Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘History and Temples’ 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”.

History and Temples

Like many other temples of India, Hayagrīva Mādhava temple received attention and patronisation from different kings of Assam. The king Naranārāyaṇa first discovered the temple in a deserted forest. Then he donated land for the refurbished temple and provided the temple with priests, musicians and devadāsīs in 1550.[1] Later in 1583 A.D. Raghudeva, the king of Kāmarūpa (1581-93), reconstructed the temple. It is still not known who had first built the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple at Hājo. But there may be more than one reason for severe damages of the temple. Firstly, there might had occurred some earthquake to crumble down the beautiful temple. Secondly, some think that, Kālāpāhāra, the general of Sulaiman Karrani, the ruler of Bengal (1563-1572), invaded Assam and demolished the remains of an older shrine at Hājo and other place at Kāmākhyā.[2] Afterwards the Koch king Raghudeva, rebuilt the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple at Hājo. When the temple was reconstructed, much of the ancient relics of the erstwhile temple got replaced so much so that its antiquity cannot be determined.

In this context L.W. Shakespear says,

“At Hājo once an important place of Moghul role and opposite Gauhati, six or seven miles from the river, on a wood hill 300 feet high stands a remarkable and celebrated temple containing a large image of Buddha six feet high and cut form a solid block of black stone.”[3]

According to the Buddhist tradition of Tibet, the older shrine was the great caitya[4] erected over the cremated relic of the Tathāgatas[5] body. The principal stone image of the shrine called Mādhava by the Hindus, is considered by the Lāmās to be Mahāmuṇi or Buddha and the temple itself is taken by them as a Buddhist caitya. Some says that Buddha attained Mahāparinirvāṇa at a place called Maṇikūṭa.[6] It is surmised that one Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava[7] died at Hājo in eighth century A.D. and a caitya was built over his ashes there.[8] In support of this view, references can be made to a Tibetan rock-cut inscription of the Buddhist mystic sentence “Om Maṇi Padme Hum, Om ah hum, Om”, etc., on a flattish rock at a distance from the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple.[9] The word ‘Padme’ possibly stands here for Padmasambhava.[10] Dr. Waddell, a British scholar, basing on Hiuen Tsang’s report, suggests that any caitya or Buddhist building in Hājo must be subsequent to the seventh century. It probably had been visited by the great Padmasambhava founder of Lāmāism, or his followers.[11] He also says that Padmasambhava was the propagator of tāntrik and demonical cult of Buddhism which was prevalent in Bhutan. In Tibetan works Padmasambhava’s visit to Kāmarūpa is mentioned.[12] Incidentally, it may be noted here that the Bhutanese lamas visiting the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple at Hājo worship the idol on the extreme right of Hayagrīva image as Guru Rimpoche or call it as “Nomo Guru” which, according to them, is Padmasambhava. Local Brahmin priests call it as Gurur Om Poche. In winter season the Bhutanese lamas visit Hājo and worship the Mahāmuṇi. [13] They have a belief that Gautama Buddha, the Mahāmuṇi, attained Mahāparinirvāṇa here. Some of them even burn a thumb or finger of the hand as an offering to the deity. This is a general tāntrik mode of worship symbol of self immolation in the name of a deity.[14]

Footnotes and references:


E.T. Dalton: Notes on Assam temple ruins, p.10.


Gait,E.A: A History of Assam, p.63.


L.W. Shakespear: History of Upper Assam, Upper Burmah and North-Eastern Frontier, pp72-73.


Caitya or stūpa representing the Buddhist Universe is the Buddhist sanctuary, sometimes square and sometimes round, with spires or steps on the capital. Each spire or step represents a heaven, the uppermost portion being a point which is supposed to be highest peak of mount Sumeru, a mythical mountain, whence the Bodhicitta loses itself in śunya. On the four sides of the caitya the figures of the Dhyāni Buddhas appear. Vairocana is sometimes present. The corners are occupied by the figures of the divine Buddhaśaktis or their symbolic representations in the form of yantras. The caitya may show further, in the four cardinal points, the Caturmahārājikas or the great rulers of the quarters, namely Vaiśravaṇa, Virūpākṣa, Virūḍhaka and Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Bhattacharyya, Benoytosh: Op.Cit., p.434.


Tathāgatas, the Buddhas who have attained the highest state of perfection according to the Buddhists. In the sādhanamālā, the word is used in the plural number with references to the five Dhyāni Buddhas, but does not even signify Vajrasattva or Vajradhara. The Buddhas are innumerable and have a hierarchy among them, the different orders being Pratyeka, Śrāvaka, Samyak-Sambuddha, Jaina, Arhat, Tathāgata and the like. Bhattacharyya, Beno Yoginī-tantrao sh: ibid., p.440.


On the basis of the accounts of the Chinese travellers Sir A.Cunningham, Hiuen Tsang and Fa-Hien, identified the place of the mahāparinirvāṇa of Buddha as Kusinagara or Kusanagar in Gorakhpur, one hundred and twenty miles north east of Benares in Uttar Pradesh. But Waddell gives a different view about the place of the mahāparinirvāṇa. In this regard he refers to the Tibetan word “rTsamch’oggroṅ” which means ‘the town of Kuśa grass as given in the “Kah-'gyur”. On the basis of this translation, Waddell tries to establish that Buddha's Mahāparinirvāṇa took place not in Kuśinagara but in Saulkuchi, a village near Hājo. According to him ‘Sualkuchi’ is derived from the words ‘Śāl’ and ‘Kuśa’. ‘Śāl’ is a tree and the ‘Kuśa’ is a sacrificial grass grown in Assam, it is also said that Buddha died between two Śāl trees. He therefore, believes that the Mahāparinirvāṇa took place in Śāl-Kuśa or Sualkuchi and not in Kuśinagara. Waddell, L.A: The Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, pp.307-308.


Padmasambhava is referred to as an Indian Buddhist monk from Nālanda who introduced Tantrik Buddhism in Bhutan in the middle of the 8th century A.D. This Indian Buddhist Siddha is also associated with the establishment of the faith in Tibet by about 770 A.D. He was considered as the Second Buddha in Tibet, and is worshipped in Bhutan and Tibet along with the Buddha almost in all the monasteries. He is called the Guru Rimpoche. Conze, Edward: Buddhism, p.60.


P.C. Chaudhury: The History of Civilisation of the People of Assam to the Twelfth Century A.D, p.402.


L.A. Waddell: Buddhism & Lamaism of Tibet, p. 310.


P.C. Chaudhury: ‘loc.cit.’ p. 402.


L.A. Waddall: Op. Cit., pp. 307-314.


Maheswara Neog: Purani Asomer Samaj Aru Sanskriti, p. 44.


Assam Information, Vol.VII, N0.1O, 1956, p.5.


Maheswara Neog: Buddhism in Kāmarūpa. IHQ, Vol-XXVII, p.150.

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