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Orissa Review September - 2009

Cult of Varahi in Orissa

Dr. H.C.Das

Varahi, one of the Mother Goddesses, a legends of Matrikas' origin, their iconographic
manifestation of 64 Yoginis and the counterpart features, and their role in the religious life. These
of Varaha-Vishnu was created to annihilate the Puranas record the names of numerous
powerful demons like Chanda, Munda, Sumbha, Matrikas. But the seven mothers have been
Nisumbha, Raktavirjya accepted universally,
and the tripuravijayi supported by t he
Mahisasura. The goddess iconographic texts.
Varahi associated with the The antiquity of the
other mothers-Brahmani, worship of the mother
Maheswari, Koumari, goddess is traced from
Vaisnavi, Indrani and the Indus Valley
Chamunda assisted Civilization (flourished in
Ambika in her combat 4th/3rd millennium B.C).
against the demons. Since In fact, the worship of Siva
she is linked with other and Sakti in the Indus
mother goddesses, her Civilization is proved by
origin is also associated the archaeological
with them. Worship of the treasures unearthed from
goddess in her individual excavations at Harappa
form has been prevalent in and Mohenjodaro. While
Orissa and other parts of speaking about the religion
India. of the Indus people, Sir
Similar to other Varahi, Samlei Temple, Sonepur John Marshall (the famous
gods and goddesses of the archaeologist and the
Hindu pantheon her origin is traced from the excavator of the sites) remarks that Sakti worship
Puranas, the last great authority of Indian religion. was of great antiquity in India; it originated out of
The Skanda, Markandeya, Matsya, Devi, the mother goddess and was closely connected
Brahmavaivarta, Devi Bhagabata, Varaha and with the cult of Siva. The continuity of the Sakti
Linga Puranas have lucidly narrated interesting cult since then till the beginning of the historic

Orissa Review September - 2009

period is attested by the stray finds and excavation Thereafter, the ferocious goddesses started their
at Rajghat, Rupar, Kausambi, Pataliputra and in campaign of destroying the whole universe.
the south has retrieved remains pertaining to the Having no other alternative to subdue the
Sakti cult. The epics particularly the goddesses Siva prayed to Narasimha who
Mahabharata highlighted the Sakta principle. appeared instantly with his claws besmeared with
The two Durga stotras, one chanted by the blood of Hiranyakasipu, his tongue flapping
Judhisthira and the other by Arjuna in the form of out like the spark of electricity, with the formidable
eulogy are considered basically the genesis of fangs sparkling like a thousand Sun. He created
Mahadevi-Durga manifestation, which was fully 32 Matrikas who were more terrible than the
reflected in the Puranas and Upa-Puranas. On goddesses created by Siva. The earlier mothers
the basis of iconographic conception as recorded asked to stay in different parts of the world and
in the Puranas, the manifestations of Sakti were look after the human beings and animals as their
carved in sculptures and worshipped in the children. This indicates various manifestations of
temples. the Sakti conceived iconographically and were
Of the numerous Puranic legends, I touch propitiated. To highlight each of them Upa-
upon in short, a few of them to signify the Puranas and interesting legends were composed.
importance of the Sakti in different forms. The It is pertinent to note that the Matrikas
Makandeya Purana (compiled in the 4th century were created as the war goddesses iconic forms.
A.D.) relates that the Matrikas were created by They are seated at ease either in Lalita or
Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Indra, Kartikeya etc. to Yogasana, associated each with a child on the
fight the demons as the assistants of the Mahadevi- lap (except Chamunda who is seated in
Durga. Particularly the demons like Chanda, Rajalilasana) and flanked below by their
Munda and Raktavirjya were endowed with respective vahanas. They bear forms and
quality of multiplying into demons equal to cognisances of their male counterparts.
themselves in strength and prowess no sooner According to the Markandeya Purana these are
their drops of blood oozed out from the wounds the female counterparts who are armed with the
touched the ground. To kill the demon same weapons, wear the same ornaments, and
Raktavirjya, Siva created from his energy the ride the same vahanas and carry the same banners
goddess Yogeswari and similarly the other major as the corresponding male gods do. Accordingly
gods created Saktis from their energies. It was Brahmani should be sculpted like Brahma,
with the assistance of the Matrikas Mahadeva Maheswari like Maheswara, Vaisnavi like Vishnu,
was able to kill the demon Raktavirjya. This story Varahi a short-statured women with the face of a
is recorded in different forms in other Puranas. boar (like Varaha-Vishnu ), Indrani like Indra,
The account of the Matsya Purana runs that when Koumari like Kumara (Kart ikeya) and
Siva discharged his Pasupata weapon against Chamunda created from the 3rd eye of Mahadevi
Andhaka demon, numerous demons of similar represents a skeleton in appearance-flesh dried
stature sprang up from the drops of blood gushing up, bones and sinews shown through the dried
out of his body. In order to assist him in the combat skin, eyes sunken and abdomen contracted, with
Siva created as many as 132 goddesses of hairs shooting upwards in the shape of flames tied
formidable countenance, who drank all the bloods with snakes, with the tongue and teeth protruding
of the demon finally killing him in the battle ground. out, wearing a garland of skulls, and a tiger skin,

