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Varuna

Varuna (/ˈvɜːrʊnə, ˈvɑːrə-/; Sanskrit: Varuṇa वरुण, Malay: Baruna) is the Hindu god of water and the celestial ocean, as well as a god of law of the underwater world. A Makara is his mount. His consort is the Hindu goddess Varuni. Originally the chief god of the Vedic pantheon, Varuna was replaced by Indra and later faded away with the ascendancy of Shiva and Vishnu.

In the Vedas

vedas

Hindu God Parasurama, surrounded by settlers, commanding Varuna to part the seas and reveal Kerala.
As chief of the Adityas, Varuna has aspects of a solar deity, though, when opposed to Mitra, he is rather associated with the night, and Mitra with the daylight. As the most prominent Deva, however, he is mostly concerned with moral and societal affairs than being a deification of nature. Together with Mitra–originally ‘agreement’ (between tribes) personified—being master of ṛtá, he is the supreme keeper of order and god of the law.

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath, and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna (a dvandva compound). Varuna is also twinned with Indra in the Rigveda, as Indra-Varuna (when both cooperate at New Year in re-establishing order).

The Rigveda and Atharvaveda portrays Varuna as omniscient, catching liars in his snares. The stars are his thousand-eyed spies, watching every movement of men.

In the Rigveda, Indra, chief of the Devas, is about six times more prominent than Varuna, who is mentioned 341 times. This may misrepresent the actual importance of Varuna in early Vedic society due to the focus of the Rigveda on fire and Soma ritual, Soma being closely associated with Indra; Varuna with his omniscience and omnipotence in the affairs of men has many aspects of a supreme deity. The daily Sandhyavandanam ritual of a dvija addresses Varuna in this aspect in its evening routine, asking him to forgive all sins, while Indra receives no mention.

oth 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.

Vedic Varuna is sometimes thought to be a reflex of the same Proto-Indo-European the onym as Greek Ouranos, based on similarities between both names and the respective gods’ attributes, but no successful derivation has yet been produced that is consistent with known laws of sound change.

In post-Vedic texts Varuna became the god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned. As such, Varuna is also a god of the dead, and can grant immortality. He is attended by the nagas. He is also one of the Guardians of the directions, representing the west.

Later art depicts Varuna as a lunar deity, as a yellow man wearing golden armor and holding a noose or lasso made from a snake. He rides the sea creature Makara.

In the Ramayana

ramayana

Raja Ravi Varma Painting—’Rama Conquers Varuna’

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 penance (tapasya) to Varuna, the Lord of Oceans, fasting and meditating in perfect dhyana for three days and three nights. Varuna does not respond, and Rama arises on the fourth morning, enraged by the God’s arrogance. With his bow and arrow, he angrily begins attacking the oceans with celestial weapons—burning up the waters and killing its life and creatures. The Vanaras (Monkeys) are dazzled and fearful at witnessing the enraged Rama demolish the oceans, and his brother, Lakshmana, prays to calm Rama’s mind. Just as Rama invokes the brahmastra, considered the most powerful weapon capable of destroying all creation, Varuna arises out of the oceans. He bows to Rama, explaining that he himself was at a loss to answer Rama’s question. Begging him not to destroy the oceans with the missile, he suggests that Rama re-direct the weapon at a demonic race that lives in the heart of the ocean. Rama’s arrows destroys the demons, and establishes a purer, liberated environment there. Varuna promises that he would keep the oceans still for all of Rama’s army to pass, and Nala constructs a bridge (Rama’s Bridge) across to Lanka. Rama justifies his angry assault on the oceans as he followed the correct process of petitioning and worshipping Varuna, but obtaining the result by force for the greater good.

In contemporary Hinduism

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Jhulelal, an incarnation of Varuna is the chief deity worshipped by Sindhi Hindus.

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Manora Island Beach, with Varun Dev Temple visible in the top right corner, Manora Beach, Karachi, Pakistan
Worship of Varuna is an integral part of the evening ritual of the Sandhyavandanam, of a dvija Hindu. However, popular worship is primarily limited to Hindus of Sindhi origin. (See Jhulelal)

In Zoroastrianism

Varuna is not attested in the texts of the Avesta. Too late to be of relevance to a reconstruction of what might have happened to Indo–Iranian *vouruna (if at all such a predecessor figure existed) in Iran are the appearance of two names like ‘Varuna’ in the medieval texts of Zoroastrian tradition. One of these instances is as Middle Persian varun, a dim-witted, easily tricked demon of “backwards”-ness, which is the literal Middle Persian meaning of his name. The other instance appears in a reading of a medieval Zoroastrian reaction to Islam’s 99 names of Allah. In that list, a term in the ambiguous Pahlavi script was mis-transcribed into Pazand and Gujarati script as ‘vāruná’, which then—together with a loss of halant by typesetting—in the 19th century esoterically interpreted as “deliverer from evil.” Neither of these terms have any connection to Vedic Varuna.

