-headed Viṣṇu.




Bhattasali, N.K: Iconography of Buddhists and Brahmanical Scliptures in the Dacca Museum,Dacca, pp. 60-61.


Bhattacharyya, B: The Indian Buddhist Iconography, p. 232-233.


B.Kakati: Aspects of Early Assamese Literature, pp-71-72.

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