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  • Varuna, God of the Celestial Waters and the Milky Way

Late 19th century, Late 20th century
Karnataka, South-West India

In the sacred geometries of Hinduism, Vajrayana, Buddhism and Jainism alike, the universe is imagined as a mandala, eight quadrants ranged around a centre, each quadrant presided over by one of the ashtadikpalas or ‘the guardians of the eight directions’– Indra, Agni, Yama, Niruti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Ishana. Collectively, they ensure the order of the universe and the protection of its inhabitants. Sculpted or painted representations of the ashtadikpalas are often seen on the walls and ceilings of temples, symbolically representing the omnipresence of God. When devotees circumambulate the shrine or enter the sanctum,they not only salute the principal deity but also the spiritual self and the divine manifests all around them. The ashtadikpalas are also invoked during rituals– requested to watch over the worshippers gathered and ensure the success of the ceremony.

This carved wooden panel is one of a set, each bearing an image of one of the ashtadikpalas. Represented on this panel is Varuna, God of the Celestial Waters and the Milky Way. Ruler of the skies and oceans, he presides over rain, oceans, seas, rivers, and streams. He is the keeper of law and order, watching over the movements of men with the stars, his army of assistants.

The Ashtadikpala Stotram,the hymn to the ashtadikpalas salutes Varuna as the presiding deity of the west and the creator or rain. “Meditate on Varuna, riding a makara (sea monster), carrying the nagapasha (lasso made of snakes), with a dark red countenance as bright as the moon.”




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