Varuna is a Vedic deity associated first with the sky, later with waters as well as with Ṛta (justice) and Satya (truth).

Varuna is found in the oldest layer of the Vedic literature of Hinduism, such as the hymn 7.86 of the Rigveda. He is also mentioned in the Tamil grammar work Tolkāppiyam, as the god of sea and rain.

In the Hindu Puranas, He is the god of oceans, his vehicle is a Makara (part fish, sea creature) and his weapon is a Pasha (noose, rope loop).

He is the guardian deity of the western direction. In some texts, he is the father of god Brahma and of Vedic sage Vasishtha.

He is found in Buddhism, for example as Suiten in Japanese Buddhist mythology. He is also found in Jainism.

Vedas

In the earliest layer of the Rigveda, Varuna is the guardian of the moral law, one who punishes those who sin without remorse, and who forgives those who err with remorse.

He is mentioned in many Rigvedic hymns, such as 7.86–88, 1.25, 2.27–30, 8.8, 9.73 and others. His relationship with waters, rivers, and oceans is mentioned in the Vedas.

Vedic poets describe him as an aspect and one of the plural perspectives of the same divine or spiritual principle. For example, hymn 5.3 of the Rigveda states:

You at your birth are Varuna, O Agni.
When you are kindled, you are Mitra.
In you, O son of strength, all gods are centered.
You are Indra to the mortal who brings oblation.
You are Aryaman, when you are regarded as having
the mysterious names of maidens, O Self-sustainer. — Rigveda 5.3.1-2, Translator: Hermann Oldenberg

Varuna and Mitra are the gods of the societal affairs including the oath and are often twinned Mitra-Varuna. Both 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.

According to Doris Srinivasan, a professor of Indology focusing on religion, Varuna-Mitra pair is an ambiguous deity just like Rudra-Shiva pair.

Both have wrathful-gracious aspects in Indian mythology. Both Him and Rudra are synonymous with “all comprehensive sight, knowledge“, both were the guardian deity of the north in the Vedic texts (Varuna later gets associated with west), both can be offered “injured, ill offerings“, all of which suggest that He may have been conceptually overlapping with Rudra.

Further, the Rigvedic hymn 5.70 calls Mitra-Varuna pair as Rudra, states Srinivasan. According to Samuel Macey and other scholars, Varuna had been the more ancient Indo-Aryan deity in 2nd millennium BCE, who gave way to Rudra in the Hindu pantheon, and RudraShiva became both “timeless and the god of time”.

In Vajasaneyi Samhita 21.40 (Yajurveda), Varuna is called the patron deity of physicians, one who has “a hundred, a thousand remedies“.

His capacity and association with “all comprehensive knowledge” is also found in the Atharvaveda (~1000 BCE). Varuna also finds a mention in the early Upanishads, where his role evolves.

In verse 3.9.26 of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (~800 BCE), for example, he is stated to be the god of the western quarter, but one who is founded on “water” and dependent ultimately on “the heart” and the fire of the soul.

In the Katha Upanishad, Aditi is identified to be same as the goddess earth. She is stated in the Vedic texts to be the mother of Varuna and Mitra along with other Vedic gods, and in later Hindu mythology she as mother earth is stated to be the mother of all gods. In Yajurveda, it is said:

“In fact, Varuna is Vishnu and Vishnu is Varuna and hence the auspicious offering is to be made to these deities.”

Ramayana

Rama interacts with Varuna in the Hindu epic Ramayana. For example, 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 Pravpavesha (prayer, Tapasya) to Varuna, the Lord of Oceans, for three days and three nights, states Ramesh Menon.

He doesn’t respond, and Rama arises on the fourth morning, is enraged. He states to his brother Lakshamana that “even lords of the elements listen only to violence“, Varuna does not respect gentleness, and peaceful prayers go unheard.

With his bow and arrow, Rama prepares to attack the oceans to burn up the waters and create a bed of sand for his army of monkeys to cross and thus confront Ravana.

Lakshmana appeals to Rama, translates Menon, that he should return to “peaceful paths of our fathers, you can win this war without laying waste the sea“.

Rama shoots his weapon sending the ocean into flames. As Rama increases the ferocity of his weapons, Varuna arises out of the oceans.

Rama-Varuna

He bows to Rama, stating that he himself did not know how to help Rama because the sea is deep, vast and he cannot change the nature of the sea.

Varuna asked Rama to remember that he is “the soul of peace and love, wrath does not suit him“. Varuna promised to Rama that he will not disturb him or his army as they build a bridge and cross over to Lanka.

In Tolkappiyam

The Tolkāppiyam, a Tamil grammar work from 3rd century BCE divides the people of ancient Tamilakam into 5 Sangam landscape divisions: Kurinji, Mullai, Paalai, Marutham, and Neithal.

Each landscape is designated with different gods. Neithal is described as a seashore landscape occupied by fishermen, with the god of sea and rain, Varunan or Kadalōn. “Varuna” means water which donates the ocean in the Tamil language.

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*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.