Varaha avatar story: Why did Lord Vishnu take the form of Varaha?


Varaha avatar is the third avatar of Lord Vishnu which was manifested as a boar. The Varaha avatar followed the Matsya avatar (first avatar) and the Kurma avatar (second avatar). In the Varaha avatar, Lord Vishnu incarnated as a boar to save the earth (Prithvi) from a deluge by killing the asura Hiranayaksha. There is a greater significance in the Varaha avatar story that is not readily known. The Varaha avatar of Lord Vishnu has two purposes: one to rescue the earth from the deluge so that Lord Brahma could start creation and second to rescue his two greatest devotees: Hiranayaksha and Hiranyakashipu!

Varaha avatar story: The lesser known truth

varaha avatar storyThe lesser known truth in the Varaha avatar story is not known to many people although the story is mentioned in the scriptures. The reason that Lord Vishnu incarnated as the boar was to fulfil his promise and remove the curse on two of his biggest devotees: Jaya and Vijaya. The seeds of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations in various yugas were laid long back to propagate creation.

The cause and effect that determines the world in the four yugas has its beginnings in the story about Jaya and Vijaya.

The Varaha Avatar Story 

Jaya and Vijaya were the gatekeepers of Vaikuntha. Jaya and Vijaya once stopped the four kumaras (mistaking them as children) from seeing Lord Vishnu. The four kumaras kept on requesting to meet Lord Vishnu but neither Jaya and Vijaya conceded to their demands.

The kumaras were enraged and cursed the two gatekeepers, “Lord Vishnu belongs to this devotees. Just as you have caused us separation from Lord Vishnu, both of you will also lose your divinity and take birth as mortals on earth, getting separated from Lord Vishnu.”

For Jaya and Vijaya, the thought of separating from Lord Vishnu is unimaginable and they fall at the grace of Vishnu and request him to remove the curse of the kumaras. Vishnu refuses saying that the curse of the kumaras cannot be dishonored but reassures Jaya and Vijaya that he will take birth with them for all their mortal births on earth. Lord Vishnu then offers them two choices: The first option is to take seven births on Earth as a devotee of Vishnu, while the second is to take three births as his enemy. Jaya and Vijaya cannot bear the thought of staying away from Vishnu for seven lives.

Jaya says, “Everyone who is born has to die and what better way to go than to be relieved of this earthly existence by you, our Lord.”
It was Jaya and Vijaya who were born as Hiranayaksha and Hiranyakashipu in the Satya Yuga. The maya created by Lord Vishnu is such that he rescued his devotees and also ensured that the Prithvi was rescued from the deluge to start the process of creation. It was in the Varaha avatar that Lord Vishnu fought Hiranayaksha for a thousand years and defeated him to rescue him from the earth. Then on his two tusks, the Varaha avatar brought the earth back from the depths of the ocean for creation to begin.

Varaha Avatar Depiction

The varaha avatar is depicted with four arms: one arm holds the Sudarshana chakra, the other arm holds the shankha (conch), yet another arm holds a gada (mace) and the other arm makes the varamudra gesture (for blessing). The Varaha avatar resurrects the earth from pralaya (dissolution of the universe) and paved the way for the creation to begin.

Varaha Avatar- Temples

One of the most  prominent temple of the Varaha avatar is the Sri Varahaswami Temple in Tirumala Andhra Pradesh, near Tirupati. At the end of Satya Yuga, when the earth had been rescued by the Varaha Avatar and creation started, the devotees of Lord Vishnu requested him to stay on earth. Lord Vishnu in his Varaha avatar ordered his vehicle Garuda to bring his divine garden Kridachala from his abode Vaikuntha to Venkata hills,

The oldest Varaha temple is Nav Toran (nine pillars) temple in Jawad, Madhya Pradesh.

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Matsya Avatar- The Story of Matsya Avatar


Matsya avatar is the first avatar of Lord Vishnu. In puranic literature, all the avatars of Lord Vishnu are taken to rescue his devotees. In Satya Yuga, Lord Vishnu incarnated as the Matsya avatar (incarnation of a fish) to rescue his devotee King Manu from the great deluge.

