Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘Worship (with and without form of image)’ 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”.

Worship (with and without form of image)

Worship generally may be of two kinds—a) without form of image or Amūrta, and b) with form of image or Samūrta. In the early Vedic age it was primarily in the form of offering havis, clarified butter, through fire to the respective god. Later, based on the amūrta form of worship, the image worship was developed. This trend had been much blooming in the post Vedic literature and crystallised in the tāntrik texts also.

The deity may be worshiped in two kinds—a) bāhyapujā or external and b) antaraṅgapujā or internal. The external form of worship or bāhyapujā needs an image to which the devotee offers diverse offerings. The form of bāhyapujā elements and their number differ on various conditions. In the process of bāhyapujā the number of services or upacāras may be five or pañcopacāra, sixteen or ṣoḍaśopacāra, twentyfive or pañcaviṃśatyopacāra, thirtysix or ṣaṭtriṃśadupacāra. Occasionally one may classify the worship of yantra, śālagrāma etc. as the external form of worship. The internal worship may be of two kinds—sādhārapujā or worship with a symbol and nirādhārapujā or worship without symbol.

The Yoginī Tantra gives an elaborate idea about the worship of Hayagrīva. The idol of Hayagrīva is to be bathed with mūlamantra and with perfumed water.[1] Udvartana or rubbing with perfumed sesame oil should be performed everyday to the deity.[2] The idol should be brushed properly with a bunch of Nalapuṣpa, Kuśa, Cāmara etc.[3] Then it should be clothed and then decorated with jewels and given tilaka’s or marks with Malayacandana, gopī-candana etc. on the forehead of the idol.[4]

Yoginī-tantra gives a detailed description of various mantras,[5] nyāsa, [6] practice of mudrā[7] and japa[8] performed by devotees during the worship of the deity. In nyāsa it is to be visualised that the Vāsudeva, Saṃkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, and Trivikrama inhabit on the eastern, southern, western and north eastern petals of the mental lotus respectively.[9] Garuḍa should be assigned a place in front of Vāsudeva and his club, goddess earth, Dharma and Śrī Lakṣmī to his right side. To the left side his bow along with veda, puṣṭi, vanamālā[10], śrīvatsya[11] and kaustubha[12] should be placed over his breast.[13] After this, Vāsudeva should be worshipped outside the holy circle and the planets and gods of direction should also be presented with offerings of flowers.[14]

After the worship mudrā and japa should be practised. In the japa, mantras like puruṣasukta mantra[15] , the twelve syllable bīja[16] mantra, the bīja mantra of Kṛṣṇa, and Viṣṇu mantras[17] and different mantras for āvāhana of the deity[18] , offering each of oblations (arghya), bestowals of water for washing the feet (pādya), offering of curd with honey or butter (madhuparka), water for sipping (ācamanīya), offering of water for bathing (snāna), offering scented material for anointing (vilepana), and offering of food (naivedya).[19] The mantras begins with ‘om’ and connected with ‘namaḥ’ are defined as the best mantras.[20] The mūla mantra is to be pronounced eight, twenty eight or one hundred and eight times. The japa should be repeated a lac or a crore of times, when a particular end is to be attained. Mudrās are eight in number like śrīvatsya, padma, śaṅkha, gadā, garuḍa, cakra, candra and śāraṅga. These are mostly the weapons and ornaments of Viṣṇu.[21]

Yoginī-tantra also gives a long list of different types of fruits,[22] vegetables,[23] varities of paddy[24] and flesh of birds[25] which could be offered to the god. Cow milk, fish and meat of deer, goat, śālana and hare are to be offered to Viṣṇu.[26] Buffalo’s meat, milk and ghee are to be avoided.[27] Certain bird’s meat can also be offered.[28] It proposed the theory of Mahāsukhavāda[29] and admitted five ‘ma’kāras, wine, women, fish, meat and all kinds of exciting food as essential for the devotees, which are somehow emulated once upon a time in the ritualistic performances of Hayagrīva Mādhava. The worshipper is expected to be well versed in mantra and tantra.[30] It appears from the above account given in the Yoginītanta that there was tāntrik influence on the Hayagrīva worship in early times.

