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God of the Sea
The God Varuna on his mount Makara, 1675-1700
Painted in: India, Rajasthan, Bundi, placed in LACMA museum
Affiliation Ādityas
Guardians of the directions
Abode Ocean
Weapon Pasha (noose)
Mount Makara
Consort Varuni
Greek equivalent Poseidon

Varuna (/ˈvɜːrʊnə, ˈvɑːrə-/;[1] 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).[2][3] He is found in the oldest layer of Vedic literature of Hinduism, such as the hymn 7.86 of the Rigveda.[3] He is possibly one of the earliest Indo-Aryan triads with parallels to a Avestan deity, possibly Iranian Ahura Mazda.[3][4] His streak of demonic violent tendencies, according to Hindu mythology, led to his demotion and Indra taking away most of his powers.[2][4]

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).[2][5] He is the guardian deity of the western direction.[3] In some texts, he is the father of god Brahma and of Vedic sage Vasishtha.[2]

Varuna is found in Buddhism, for example as Suiten in Japanese Buddhist mythology.[5] He is also found in Jainism.[6][7]


File:Rajarani Temple 03.jpg
Varuna iconography at the 11th-century Rajarani Hindu temple.[8]

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".[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]



The correspondence between VaruNa, Ouranos and Woden is clear not only from the similarity of the names but from the identity of many or most of the mythical traits and characteristics of the three Gods. Yet many scholars argue against the correspondence by suggesting different etymologies for the three names. (Talageri 2000)

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.[9][10] He is mentioned in many Rigvedic hymns, such as 7.86–88, 1.25, 2.27–30, 8.8, 9.73 and others.[9][5] 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.[11] Yet, the Vedic poets describe him as an aspect and one of the plural perspectives of the same divine or spiritual principle.[12][13] For example, thet hymn 5.3 of the Rigveda states:

<poem> 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. </poem>

— Rigveda 5.3.1-2, Translator: Hermann Oldenberg[12][14]

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath, and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna.[15][16] 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.[17]

File:Varuna with Varunani.jpg
Varuna with Varunani. Statue carved out of basalt, dates back to 8th century CE, discovered in Karnataka. On display at the Prince of Wales museum, Mumbai.

According to Doris Srinivasan, a professor of Indology focusing on religion, Varuna-Mitra pair is an ambiguous deity just like Rudra-Shiva pair.[18] Both have wrathful-gracious aspects in Indian mythology.[19] 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.[18] Further, the Rigvedic hymn 5.70 calls Mitra-Varuna pair as rudra, states Srinivasan.[18] 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".[19][20]

In Vajasaneyi Samhita 21.40 (Yajurveda), Varuna is called the patron deity of physicians, one who has "a hundred, a thousand remedies".[18] His capacity and association with "all comprehensive knowledge" is also found in the Atharvaveda (~1000 BCE).[21] 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.[22] 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.[23][24]


Varuna himself arose from the depth of the ocean and begged Rama for forgiveness.

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.[25] 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.[25]

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".[25] 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.[25]

Sindhi Hindus[edit]

File:Jhulelal hindu deity.jpg
Jhulelal is considered an incarnation of Varuna by Sindhi Hindus.

Jhulelal is believed by Sindhi Hindus to be an incarnation of Varuna.[26] 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.[27][28][29] 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,[29] 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.[29][27]


File:Tokyo Suitengu 201604a.jpg
Suitengū (Tokyo) is a Japanese Buddhist shrine to Varuna.

In the Buddhism of the Far East, Varuna is one of the twelve Devas, as guardian deities, who are found in or around Buddhist shrines (Jūni-ten, 十二天).[30] In Japan, Varuna had been called "Suiten" in Japanese Buddhism.[31] Varuna joins these other eleven Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other parts of southeast Asia: Indra (Taishaku-ten), Agni (Ka-ten), Yama (Emma-ten), Nirrti (Rasetsu-ten), Vayu (Fu-ten), Ishana (Ishana-ten), Kubera (Tamon-ten), Brahma (Bon-ten), Prithvi (Chi-ten), Surya (Nit-ten), Chandra (Gat-ten).[32][33]


Varuna's Shinto shrine is Suitengū (Tokyo). He is deified there. The meaning of suiten-gū is a shrine of Varuna. After Shinbutsu bunri the separation of Shinto deities from Buddhist deities, Varuna was changed to Amenominakanushi.[34]

See also[edit]

Left: A Balinese Hindu offering prayers to Varuna on Indonesian beach;
Right: Vishnu avatar Parasurama, asking Varuna to create Kerala.