The puranic story of Matsya Avatar

The reasons for Lord Vishnu to take the Matsya Avatar were two-fold.

matsya avatar storyThe first reason for the Matsya Avatar was to grant the wish of his devotee and save him from the deluge at the end of Satya Yuga. There was a king named Manu in Satya yuga who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. He performed a number of penances to fulfil his desire to physically meet Lord Vishnu.

The second reason for the Matsya avatar was to rescue the Vedas which were stolen by the demon Hayagriva and hidden at the bottom of the ocean. As the preserver of the universe, Lord Vishnu ensures that the knowledge of the Vedas passes from one Yuga to another.

The story of Matsya Avatar and King Manu

Lord Vishnu decided to fulfil the King’s wish. One day, when Manu went to the river and began his prayers, he took water in his hands and raised his hands above his head, offering the water to Lord Vishnu as was the custom of beginning his prayers.

When Manu was about to pour the water back into the river, he noticed a tiny fish in his hands. The king considered his duty to save the fish since it had taken refuge in his hands. A lot of bigger fishes were swimming in the river who would be predators to the tiny fish. The King placed the fish in his “kamandalam”.

Manu finished his prayers and returned to the palace. Next morning he noticed that the fish had grown in size and seemed to struggle in the kamandalan. Immediately the King got a bigger vessel and poured the fish in it. When Manu was going to begin his morning prayers, he noticed in surprise that the fish had outgrown the bigger vessel as well. Manu summoned the biggest container in his palace and placed the fish in in. After some time, the fish outgrew the vessel too and Manu was anxious. As a king, it was his duty to save the animal who had taken his refuge. Seeing the fish wither in pain, the king took the vessel and poured the fish back in the river. But the fish continued growing and filled the river too. Manu realized that this was a play of the Maya, but his Dharma did not permit him to forsake the fish. Finally Manu made transit arrangements and shifted the fish to the ocean. As soon as the fish was dropped into the ocean, it became gigantic in size and seemed to fill one side of the ocean.

Manu bowed before the fish and said, “You are Lord Vishnu, you are Narayana. Please accept my prayers.”

Lord Vishnu replied, “You wanted to see me and here I am.”

Tears rolled down Manu’s eyes and he noticed that a horn grew on the head of the fish.

The Matysa avatar informed Manu that Satya Yuga was coming to an end and the King should arrange a vessel for himself, the 7 rishis, seeds of plants and animals to safely cross the deluge and live in the next Yuga.

It was Lord Vishnu who took the Matsya Avatar to steer the ship with it horn. The Matsya avatar led the ship carrying the King and the 7 rishis to safety during the deluge. After saving his devotees, the Matsya Avatar  then went and fought the demon Hayagriva to restore the Vedas.

Matsya Avatar- Temples in India

There are very few temples where Vishnu in this avatar is worshipped. Prominent ones include the Shankhodara temple in Bet Dwarka and Vedanarayana Temple in Nagalapuram. Matsya is the patron deity of the Meenas, who claim descent from the deity. The Meenas call Matsya Meenesh, the Lord of the Meenas or the fish (Meena) Lord. In Rajasthan there are many temples of Meenesh, but the first Meenesh temple was in Pushkar, Rajasthan. A Meenesh temple is also situated in Malarana chour village of Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. Other temples include Meenangadi Matsyavathra Mahavishnu Temple and Matsya Narayana Temple, Bangalore.

Matsya Avatar- Mithila painting

Mithila paintings revolve around Hindu Gods and Goddesses. The motif behind Mithila paintings is to portray God & men in nature while borrowing heavily from the ancient epics of India. Mithila paintings use natural dyes to remind us of our lineage with ancient epics of India.

Click to view Mithila painting- Matsya Avatar


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KURMA AVATAR- Significance of the Kurma Avatar Story


Kurma avatar is is the second avatar of Lord Vishnu following the Matsya Avatar. The word Kurma means Tortoise, and the story of the Kurma Avatar of Vishnu has its beginning in the Puranas. The Kurma Avatar was taken by Lord Vishnu to help the Gods win the amrita or elixir of life over the demons during the churning of the ocean.  All the stories mentioned in the Puranas have a deeper significance. Similarly the Kurma Avatar story has a profound meaning that has to be interpreted.