But with the wave of bhakti[31] movement under the leadership of Śaṅkaradeva and Mādhavdeva in 15th and 16th century A.D. spread in Assam, the rites of the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple appears to have had some vital changes. Apparently the daily rituals came to be emulating on vaiṣṇava sattra rituals. The cult of Viṣṇu worship was completely transformed by removing the puzzling rites that creeped into it. The two vaiṣṇava saints had to wage a sort of hundred year’s conflict with the tāntrik Buddhism in Viṣṇu worship. Nevertheless, in the movement of the renovation some elements of Buddhism were absorbed in Neo-vaiṣṇavism as well.[32] One of the symphonies in the evangelism and institutional tradition of Buddhism and Neo-vaiṣṇavism is the fundamental doctrine of ahiṃsā i.e., non-violence. The conception of equality impartial of caste is common to both the sects.[33] P. C. Choudhury thinks that the sattra institute of the vaiṣṇava cult of Assam is also based on Buddhist ideals.[34]

The work ‘Maṇikūṭa’ also follows the Yoginī-tantra and gives names of fruits, vegetables and grains, but avoids any mention of animal food. The custom of making such exciting offerings had probably ceased when that text was written. It is evident from the accounts given in the “Maṇikūṭa,” composed by Rāmacandra Barapātra in 1608 and the “Lakṣmipati Caritra” written by Jaya Nārāyaṇa in early eighteenth century, that vaiṣṇava rituals were performed in the temple. The rituals included congregational prayers, reciting of hymns, rendering of the Gītā and devotional songs along with the vegetable offerings to deity. In the Assamese biographical literature, it is stated that the chief preacher of Śaṅkaradeva visited the Mādhava temple and recited various ślokas in honour to Hayagrīva. Another Vaiṣṇava saint Dāmodaradeva visited the temple. Here he recited and explained the Gītā. The two elder brothers of Dāmodaradeva were appointed as propounder of the Bhāgavata in the temple that clearly indicates the vaiṣṇava influence the Mādhava temple at Hājo.

Although now a day’s Hayagrīva Mādhava is known as a vaiṣṇava god but the worship of Hayagrīva Mādhava was significantly influenced by tāntrik tradition. This is why meat of different animals along with vegetables and fruits used to be offered to the deity. Such textual evidence is very important to provide information regarding tāntrik tradition of the worship of Hayagrīva Mādhava which was prevalent sometimes, but subsequently the tradition changed.

As referred to in the early texts, the antiquity of Hayagrīva can also be drawn to Agni or Dadhikrā who was adored in the form of horse. The horse cult is very ancient and later it came to be identified with Hayagrīva worship as can be seen at Hājo. Moreover, Hayagrīva is not only esteemed as a Brāhmanical god but as a Buddhist god also who is believed to be the god of knowledge, learning and wisdom. It is not unbelievable that this cult of Hayagrīva worship spreaded over to China and Japan[35] at a very early period also and that the present practice of the Buddhists coming from Bhutan and Tibet for worship in the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple in Hājo happens to be a continuance of this tradition.

The present day temple tells us that the practices are influenced more by vaiṣṇava movements, particularly by Śaṅkaradeva and others. The vaiṣṇava element of the present day worship of the deity forbids all non vegetarian offerings typical to the tantric tradition. Kakati remarks that Hayagrīva is not sufficiently a god in Hindu pantheon to merit worship and a temple but he occupies high reputation in the Buddhist tantras and in the Buddhist pantheon. Sri Choudhury remarks that the existing ruins indicate that the temple had been the centre of worship of the deities—Sūrya, Viṣṇu, Buddha as well as the deities of tāntrik lineage.

Footnotes and references:


Yoginī-tantra, 2.9.130.








The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- ‘to think’ and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments; hence a literal translation would be ‘instrument of thought’. Jan Gonda, a widely cited scholar on Indian mantras, defines mantra as general name for the verses, formulas or sequence of words in prose which contain praise, are believed to have religious, magical or spiritual efficiency, which are meditated upon, recited, muttered or sung in a ritual, and which are collected in the methodically arranged ancient texts of Hinduism. Harvey Alper: Understanding Mantras, p.9.


Monier Monier Willams: A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, p.572.


Mudrā is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mudrā is used in the iconography of Hindu and Buddhist art of Indian subcontinent and described in the scriptures, such as Nātyaśāstra. One hundred and eight mudrās are used in regular tāntrik rituals. ibid., p.822.


