Lord Hayagriva in Sanskrit Literature

by Anindita Adhikari | 2019 | 56,368 words

This page relates ‘Hayagriva in Buddhism’ 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”.

Hayagrīva in Buddhism

Lord Hayagrīva appears as a wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteśvara in Tibetan Buddhism. It is believed that there are 108 forms of Hayagrīva. The Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is one of the most popular gods in Mahāyānic pantheon of Buddhism. In the Mahāvirocana sūtra Hayagrīva is mentioned in the description of the great Magic circle or Maṇḍala as a Vidyārāja, who is placed close to the figure of Avalokiteśvara. Moreover, the celebrated Buddhist missionary Bodhiruci says Vidyārāja Hayagrīva was connected with Amoghapāśa, as a special aspect of Avalokiteśvara.[1]

Likewise as Brāmaṇical god, also in Buddhism, Hayagrīva is believed to be the god of knowledge. Van Gulik describes in his work as to why Viṣṇu Hayagrīva was considered as Vidyārāja in Mahāyāna Buddhism. The word Vidyādhara, contained with the root dhṛ means ‘to hold or to carry’, as they carry magical knowledge or vidyā. [2] The Vidyādhara greatly rises in position when mantrayānic doctrines began to flourish and the Vidyāraja, king of Vidyādhara, occupies an important place in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Gulik states that Viṣṇu Hayagrīva was taken over in the Mahāyānic pantheon as a Vidyārāja as evident in the Mahāvirocana sūtra. In Hinduism Viṣṇu Hayagrīva is celebrated as the reciter and promulgator of the sacred Vedas, a quality suitable enough for transformation to Vidyārāja.[3] Moreover, Hayagrīva continually occupies importance aided by the fact that he is Horse headed. In Tibet and Mongolia he is known as rta-mgrin, the ‘Horse necked one’. He is one of the Dharmapālas, defender of the faith and an awful demon destroyer and particularly worshipped by the horse traders.[4]

In Buddhist sādhanā, Hayagrīva is an emanation of Amitābha, associated with Saptaśatika, is restored from the Saptaśatikakalpa which gives an extensive description of the appearance of the god. Therefore, He is designated as the Saptaśatika Hayagrīva. The dhyāna contained in the sādhanā describes the appearance of the god.[5]

In another place of Sādhanamālā, another form of the god is depicted that originates from Akṣobhya, the Dhyāni Buddha. The worshiper should imagine the deity as Ārya-Hayagrīva, appearing wrathful with red complexion, eight arms and three faces. Each face is with three eyes and bears the image of Akṣobhya on his crown. His right face is blue and left is white and he is adorned with snakes as ornaments. His legs are folded in Lalita position and he is dressed in tiger skin. His four right hands hold the raised arrow and vajra, staff, karaṇa pose. Two of his left hands, hold the louts and the bow, another left hand has a raised index finger, and forth hand is placed on the breast.[6]

Hayagrīva Lokeśvara is one of the 108 forms of Avalokiteśvara. He is seated in the Vajraparyaṅka, on a lotus with four hands. Two of the principal arms are placed in the Vyākhyāna pose, the third holds a rosary and the forth left hand holds a lotus.[7] Hayagrīva is mentioned as one of the companions along with Tārā, Sudhanakumāra, Bhṛkuṭī of Khasarpaṇa, the popular god described in the Sādhanamālā.[8] The Lokanātha form of Avalokiteśvara is also described as accompanied by Tārā and Hayagrīva.[9]

It can be concluded that today’s Hayagrīva temple in Maṇikūṭa was made with ruins of an old Buddhist structure and subsequently the Buddhist shrine might have been transformed as a centre of Hindu faith. In course of time the Vajrayāna Buddhist tantrism might have a contact with Brāhmanic religion and culture, and thus some of their elements were modified, reformed or sometimes even extinguished.

Thus from the assimilation of Buddhist and Hindu Cult, Hayagrīva Mādhava became a Hindu-Buddhist god that developed in Kāmarūpa. It can be unhesitatingly expressed that the Hayagrīva Mādhava temple situated in the hillock Maṇikūṭa at Hājo is a place which is the symbol of religious unification in Kāmarūpa.

Footnotes and references:


Van Gulik, R.H: Hayagrīva; The Mantrayānic aspect of Horse Cult in China and Japan, p. 39.


Van Gulik, R.H: ibid., p. 25.


Van Gulik, R.H: ibid., p.28.


Van Gulik, R.H: ibid., p.28.


Raktavarṇaṃ mahābhayānakaṃ trinetraṃ kapilaśmaśruraudraṃ bṛhadurdaraṃ damṣṭākarāhnaṃ dantauṣṭhakapālamāhnaṃ jaṭāmukuṭinaṃ Amitābhaśirasakaṃ. Dvitīyamukhaṃ bhīmabhayānakaṃ nīlaṃhayānanaṃ hīhīkāranādinaṃ Brahmāṇḍaśikharākarāntaṃ dvitīyena bhavāgrayantaṃ aṣṭanāgopetaṃ kharavavāmanākāraṃ vyāghrcarmanlvasanaṃ sarvālaṅkārabhūṣitaṃ sakaladevāsuraṃ tarjayantaṃ gṛhītavajradaṇḍaṃ.... vicintayet.” Sādhanamālā, II. p.509.


“Ārya-Hayagrīvaṃ raktavarṇaṃ trimhukhaṃ aṣṭabhujaṃ pratimukhaṃ trinetraṃ nīlasitadakṣiṇetravadanaṃ sarpābharaṇaṃ lalitākṣepapadanyāsaṃ sakrodhadṛṣṭinirikṣaṇaṃ, prathamamukhaṃ smeraṃ lalajjihvaṃ, dakṣiṇamukhaṃ daṃṣṭrāvaṣṭabdhauṣṭhaṃ, vyāghracarmamvasanaṃ vajra-daṇḍa-karaṇamudrāśarodyatadakṣiṇakaracatuṣṭayaṃ tarjanīkā-svakucagraha-padmadhanurudyatavāmakaracatuṣṭayaṃ Akṣobhyamaulinaṃ dhyāyet.” ibid., p.508.


Bhattacharyya, B: Op. Cit., p.394.


Sādhanamālā, pp.39-41.


ibid., p.49.

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