Also unrelated to Vedic Varuna are Avestan Vourukasha and Varena. The former is the Avesta’s mythological sea that covers the earth, while Varenais a mythological four-cornered fourteenth region of the world.

Assuming that Vedic Varuna is not a purely Indian development (i.e. assuming that he derives from an Indo-Iranian *vouruna), there are several different theories on what might have happened to Indo-Iranian *vouruna in Iran:

Nyberg (Die Religionen des alten Iran, 1938:282ff) sees Varuna represented as the Amesha Spenta Asha Vahishta “Best Righteousness”, an opinion—with extensions—that Dumezil (Tarpeia 1947:33–113) and Widengren (Die Religionen Irans, 1965:12–13) also follow. This theory is based on Vedic Varuna’s role as the principal protector of rta, which in Iran is represented by asha [vahishta].

Kuiper (IIJ I, 1957) proposes that none less than Ahura Mazda is a development from an earlier dvandva *vouruna-mitra. The basis of Kuiper’s proposal is that the equivalent of Avestan mazda “wisdom” is Vedic medhira, described in Rigveda 8.6.10 as the “(revealed) insight into the cosmic order” that Varuna grants his devotees. In Kuiper’s view, Ahura Mazda is then a compound divinity in which the propitious characteristics of *mitranegate the unfavorable qualities of *vouruna.

Zimmer (Münchner Studien 1984:187–215) observed that Varuna has the byname (cult epithet) bhaga, an adjective that also appears in the Avesta (as baga). It may then be that the Avestan adjective is likewise a cult epithet, the proper name having been forgotten—a not uncommon occurrence. This may be seen to be reflected in Artaxerxes III’s invocation of ahuramazda ura mithra baga “Ahura Mazda, Mithra, and the Baga” (Boyce, Acta Iranica 21, 1981:59–73).

Another epithet of Vedic Varuna is asura, and there may be a remnant of Varuna in those Gathic passages (generally presumed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself) refers to the ahuras (plural) without (aside from Ahura Mazda) explicitly naming them. While Ahura Mazda is uniformly “the mightiest Ahura” (e.g. Yasna 33.11), in the only two occurrences of the term where the word does not refer to Ahura Mazda, the poet uses the expression mazdasca ahurano (Yasna 30.9, 31.4). This phrase, generally understood to mean “the Wise [Mazda] One and the (other) Ahuras”, is in “common opinion” (so Boyce 1984:159) recognized as being archaic and in which the other Ahuras are *mitra and*varouna. Boyce (Mithra the King and Varuna the Master, 2001) sees this supported by the younger Avestan dvandvah expression mithra ahura berezanta “Mithra and the High Lord”, the latter being unambiguously Ahura Berezainti, “High Lord” Apam Napat, the third member of the Ahuric triad (Gray, Foundations, 1929:15), and with whose Indian equivalent (also Apam Napat) Vedic Varuna is closely associated.

In Buddhism

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). In Japan, Varuna had been called “Suiten” in Japanese buddhism. 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).

In Shintoism

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.

There are about 25 other shrines of the same name in Japan. Holy days of suiten-gū (the days good for going to a suiten-gū) are “the 5th day” of every month and “day of a dog”.
In modern age

Varuna, the Indian Neptune, USS Varuna (1861) & USS Varuna (1943)
Two ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Varuna for Varuna, the Vedic god of oceans and rivers and keeper of the souls of the drowned.
•    The first Varuna was a screw gunboat launched in 1861 and sunk by enemy action in April 1862.
•    The second Varuna (AGP-5) was a motorboat tender, commissioned in 1943 and decommissioned in 1946.
INS Varuna is a sail training vessel of the Indian Navy. Varuna was completed in April 1981 by Alcock-Ashdown in Bhavnagar. It can carry 26 cadets.
The Varuna class of ship of Indian Navy are sail training vessels. They consist of the following three ships.
•    INS Varuna
•    INS Tarangini
•    INS Sudarshini

The dwarf planet candidate 20000 Varuna is named after Varuna.
Varuna is mentioned in a poem, The Brewing of the Soma, by John Green Leaf Whittier (1807–1892), American Poet.

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