Japa is the meditative repetition of a mantra or a divine name. It is a practice found in Buddhism and Hinduism. The Sanskrit word japa is derived from the root jap meaning ‘to utter in a low voice, repeat internally, mutter.’ Monier Williams states that the term appears in Vedic literature such as in the Aitereya Brāhmaṇa and the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. The term means muttering, whispering or murmuring passages from the scripture, or charms, or names of deity. ibid., p.412.


Yoginī-tantra, 2.9.185.


A garland of flowers or a chaplet worn by Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu. Williams, M. Monier: A Sanskrit English Dictionary, p.918.


Śrīvatsya is an ancient symbol considered auspicious in Indian traditions. Das, Sarat Chandra: Tibetan English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms, p. 69.


A celebrated jewel obtained with thirteen other precious things at the churning of the ocean and suspended on the breast of Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu. Williams, M. Monier: Op. Cit., p.318.






“Om namo nārāyaṇeti ye vadanti manīṣiṇaḥ/
Kiṃ kāryaṃ vahumantrairvā mantrairvibhramakārakaiḥ//
Om namo nārāyaṇeti mantraḥ sarvvārthasādhakaḥ/
Yajaṃstenaiva mantreṇa sūktena puruṣeṇa vā//” Yoginī-tantra, 2.9.168-169.


Bīja means a seed. In tantra it signifies the germ syllable which takes the form of a deity in course of meditation. B.Bhattacharya: Op. Cit., p.433.


“Dvādaśākṣaravījena kṛṣṇavījena pūjayet/
Vystena ca samastena anulomavilomakaiḥ/
Prayuktairvahubhirmantairmantreṇa vaiṣṇavena ca/
Tatrārkacandravahnīnāṃ maṇḍalāni vicintayet/
Tato vicintya hṛdayaṃ omkāraṃ jyotirūpiṇaṃ/
Karṇikāyāṃ samāsīnaṃ jyotirūpasvarūpiṇaṃ/
Aṣṭākṣaraṃ tato mantraṃ pravadanti yathākramaṃ//” ibid.,2.9.170-171.


“Mīnarūpo varāhaśca nārasiṃho’thavā punaḥ/
Āyātu devo varado mama ṇārāyaṇo’grataḥ//
Sumeroḥ pādapīṭhe ca padmakalpitamāsanaṃ/
Sarvvasatvahitāyārtha tiṣtha tvaṃ madhusūdana//” ibid.,2. 9.174-175.


“Trailokyapatīnāṃ pataye devadevāya/
Arghyo’yaṃ hṛṣīkeśāya viṣṇave namaḥ//
Svapādyaṃ pādayordeva padmanābha sanātana/
Viṣṇo kamalapatrākṣa gṛhāṇ madhusūdana//
Madhuparkaṃ mahādeva brahmādaiḥ kalpitaṃ tava/
Mayā niveditaṃ bhaktyā gṛhāṇ puruṣottama//
Mandyākinyāstu te vāri jalapānaṃ harāśubhaṃ/
Gṛhāṇācamanīyaṃ tvaṃ mayā bhaktyā niveditaṃ//
Tvamāpaḥ pṛthivī caiva jyotistvaṃ vahnireva ca/
Lokasamvittimātreṇa vāriṇā snāpayāmyahaṃ//
Daravastrasamāyukte yajñavarṇa vibhūṣite/
svarṇavarṇaprabhedena vāsasī tava keśava//
Śarīraṃ te lepayāmi ceṣṭāsvaiva ca keśava/
Mayā niveditān gandhān pratigṛhya vilipyatāṃ//” ibid.,2.9.176-182.


“Omkārādisamāyukto namaskārapradīpitaḥ/
Sāraśca sarvvatattvānāṃ mantra ityābhadhīyate//” ibid.,2.9.194.




“Hayākyo maṇikūṭe mādhavākhyo vyavasthitaḥ/
Sambhavaḥ kathito devī prāpaṇaṃ ṣṛṇu pārvvati//
Iṅgudīphalavilvāni vadarāmalakāni ca/
Karjjuraṃ panasañcaiva tathā tālaphalāni ca//
Dāḍimaṃ kadalīñcaiva prayatnena niyojayet/
Lakucaṃ madhukaṃ yuktaṃ tathā pūgaphalāni ca/
Vījapurañca madhuraṃ karkandhūñca nivedayet//” Yoginī-tantra, 2.9.246-248.


