3500 years ago, nomadic tribes riding horse-drawn chariots and wielding iron weapons swept into north-west India. They raced their chariots along the Ganges River banks, conquered the cities, and gained control of the trading routes. Unable to defeat the tribes living in the dense forests that covered the Gangetic Plain, they strove to be accepted by the original inhabitants by identifying the local sacred animals and folk heroes as Avatars of Vishnu, the Preserver of the Universe, the most important god in their Vedic Hindu religious tradition.
This is Vahara, the third Avatar or form that the Hindu god Vishnu took to save the world from a demon king. Vishnu’s most famous avatars are Ram Chandra, who defeats Ravana, the demon king of Sri Lanka, and Krishna, Arjun’s chariot driver and advisor in the War of the Mahabharata. Still, Vishnu first came as a fish, then a turtle, and Varaha, the wild boar, was his third Avatar.
The wild boar is as far from the domestic pig as a tiger is from a tabby cat. Fast, furious, agile, and armed with razor-sharp tusks, the wild boar is ready to attack anyone who threatens his family or enters his territory, even lions and tigers avoid contact with the male boar.
Weighing as much at 300 kg and able to outrun a horse, the boar was considered a warrior and to kill one proof of bravery in the mythology of many cultures including in the Rigveda, where Indra, the king of Heaven, must slay the wild boar to regain the treasure of the Asura. Gentle by nature, he will attack anyone who invades his territory-even lions, and tigers keep their distance.
This silver and gold plate shows a Sasanian king of Ancient Persia hunting wild boar to prove his bravery. On this 10th century coin, Varaha represents a Gurjara king of Rajasthan ready to die in battle to defend his kingdom.
This Pala sculpture is considered by many art historians to be one of the great sculptures of Varaha. Varaha has defeated the demon Hiranyaksha, dived to the bottom of the Cosmic Ocean, and lifted the earth up out of the ocean on his shoulder. The earth in this sculpture is depicted as the goddess Prithvi sitting on Varaha’s shoulder and holding onto the boar’s tusks.
Varaha is aided in his rescue by the Nagas king and queen, who live in jewel and pearl encrusted palaces in the Cosmic Ocean. The Naga Queen even holds up a lotus for Varaha to use as a stepping stone as he rises above the waters.
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