Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Symbolism of Unicorn in Sanatana Dharma

In one of his recent write-ups (published in this blog as previous post), Dr David Frawley has analyzed the significance of the image of Unicorn that is found in many seals unearthed in the Harappan sites of Indus- Saraswathy civilization.


Though I have found most of his views on Hinduism as acceptable, a few expressed by him in this particular article make me think that there is something he has missed.

Let me write here the other side of explanation for some of the issues he has written.

What are Unicorns?

First of all, this article is about finding out what the image of Unicorn in the seals indicate.

Since there is increasing evidence that Harappan civilization is post- Vedic or an extension of Vedic culture that found a decline after Mahabharatha war or with the onset of Kali yuga, it is but logical that we have to look at Vedic concepts and practices to know what probably this unicorn meant.

Unicorns are not to be found in our times, yet they have been talked about as having existed in those days. Though most people tend to dismiss the unicorn as a mythological creation, there is mention of it in writings of notable ones.

Aristotle has told about it as 'Indian ass' with a single horn found in India

("Book 2. Chapter 1.". History of Animals, trans. D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson)

Leonardo da Vinci has described this animal and also about the methods to capture it.

"The unicorn, through its intemperance and not knowing how to control itself, for the love it bears to fair maidens forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it will go up to a seated damsel and go to sleep in her lap, and thus the hunters take it."

This description of unicorn as being intemperate, ferocious and not easy to go nearby, yet can be captured with aid of a beautiful maiden is the widely held view about Unicorns. When an unicorn sights a beautiful maiden, it would become mild and soft in behavior and would lay on her lap.

Interestingly this description tallies with only one character from Hindu texts – and not with the description given by Dr Frawley equating it with none other than the Avatara moorthy, Varaha!

The 'shringa' as Unicorn!

This character from Valmiki Ramayana is an inevitable one, such that if not for him Ramayana would not have happened!

It is "Rishya shringa", the Rishi with a horn (!) who was invited by Dasaratha to conduct Puthra kaameshti yaaga for begetting children.

The story of this sage as given in Valmiki Ramayana tallies with the behavior of a Unicorn!


This sage was raised in a forest hermitage with no exposure to women and urban people. He had lived on nature's food only and was intensely engaged in tapas and vedic knowledge. He was rough, rude and lacked knowledge of manners etc. But his dharmic knowledge and caliber was such that his entity into a city reeling under draught, could bring bountiful rain fall! Romapada, the king of Anga desa wanted his presence in his country facing water crisis, and he employed the method of capturing Unicorns to bring this sage to his city. Beautiful damsels were sent to lure him. And when he followed them to the city, to be received by the king, his anger at being duped was offset by offering the beautiful daughter of Romapada to him as wife.

In this episode, the question is whether he really had a horn, as his name suggests.

Rishya shringa, means the rishi with shringa.

Shringa means horn.

We find the name 'Maha shringa' as a name of Vishnu in Vishnu sahasranama (verse 57)

as having a huge horn!

Vishnu has had horns in two of his 10 incarnations

one as Matsya and another as Varaha.

In Adhi Shankara's interpretation of this naama,

it denotes matsya avatara

where the Lord towed the boat tied to His big horn with Satyavrata in it and

sported Himself in the pralaya waters.

Maha shringa also demotes Lord Varaha who lifted the earth from the waters (pralaya) with His horn.

The talk of Shringa does not end these two avatars.

Even Sri Rama was praised by Brahmaadi devatas as

Varaha the "Eka shringa" (one-horned) who lifted Bhoodevi.

(Valimiki Ramayana, Yuddha khanda 117- 14)

In many places in sankrit texts, there is qualified mention of Varaha as

"Eka shringo Varaha:"

From Skanda puranam we learn that Varaha had 2 shringas –

described as huge tooth-like protrusions.

With one he lifted up the landmass and with another he lifted mountains.

This terrified the devas who pacified him with prayers and praises.

Accepting their prayers, Varaha discarded his second tooth and

from thenceforth became Eka shringa.

Here we don't find any resemblance to unicorn behavior,

though it may be argued that with Bhoodevi,

a beautiful maiden with him now, he was cooled down.

But the comparison with unicorn ends here and

any further facet of Varaha in the image of Unicorn is wholly symbolic

of Sanatana dharma which was carried on in the image of unicorn

by the post vedic society.

Shringa also means 'peak' and the sages who were shining in brilliance

were seen to be glowing with an aura above their head.

This perhaps could be the rationale for Rishya shringa's name.

The sages were not known to have tolerated the slightest mis demeanor –

hence the rude behavior.

And the sages were known for a sudden weakness for women -

perhaps due to their extreme seclusion from thoughts on women

and pleasures from them.

The parallel for this behavior is found in devas and in Devendra,

who have exhibited a weakness for the fairer sex.

This is ingrained in them as known from the meaning of 'da' (giving)

described in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad. (5-2.1to3) (1)

It is because extreme obsession with something is threatened by the same thing.

The devas and sages are extremely obsessed with controlling their senses.

In a sudden spurt of weakness,

they fall prey to the sense that they have striven to control.

Rig Veda on Vrishakapi!

In this context too, I don't find Varaha falling in line with unicorn

or the likes of Rishya shringa.

For this I take inputs from the Rig vedic hymn on Vrisha kapi,

the one –horned Varaha (10-86)

Dr Frawley finds the meaning of Vrisha as Vrishabha, the bull or the male factor

and Kapi as the horn.

