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Encyclopedia of Hindu Gods


Basic Description:  Varuna is one of the oldest Vedic gods.  Varuna is the genius of the waters, the regent of the ocean and the creator and preserver of the heaven and earth.  He is also the governor of the night/darkness and the lord of punishment.  Varuna is all encompassing, ocean sun, king of the universe, the supreme divinity.  In later times he became lord of the sun gods, and still later he became the god of the oceans and rivers, a position he still occupies today.

Alternate Names:  

History/Practices:  Originally an omniscient god, he was later removed as the all powerful god and he now appears as the god of the ocean.  Varuna is no longer worshiped but he is propitiated before voyages.

Iconography:  As the lord of punishment he binds the guilty in fatal cords that he holds in his hands.  The cord is known as the pasa, pasha, or varunapasha.  According to the Vedas, Varuna has four faces, one of which is like the face of Agni.  He has a tongue; he eats and drinks.  His eye, shared with Mitra, is the sun.  Sometimes he has a thousand fierce eyes.  He winks; his breath is the wind.  He has arms and beautiful hands, as well as a shining foot.  He is splendidly dressed, wearing a golden mantel.

Mythology:  In the Vedas, Varuna is connected not directly to water but to water elements of ether and earth.  Cosmic functions are attributed to him.  He allows the sun to shine on the firmament.  The wind that roars through the air is his breath.  He created the beds of rivers, which by his command flow and pour their waters into the oceans without  allowing them to overflow.  By his laws  the moon shines and the stars appear in the night sky, only to disappear mysteriously the next day.  Nothing happens without his knowledge; no creature can move without him.  He observes truth and duplicity in human beings.  He has unlimited control over the fate of human beings, knows the answer to everything, and is merciful even to sinners.  He is a wise guard of immortality.  The characteristics and functions that are ascribed to Varuna raise him far above all other Vedic gods.  In the Purănas he is the lord of water, his favorite site is Pushpagiri, the flower mountain.  He owns an umbrella named Ábhoga, fashioned from a cobra’s hood; no water can penetrate it.  Numerous legends are associated with his name, some of which are reminiscent of the classic legends about Neptune.

Riding Animal:  His riding animal is Makara, a marine monster.

Consort:  Although usually linked with Mitra, Varuna is occasionally invoked alone and is the uncontested ruler of the Adityas. According to the Mahbharata, Varuna also has a wife, Varunani or Varuni, who is the goddess of liquor.

Other References on the Karma-to-Grace website:  Is there a Devil in Hinduism?


Danliélou, Alain.  The Myths and Gods of India.  Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1991.

Moor, Edward.  The Hindu Pantheon.  Los Angeles: Philosophical research society, 1976.

Thomas, P.  Epics, Myths and Legends of India.  Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.

Schumacker, Stephan and Gert Woerner.  The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion.  Boston: Shambhala, 1994.

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