Kurma avatar- The secret and the significance

kurma avatar storyAs per the puranic story, the Gods and Demons had churned the ocean to obtain the elixir of life. The churning is symbolized by a literal tug of war between the Gods and Demons in the story. The ocean is representative of the deep consciousness or the human mind.  The Gods and demons themselves symbolize our own good and satanic tendencies. The tug of war represents the struggle in our own selves to choose between the good and bad karma in our every day life. And by the choices that we make by our own free will, it be determined whether we get a chance to taste the elixir of life (represented by liberation from samsara) or remain mortal (bonded in samsara- repetitive cycle of life and death).

In the puranic story, the churning stick is Mount Mandara that is used to churn the ocean. Mount Mandara represents the sum total of all our efforts in this life that are used to churn our own thought process and develop our mind. When the Mount Mandara starts drowning in the mid ocean (symbolizing our own despair in life), Lord Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise and attaches himself as the base to stop the moutain from sinking.  Also in the story, at one point, the mountain rises higher (symbolizing our own pride) and the Mount Mandara goes out of range for it to churn the ocean. It is again Lord Vishnu who takes the form of an eagle and sits on top to balance the weight and complete the churning.

This symbolizes that while we excercise our own free will and make our own efforts, a faith in the divine will help us to neither drown in despair in times of adversity or lose our humility in times of success.


Another  similarity that is often linked to Darwin’s theory is in evolution. The evolution theory tells us that after the aquatic organisms, amphibians were formed. Similarly in the puranas, the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu Matsya avatar (fish- aquatic) is followed by the Kurma avatar (tortoise- amphibian). This is in line with many such stories or incidents in the Vedas, that have a direct link with the formation of the universe.


The story starts with a meeting between Sage Durvasa and Lord Indra. Sage Durvasa as a mark of respect offers a garland of flowers to Lord Indra. The king of Gods, Lord Indra who is seated on his elephant, Airavata, takes the garland of flowers and places it on the forehead of the elephant. The elephant takes the garland and throws it down on the earth.

The chief of sages Durvasa, angry at this disrespectful treatment of his gift, proclaims to the King of Gods that his kingdom will be ruined.

Destiny acts to fulfill the words of Sage Durvasa and the Asuras (demons) declare war on the Gods.  The Gods want to taste the nectar of immortality and approach Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu advises the Gods to churn the ocean along with the Demons and offer them a share of nectar as well.

The Mandara mountain is to be used to the churning stick and the snake Vasuki is the churning rope. But once the churning starts, the mountain starts drowning in the ocean as there is no support base to keep it afloat. It is then Lord Vishnu took the form of the tortoise (Kurma Avatar) to keep the mountain afloat. It is Kurma avatar, the tortoise, that goes below the mountain and stops it from sinking.

There were a lot of divine objects and fortunate things that arise in the Kurma Avatar Story- Wish-fulfilling tree Kalpavriksha, Wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu,  Wish-fulfilling gem Chintamani, Seven-headed flying horse Ucchaishrava, Six-tusked elephant Airavata, Conch – Panchajanya,  Bow of king Saranga,  Beautiful nymph Rambha, Moon-god, Chandra, Goddess of ocean Varuni, Physician Dhanvantari. An incarnation of Vishnu, the enemy of disease, he brought with him Ayurveda, Goddess of fortune Lakshmi,  Elixir of immortality Amrita, and the poison Halahal.

The Goddess Lakshmi chooses Vishnu and thus chooses the Gods over the demons. The Gods restored with their vigor and energy fight the Asuras again and prevail over them.

Kurma Jayanati, or the day when the incarnation of Lord Vishnu happened, is observed on Purnima or full moon day in the month of Vaisakha.

The temples dedicated to the Kurma Avatar are located in Kurmai, Chittoor district, Andhra Pradesh, and Srikurmam, Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh. The name of the village Kurmai originated as there is historical temple of Kurma Varadarajaswamy (Kurmavatar of Lord Vishnu), god in this village. The temple located in Srikurmam in Srikakulam District, Andhra Pradesh, is also the Avatar of Kurma.

Click to see Kurma Avatar idol (in coppper and brass) to be kept at office and home:

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