“Mūlakasya ca śākañca rājakasya tathaiva ca/
Phalaṃ yasya viśālañca tasya śākaṃ prarohakaṃ//
Vāstukasya ca śākañca pālaṅgasya mama priye/
Vilayāni priyāṇyanyān tathā ca tintiḍīphalaṃ//
Kuṣmāṇḍaṃ pārvvatīyañca tathā cāraṇasambhavaṃ/
Kadalaṃ vījapūrañca rāmakaṃ pautrakantathā/
Akālapanasañcaiva tathānyadapi varjjayet//” ibid.,2.9.249-251.


“Dhānyānāñca pravakṣyāmi upayogāṅśca śāṅkari/
Ekacittaṃ samādhāya prāpaṇaṃ śṛṇu pārvvati//
Somadhānyaṃ vṛhaddhānyaṃ raktaśālikameva ca/
Rājadhānyaṃ ṣaṣṭikañca devavallabhakantathā//
Caṇakaṃ kodravañcaiva varjjayenmama sundari/
Kṣārañca kṛṣṇkṣīrañca varṇañca mārttikodbhavaṃ//” ibid.,2.9.252-254.


“Pakṣiṇāñca pravakṣyāmi ye prayojyā mama priye/
Hāritañca mayūrañca nāyakaṃ vārttakantathā//
Kapilaścaiva cāṣaśca kākakukkuṭakau śiraḥ/
Vanyakukkuṭaścaiva śarāruśca kapotakaḥ//
Vilvakaḥ kulikaścaiva raktapucchaśca ṭiṭibhaḥ
Kṛṣṇamatsyāśanañcaiva patriṇāṃ ca viśiṣyate//” ibid.,2.9.258-260.


“Yena yānyupabhogyāni gavyaṃ devi payomṛtaṃ/
Mārgaṃ mātsyaṃ tathā chāgaṃ śālanaṃ śāśakantathā//” ibid.,2.9.256.


“Etaistu prāpaṇaṃ dadyādviṣṇoścaiva priyāvahaṃ/
Māhiṣaṃ varjjayenmāṅsaṃ kṣīraṃ dadhi ghṛtantataḥ//” ibid.,2.9.257.




When through the yogic process one enters into the state of supreme bliss or Mahāsukha, the whole world becomes of the form of unique emotion in the name of Mahāsukha and through this unique emotion of bliss the whole world as static and dynamic becomes one. It has been extensively used in many of the Buddhist as well as Hindu tāntrik texts to signify the union of Prajñā and Upāya or of the Śakti and Śiva. In the tāntrik Buddhism the idea of Mahāsukha evolved from the idea of nirvāṇa in the earlier Buddhism. Nirvāṇa is described frequently in the tantras as incessant bliss satala sukhamaya, the place of both enjoyment and liberation, changeless supreme bliss, the seed of all substances, the ultimate state of those who have attained perfection, the highest place of the Buddhas, called the sukhāvatī. Gradually the idea of Mahāsukha began to acquire cosmological and ontological significance in the various schools of tāntrik Buddhism. Dasgupta, Shashibhusan: Obscure Religious Cults; as Background of Bengali Literature, pp.35-37.


“Haviṣyāśī śucirbhūtvā mantratantraviṣāradaḥ/
Aharniśaṃ japedvidyāṃ tadgatenāntarātmanā//” ibid.,2.9.266.


Devotion of supreme self is one of the three main traditional paths to the ultimate, alongside jñāna and karma yoga; bhakti and jñāna in most schools and texts are seen as complementary, emphasis occasionally being given to one or the other. Brown, C. Mackenzie: The Triumph of The Goddess; The Canonical Models and Theological Visions of the Devī-Bhāgavata Purāṇa, p.227.


Choudhury, P.C: The History of Civilisation of the People of Assam to the Twelfth Century A.D, p.413.


Goswami, S.C: Journal of Assam Research Society Vol.I, No.2, p.49.


Choudhury, P.C: ‘loc. cit.’ p.413.


Ghosh, J.C: Journal of Assam Research Society, Vol.V, No.3, p.84.

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