Orissa Review September - 2009

sitting on a deadbody flanked by an owl or vulture evidences prove the prevalence of Shaktism in
and jackals drinking blood dropping from the Orissa from the Gupta period, Viraja being the
severed head of the demon. earliest Sakti goddess (in Mahisasuramardini
According to the iconographic fearures form). The earliest group of Sapta Matrikas is
Varahi has the face of boar and colour of the storm sculpted in the Parasurameswar temple (7th
cloud. She wears on her head a karandamukuta century A.D) of Bhubaneswar. The images here
amd is adorned with ornaments made of corals. are seated in Yogasana flanked by Ganesa and
She weilds the hala (plough ) and the sakti and Virabhadra. The next in order of chronology
is seated under a kalpa tree. Her vahana as well comes Matrikas of Vaital temple (8th century
as the emblem on her banner is the elephant. To A.D). Here the images beautifully sculpted bearing
this description Vishnudharmottara adds that the art tradition of the Bhaumakaras. They are all
she has a big belly. According to this authority seated in ease in Yogasana. They are not
she has six hands, in four of which she carries the associated with the child. Chamunda is the
danda, khadga, khetaka and pasa. The two presiding goddess locally known as Kapali. Dr.
remaining hands being held respectively in abhaya K.C.Panigrahi referring to the grim atmosphere
and varada poses. The Purvakarmagama created in the dark cella of Khakhara (Vaital)
relates that she carries the saranga dhanu, the temple and a stone yupa in front of the temple
hala and the musala as her weapons. suggests the prevalence of Kapalika form of
Leaving aside the iconographical worship in the temple. Chamunda was the
references we have the archaeological treasures presiding goddess of the Kapalika sect of Saivism.
of the Matrikas from the Gupta perod. The It is interesting to note that in Orissa a separate
Gangadhar stone inscription of Kumara Gupta order of temple known as the Khakhara was
speaks of the Matrikas. In the chronological erected in honour of a form of the Sakta deity.
sequence the inscription of the early Chalukya The Vaital shrine is the earliest shrine of this order.
ruler, we come across the names of seven We have in Orissa as many as thirteen extant
mothers. The Matrikas appeared in the sculptural Khakhara temples in different stages of
representation throughout India. In the succeeding preservation. No male deity was ever enshrined
period the Sakti cult became so prominent that in such temple. We have a separate Silpasastra in
the Mothers appeared in the mainstream of Indian regard to this type of temple along with the
religion in some form or other. temples of Rekha and Pidha order.
Orissa became a prominent centre of Varahi in the group of Matrikas in the
Saktism in Eastern India. According to the Vaital temple is a sow-faced deity holding a fish
Hevajra Tantra, the Sakta-Tantrism flourished and an exe in her two hands. She may be identified
in four major centers of India-Uddiyana (Orissa), as Matsya Varahi. The ceiling of the Mukteswar
Purnagiri, Kamarupa and Jalandhara. The Kalika temple( C. 10th century A.D) contains a set of
Purana (11th century A.D.) emphasizes that the Saptamatrikas on an eight-petalled lotus, each
first Brahmanical tantric pitha in India originated petal having a Matrika. For the first time here
and developed in Odra Desa (Orissa), the we find the association of a child each (except
presiding deities of which were Jagannatha and Chamunda). Child was perhaps associated with
the goddess Katyayani. The archaeological the mother from about 10th century onwards. All

