Varuna (/, -/; IAST: Varuṇa वरुण, Malay: Baruna) is a Vedic deity associated first with sky, later with waters as well as with Ṛta (justice) and Satya (truth). He is found in the oldest layer of Vedic literature of Hinduism, such as the hymn 7.86 of the Rigveda. He is possibly one of the earliest Indo-Aryan triads with parallels to a Avestan deity, possibly Iranian Ahura Mazda. His streak of demonic violent tendencies, according to Hindu mythology, led to his demotion and Indra taking away most of his powers.
|God of the Sea|
Guardians of the directions
In the Hindu Puranas, Varuna is the god of oceans, his vehicle is a Makara (part fish, sea creature) and his weapon is a Pasha (noose, rope loop). He is the guardian deity of the western direction. In some texts, he is the father of god Brahma and of Vedic sage Vasishtha.
Varuna is related to the root vṛ ("vri") which, states Adrian Snodgrass, means "to surround, to cover" or "to restrain, to check". With uṇan, it gives "Varuna" meaning "he who covers or binds all things". The sea or ocean is the perceived manifestation of him, while the universal law or Ṛta (dharma) is the abstract binder which connects all things. His name is related to Indo-European root "uer" or "to bind". In later Hindu literature, the term Varuna evolves to mean god of waters, the source of rains and the one who rules over the Nagas (divine sea serpent) – myths important in Hinduism and Buddhism.
In the earliest layer of the Rigveda, Varuna is the guardian of moral law, one who punishes those who sin without remorse, and who forgives those who err with remorse. He is mentioned in many Rigvedic hymns, such as 7.86–88, 1.25, 2.27–30, 8.8, 9.73 and others. His relationship with waters, rivers and oceans is already mentioned in the Vedas, and according to Hermann Oldenberg, he is already the Indian version of Poseidon in these texts. Yet, the Vedic poets describe him as an aspect and one of the plural perspectives of the same divine or spiritual principle. For example, thet hymn 5.3 of the Rigveda states:
You at your birth are Varuna, O Agni.
When you are kindled, you are Mitra.
In you, O son of strength, all gods are centered.
You are Indra to the mortal who brings oblation.
You are Aryaman, when you are regarded as having
the mysterious names of maidens, O Self-sustainer.
Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath, and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna. Both Mitra and Varuna are classified as Asuras in the Rigveda (e.g. RV 5.63.3), although they are also addressed as Devas as well (e.g. RV 7.60.12). Varuna, being the king of the Asuras, was adopted or made the change to a Deva after the structuring of the primordial cosmos, imposed by Indra after he defeats Vrtra.
According to Doris Srinivasan, a professor of Indology focusing on religion, Varuna-Mitra pair is an ambiguous deity just like Rudra-Shiva pair. Both have wrathful-gracious aspects in Indian mythology. Both Varuna and Rudra are synonymous with "all comprehensive sight, knowledge", both were the guardian deity of the north in the Vedic texts (Varuna later gets associated with west), both can be offered "injured, ill offerings", all of which suggest that Varuna may have been conceptually overlapping with Rudra. Further, the Rigvedic hymn 5.70 calls Mitra-Varuna pair as rudra, states Srinivasan. According to Samuel Macey and other scholars, Varuna had been the more ancient Indo-Aryan deity in 2nd millennium BCE, who gave way to Rudra in the Hindu pantheon, and Rudra-Shiva became both "timeless and the god of time".
In Vajasaneyi Samhita 21.40 (Yajurveda), Varuna is called the patron deity of physicians, one who has "a hundred, a thousand remedies". His capacity and association with "all comprehensive knowledge" is also found in the Atharvaveda (~1000 BCE). Varuna also finds a mention in the early Upanishads, where his role evolves. In verse 3.9.26 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (~800 BCE), for example, he is stated to be the god of the western quarter, but one who is founded on "water" and dependent ultimately on "the heart" and the fire of soul. In the Katha Upanishad, Aditi is identified to be same as the goddess earth. She is stated in the Vedic texts to be the mother of Varuna and Mitra along with other Vedic gods, and in later Hindu mythology she as mother earth is stated to be mother of all gods.
Rama interacts with Varuna in the Hindu epic Ramayana. For example, faced with the dilemma of how to cross the ocean to Lanka, where his abducted wife Sita is held captive by the demon king Ravana, Rama (an Avatar of Vishnu) performs a pravpavesha (prayer, tapasya) to Varuna, the Lord of Oceans, for three days and three nights, states Ramesh Menon. Varuna does not respond, and Rama arises on the fourth morning, is enraged. He states to his brother Lakshamana that "even lords of the elements listen only to violence", Varuna does not respect gentleness, and peaceful prayers go unheard.
With his bow and arrow, Rama prepares to attack the oceans to burn up the waters and create a bed of sand for his army of monkeys to cross and thus confront Ravana. Lakshmana appeals to Rama, translates Menon, that he should return to "peaceful paths of out fathers, you can win this war without laying waste the sea". Rama shoots his weapon sending the ocean into flames. As Rama increases the ferocity of his weapons, Varuna arises out of the oceans. He bows to Rama, stating that he himself did not know how to help Rama because the sea is deep, vast and he cannot change the nature of sea. Varuna asked Rama to remember that he is "the soul of peace and love, wrath does not suit him". Varuna promised to Rama that he will not disturb him or his army as they build a bridge and cross over to Lanka.
Jhulelal is believed by Sindhi Hindus to be an incarnation of Varuna. They celebrate the festival of Cheti Chand in his honor. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the mythical birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varuna to save them from the persecution by tyrannical Muslim ruler named Mirkhshah. Uderolal morphed into a warrior and old man who preached and reprimanded Mirkhshah that Muslims and Hindus deserve the same religious freedoms. He, as Jhulelal, became the champion of the people in Sindh, from both religions. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". The Hindu Sindhi, according to this legend, celebrate the new year as Uderolal's birthday.
East Asian BuddhismEdit
In East Asian Buddhism, Varuna is one of the twelve deities (Jūniten 十二天), guardian deities who are found in Buddhist temples. Varuna was called Shuitian in Chinese or Suiten in Japanese (水天, lit. "Watery Sky"). Varuna joins the other eleven deities: Indra (Jap. Taishakuten), Agni (Katen), Yama (Emmaten), Nirrti (Rasetsuten), Vayu (Futen), Ishana (Ishanaten), Kubera (Tamonten), Brahma (Bonten), Prithvi (Chiten), Surya (Nitten), Chandra (Gatten). From Buddhism, Suiten was also incorporated into the Shinto religion of Japan.
Varuna is also worshipped in Japan's Shinto religion. One of the Shinto shrines dedicated to him is the Suitengū ("Palace of Suiten") in Tokyo. After the Japanese emperor issued the Shinbutsu bunri, the separation of Shinto and Buddhist practices as part of the Meiji Restoration, Varuna/Suiten was identified with the Japanese supreme God, Amenominakanushi.
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