  1. "Varuna". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 George Mason Williams (2003). Handbook of Hindu Mythology. ABC-CLIO. p. 294. ISBN 978-1-57607-106-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 741. ISBN 978-0-8239-3180-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 David Leeming (2005). The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. pp. 392–393. ISBN 978-0-19-028888-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Adrian Snodgrass (1992). The Symbolism of the Stupa. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 120–122 with footnotes. ISBN 978-81-208-0781-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sehdev Kumar (2001). A Thousand Petalled Lotus: Jain Temples of Rajasthan : Architecture & Iconography. Abhinav Publications. p. 18. ISBN 978-81-7017-348-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Kristi L. Wiley (2009). The A to Z of Jainism. Scarecrow. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-8108-6821-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. George Michell (1977). The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms. University of Chicago Press. pp. 4, 44–45 with Figure 15. ISBN 978-0-226-53230-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mariasusai Dhavamony (1982). Classical Hinduism. Gregorian. pp. 167–168 with footnotes. ISBN 978-88-7652-482-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. John Gwyn Griffiths (1991). The Divine Verdict: A Study of Divine Judgement in the Ancient Religions. BRILL. pp. 132–133. ISBN 90-04-09231-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Hermann Oldenberg (1988). The Religion of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 104. ISBN 978-81-208-0392-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Hermann Oldenberg (1988). The Religion of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 51. ISBN 978-81-208-0392-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Moriz Winternitz (1996). A History of Indian Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-81-208-0264-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. See also, Griffith's translation of this hymn: Wikisource
  15. Hermann Oldenberg (1988). The Religion of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 95–98. ISBN 978-81-208-0392-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. David Leeming (2005). The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. Oxford University Press. p. 200. ISBN 978-0-19-028888-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. F. B. J. Kuiper (1975), The Basic Concept of Vedic Religion, History of Religions, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Nov., 1975), pp. 107-120
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Doris Srinivasan (1997). Many Heads, Arms, and Eyes: Origin, Meaning, and Form of Multiplicity in Indian Art. BRILL Academic. pp. 48–49. ISBN 90-04-10758-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. 19.0 19.1 Samuel L. Macey (2010). Patriarchs of Time. University of Georgia Press. pp. 2–3, 165. ISBN 978-0-8203-3797-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. J. P. Mallory; D. Q. Adams (2006). The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World. Oxford University Press. pp. 430–432. ISBN 978-0-19-928791-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Srinivasan, Doris (1978). "The Religious Significance of Divine Multiple Body Parts in the Atharva Veda". Numen. Brill Academic Publishers. 25 (3): 198–200, context: 193–225. doi:10.1163/156852778x00245.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. The Early Upanishads: Annotated Text and Translation. Oxford University Press. 1998. pp. 98–101. ISBN 978-0-19-535242-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. The Early Upanishads: Annotated Text and Translation. Oxford University Press. 1998. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-19-535242-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1898). Vedic Mythology. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 120–124, 30–34, 45–46. ISBN 978-81-208-1113-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Ramesh Menon (2004). The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic. Macmillan. pp. 376–379. ISBN 978-1-4668-2625-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books India. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. 27.0 27.1 Mark-Anthony Falzon (2004). Cosmopolitan Connections: The Sindhi Diaspora, 1860-2000. BRILL. pp. 58–60. ISBN 90-04-14008-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. P. Pratap Kumar (2014). Contemporary Hinduism. Routledge. pp. 120–124. ISBN 978-1-317-54636-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 S. Ramey (2008). Hindu, Sufi, or Sikh: Contested Practices and Identifications of Sindhi Hindus in India and Beyond. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 8, 36. ISBN 978-0-230-61622-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Twelve Heavenly Deities (Devas) Nara National Museum, Japan
  31. Adrian Snodgrass (2007), The Symbolism of the Stupa, Motilal Banarsidass, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-8120807815, pages 120-124, 298-300
  32. Willem Frederik Stutterheim et al (1995), Rāma-legends and Rāma-reliefs in Indonesia, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-8170172512, pages xiv-xvi
  33. S Biswas (2000), Art of Japan, Northern, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 978-8172112691, page 184
  34. "Tokyo Suitengu monogatari" 1985 Kodansha, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 406202117X

External links[edit]

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