Orissa Review September - 2009

other Matrikas set to be discussed in the In the door lintel (now detached) of the
succeeding pages are linked with children. Durga temple at Shergarh in the district of
Contemporary to this group there is a set Balasore we come across in miniature form a set
of Saptamatrikas on the edge of t he of Saptamatrikas flanked by Ganesa and
Markandesvara tank in Puri town (assignable to Virabhadra. The temple is of Khakhara order
the Somavamsi period) and the Saptamatrikas assignable to 9th century A.D. A set of dancing
of Sathalpur near Jagatsinghpur town. Facing to Saptamatrikas is engraved in relief form in a part
the temple is enshrined a beautiful image of of the door jamb now preserved in the Balasore
Ajaikapada Bhairava in a separate structure Museum. The workmanship of the images is of
signifying the tantric aspect of the Matrikas. The low order indicating their execution in a period of
association of Bhairava with the Matrikas decadence.
reminds us of the concept of Sakta Pithas. There Yoginis are basically the Matrikas. The
is a set of Saptamatrikas in the front façade of 64 Yogini temples at Hirapur near Balkati and at
the Simhanath temple near Vaideswar (in Cuttack Ranipur Jharial in Balangir district contain the
district) on the river Mahanadi. Here the images of some Matrikas. The above survey
Matrikas on the door jamb flanked on either side relates the prevalence of the cult of Saptamatrikas
by Ganga and Yamuna is a novel feature in Orissan in Orissa. Of the seven Matrikas, Varahi and
architecture. The Saptamatrikas of Khiching in Chamunda became very popular in Orissa as their
the district of Mayurbhanj are beautiful pieces of individual manifestations are found in different
art of the Bhanjas. Chamunda of the Matrika places.
group is worshipped as Kichakesvari, the tutelary A life-size image of Varahi (6 ft. 1 in. high
deity of the Bhanjas. The other Matrikas are and 2 ft. 9 in. wide) is enshrined in the temple of
preserved in the Khiching museum. At Belkhandi her name at Chaurasi in Prachi valley. She is in
in the district of Kalahandi there is a group of perfect state of preservation. Seated in lalitasana
Saptamatrikas (only lower portions are available) on a cushion placed on a plain legged seat with
belonging to the early Somavamsis ruling from her hanging right leg resting on a life-like crouchant
Sirpur (now in Chhattisgarh). buffalo, the figure holds in her right hand a fish
The Orissa State Museum preserves four and in the left a blood-cup. Decked in finger rings,
beautiful Matrikas from Dharmasala. From the point anklets, valayas, armlets, two kinds of necklace,
of view of artistic imagery these are the best images large ear studs and a tiara over the hair which
so far discovered from Orissa. These images may rises upwards in spiral coils, the three-eyed deity
be assigned to the late Somavamsis or the Gangas. is pot-bellied and is clad in a dhoti. The plain
Similar in style and workmanship are the two sets halo is oval, and the back side of the figure is cut
of Matrikas at Jajpur. The Matrikas of colossal out of the oblong back-slab. The temple enshrining
stature kept in the compound of S.D.O's residence the image of Varahi comes in the order of
are by far the biggest sculptures of this order in Khakhara and bears resemblance to the Gouri
India. In broken stage they look terrific, but elegant. temple at Bhubaneswar. On stylistic ground the
Another group of Matrikas (seven) is enshrined in temple and the image are assignable to the early
a modern structure on the Dasasvamedha ghat on part of 10th century A.D. In the Jagamohana of
the Vaitarani. the temple are seen two loose sculptures of Varahi

Orissa Review September - 2009

seated in Maharajalilasana, having a skull cup People of the locality were not aware of them.
and a fish in two hands. The other is four armed The deities while wandering in the forest thought
holding in the lower left a skull cup, in the upper the way to receive homage from the people. They
left a rosary, a water-pot in the lower right ( upper caused blazing fire in the jungle at night. People
left broken) associated with the mount buffalo and were terrified to see such unusual fire continued
kneeling devotee. These two images were for days together. The Raja of Kanika was
probably enshrined in some other temples in the informed of the happening. At last under the orders
locality. of the king the jungle was cleared. Surprisingly
An image of Varahi (3 ' 6 " by 2 ' 2 '') in the fire extinguished. The goddesses told the king
chlorite stone, two armed, seated in in a dream to worship them. A temple was
Maharajalilasana holding a fish and a wine cup constructed and worship was introduced.
is enshrined in a modern temple in the village, However, this is a very important Sakta-tantric
Bonchuo in Anandapur Sub-Division of Keonjhar centre of Orissa.
district. She is worshipped as a pitha devi and is An image of Varahi (two armed holding
considered as important as Tarini of Ghatagaon. a fish and a wine cup) is worshipped in Balisahi
A colossal sculpture of Varahi (in broken state of Puri town. Her workmanship is bold and
measuring 8 ft. in height) at Narendrapur of similar in style to that of Varahi of Chaurasi.
Bhadrak district is the biggest image in Orissa. The above survey reveals that Varahi not
Narendrapur of Bhadrak district is famous for only flourished with the Saptamatrikas and 64
Patani Mangala who is enshrined in a modern Yoginis but also rose to eminence as an
temple built by the Raja of Kanika. independent cult. Most of the individual images
Orissa has the distinction of having a of Varahi were carved and installed during the
shrine of Panchavarahi at Satbhaya. Out of five Bhauma cultural epoch (736-940 A.D.). This cult
one is lost and is replaced by an image of some alongwith other Sakta-tantric cults developed with
other goddess. All the existing four images are of the spread of Tantrism. It was during the Bhauma
the same stature, seated in Rajalilasana holding period Saivism, Saktism and Buddhism were
a skull-cup and a fish each. Stylistically these amalgamated with tantrism resulting in creation
sculptures are assigned to C. 11th century A.D. of gods and goddesses of tantric character based
J.N. Banerjee is of opinion that the cult of on the Tantras.
Panchavarahi flourished only in Orissa as no other
such shrine is seen anywhere in India. The images
are locally named as Batakumari, Panchurai,
Vimalai, Kamalai and Janjali. This shrine has no
history but is associated with a legend. Initially Plot No.- 4918,
the goddesses acted as the protectress of the Tankapani Road,
forest clad area in the previous Kanika state. Bhubaneswar-751014