Lord Varuna is one of the oldest and most important Vedic deities, described at length in hymns of Rig Veda. The Four Vedas have been described as the supreme, all-knowing deity who created Heavens, Earth, and Air. He is believed to be omnipresent and omniscient.
As the word, Varuna means “he who covers,” Lord Varuna is believed to be someone who encompasses the whole world. Thus, he is generally worshipped as the personification of the sky. But it is thought that he is also the controller of rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, and other water reservoirs, thus giving him the title of “God of the Oceans.”
Family Tree of Varuna
Lord Varuna is believed to be the son of Sage Kashyapa. He is said to have originated from Aditi, the mother of Gods; he is also acknowledged as Aditya. According to the Vedas, he has a thousand eyes that help him to oversee the whole world.
He had 8 sons: Sushena, Vandi, Dakshasavarni Manu, Vasishtha, Pushkara, Bala, Sura, Andharmaka, and a daughter named Varuni.
Iconography of Varuna
Lord Varuna is often pictured as riding a chariot drawn by seven swans while holding the lotus, noose, conch, and vessel of gems along with an umbrella held over his head. However, in some pictures, he is also shown as a fair-complexioned man in golden armor riding a Makara (sea monster) and holding a noose made of a snake.
Some temples in the Indian subcontinent have depicted him as riding on a crocodile. In other pictures, Varuna is shown sitting with his wife, Varuni, on a throne of diamonds and the gods and goddesses of the different rivers, lakes, and springs forming his court.
Varuna in Vedas
In Veda, Being able to oversee the world with his thousand eyes, Lord Varuna is often also associated with moral law and community affairs. He is believed to punish those who go out of the realms of law. He was known to punish mortals who did not keep their word, and his usual method of punishment was to capture the offender with his noose.
The Rig Veda 10.123 mentions a golden-winged bird called Hiranyapaksha as the messenger of Varuna. While this bird is often considered mythical, it is more likely to refer to flamingos because of its vibrant wings. The Sukta (hymn) also describes the vulture as the messenger of Yama, and interestingly, both birds share similar beak morphology. Flamingos are commonly found near seashores and marshlands, which further supports this interpretation.
Varuna and Mitra are considered gods associated with societal affairs, including oaths, and they are often mentioned together as Mitra-Varuna. In the Rigveda, they are classified as Asuras (demons), although they are also addressed as Devas (deities). Varuna, initially recognized as the king of the Asuras, transformed to become a Deva after the restructuring of the primordial cosmos, which was brought about by Indra’s defeat of Vrtra.
But Lord Varuna also forgives as he is said to forgive those who repent their sins and pray. He is also the keeper of cosmic order, a force called “rta,” which means justice. As the one who enforces the law, he is worshipped as the keeper of divine order and enforcer of contracts.
Lord Rama and Varuna
In Yuddha Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, Lord Rama finds himself facing the formidable challenge of crossing the vast ocean to rescue his beloved wife, Sita, who has been abducted by Ravana. In his quest, Rama undertakes a profound period of prayer and tapasya (austerities) to connect with Varuna.
After pleading with Varuna for three days and nights, Rama becomes frustrated as there is no response from the Lord of Oceans. He shares his disappointment with Lakshmana, feeling that only force and violence receive attention, while gentle prayers go unheard.
Driven by his determination, Rama decides to take matters into his own hands. He readies his bow and arrow, planning to attack the ocean and dry up its waters to create a path for his monkey army to reach Ravana’s kingdom. However, Lakshmana steps in, urging Rama to find a way to win the war without harming the sea, appealing to his sense of compassion.
Despite Lakshmana’s plea, Rama remains resolute. He shoots a powerful arrow into the ocean, causing it to burst into flames. As Rama continues his relentless assault, Varuna, the Lord of Oceans, emerges from the depths. Recognizing Rama’s unwavering determination, Varuna bows before him, admitting his lack of knowledge in assisting Rama. He explains that the vast and unyielding nature of the sea cannot be easily changed.
In a moment of profound wisdom, Varuna advises Rama to remember his true nature, which is characterized by peace and love, rather than anger and wrath. Varuna assures Rama of his support, pledging that he and his army will not be disturbed as they construct a bridge and make their way to Lanka.
Varuna and Lord Indra
But even though previously considered the king of the universe, in later Hindu belief, it is said that he lost his supreme authority to Lord Indra. There are two explanations for the downfall. One possible reason is that when Vritra stole all the waters of the universe, which was under the charge of Varun, it was Indra who fought the demon and got the water back.
Because of this, Indra was able to replace the overlordship of Varuna. Another explanation is the great conflict between gods and demons, after the end of which each God was assigned a clearly defined sphere of influence to avoid further conflicts. Since then, Indra became the god of the atmosphere, whereas Varuna was limited to the guardianship of the oceans. There, he is said to keep watch over the various demons of the ocean.
Nevertheless, Lord Varuna is still worshipped as the guardian of the Western direction. Lord Varuna’s worship is also considered to be a vital part of the ritual Sandhyavandanam.
Worshiping Lord Varuna
Hindus worship Lord Varuna in different forms and methods. A legend associated with the festival of Rakhi is that of the worship offered to the sea god Lord Varuna. On the Raksha Bandhan day, devotees offer coconuts to him. He is said to be closely linked with God Mitra and Yama.
ॐ जल बिम्बाय विद्महे नील पुरुषाय धीमहि तन्नो वरुण: प्रचोदयात् ।।
Aum Jalbimbaye VidmaheVaruna Gayatri Mantra
Nila Purushaye Dhimahi
Tanno Varunah Prachodayat
Meaning: Om, Let us meditate on the reflection of water. O Lord of ocean blue, give me higher intellect. And let the God of water illuminate my mind.
Chanting this mantra brings order and restoration to the mind, body, family, house, career, and education, removes disorders and safeguards against water-related dangers, enhances love between individuals, reveals inner faults, purifies from past sins, and encourages reflection on the cosmic order upheld by Lord Varuna.