I differ from this explanation.

Kapi is about the colour, the tawny colour of Varaha which is associated with him.

Vrisha is the male of any animal and not just about the bull.

The Lord describes himself as Vrishakapi at 2 places in Shanthi parva

and not at one place as Dr Frawley has quoted.

Krishna describes his various names to Arjuna and says this name -

The tawny colored Varaha is the highest Dharma,

therefore Kashyapa called me Vrisha kapi.

It is interesting to note here that Kashyapa was the grand father of Rishya shringa!

(Is Kashyapa going around giving titles with specific obsession with Shringa?!)

The many names that Krishna says here are about how each of his name is associated with a specific trait or feat of him.

The world was under water once.

He reached (avindam) the earth called 'Go'.

Therefore he is known as Govindan.


In this context, the next feat to follow is permeating the whole earth.

So the next name he says is about how he has permeated.

He is 'Shipivishta'.

Here he recalls Yaska who is known for the best Nirukta

written to interpret the vedic terminologies.

This is a crucial name because the interpretation is something unique

of the kind of Yaska nirukktam.

He has permeated the earth like the rays of the sun as how

the rays enter all the pores of the body (of hair roots)

This is here I differ from Dr Frawley as the description given by Acharyas

to the same name 'Shipivishta' of Vishnu sahasranama (verse 29) is different.

Dr Frawley has given the same translation which I find in my old book

with Tamil translation.

"71. "Shipivishta is the name of he who has no hair. By that I enter into whatever there is and am known as Shipivishta."

72. "The great rishi Yaska lauded me as such in many sacrifices. For this reason I came to bear this secret name."

73. "Lauding me as Shipivishta, Yaska the Rishi of high mind, from my grace, received the lost Nirukta"

The translation I have says in the foot note that hairlessness means –

'no figure' - 'no-roopam'.

He as one without a body, has entered all beings.

But this will open a different frame of arguments and counter arguments

with reference to God without body or with a body .

Whereas Sri Bhattar's explanation for this name in Vishnu sahasranama,

quoting the same Yaska gives a more convincing explanation.

He says,

Sipayah - raSmayah, tAn sampravishTah - vyAptavAn iti SipivishTah.

He quotes Yaska from nirukata to support this –

Sipayo raSmayah ucyante, taih AvishTah

(It must be noted the next name in Vishnu sahasranama goes along with Shipivishta.

It is "Prakaashana:" the glowing one.)

The Shanthi parva verse and a similar verse from Udhyoga parva

Are interpreted as the rays of the Sun permeating everything.

Therefore he is Shipivishta!

Another interpretation for this word in AmarakoSa is given like this –

Sipishu paSushu janeshu vishTo vyApta iti SipivishTah –

One who has pervaded all animals and humans is SipivishTah.

The pervasion or permeation happens like the rays of the sun

which resemble tawny colour (kapila) of the hair on the body of Varaha!

This kind of an explanation is deep and detailed,

making Krishna to recall Yaska – the genius in interpretations,

who worshiped the Lord as Shipivishta in all homas!

Mention of 'Homa' brings the rationale of calling Varaha as "Yajna varaha".

One rationale can be that Varaha signified yajna, as Krishna has indicated in Gita

about the continuous Yajna being done from Creation onwards.

The recovery of Bhoomi is the staring point and

from then onwards creation is sustained by continuous yajna.

This is initiated by the Lord Himself, since the first act he did after lifting up bhoomi

is to start Pitru tarpaN – a yajna for ancestors!

In the continuing chapters in Shanthi parva,

the Lord describes again how he as Varaha lifted up the earth.

At the time the noon neared and he had to offer noon-oblations.

But 3 lumps of earth were sticking to his horn which he shook off.

They settled in the South which he designated as the 3 levels of pithrus

and did the first pithru tarpan in the earth's history.

Varaha in such a mode of sustaining Dharma is known as Vrishakapi,

says He in that chapter.

The fight between Senses and Dharma!

A recurrent narration of Varaha as Dharma embodiment (Vrishakapi)

seems to have the rationale for why the Unicorn had found a place in Vedic civilization!

Vrisha in Vrisha kapi is Vrishbha –

but not as Dr Frawley thinks linking it to male factor!

Such a description of male factor can be debated from

the Jyothisha point of view of Taurus, the Bull.

Whereas the Rig Vedic hymn on Indra and Vrishakapi seems to tell

a story of fight between Indriyas (senses)

denoted by Indra and Dharma as personified by Vrishakapi. (2)

In Vedic hymns and in Vaastu padas,

the lord of the east is Indra and west is Vrishabha.

They are always opposed to each other in Jyothishic point of view also.

They are like opposite poles, attracting and repelling each other.

The balance must be maintained between them.

When Indra wins, it is a defeat for Dharma or Vrishabha.

The hymn is a glorification of Indra as how he only (sensory perceptions) wins

on most occasions.

But if one drinks Soma (means Moon, the power of mind and intellect),

he will win over Indra.

In the opening verse Vrishakapi is said to have drunk Soma full.

That means He is full of Dharmic sense.

He is like a beast troubling people who want to be controlled by Indra.

The following verse from this hymn in Rig veda,

seems to indicate the victory of Vrishakapi.

But in a mystic tone to delude the people,

it is said that the beast of Vrishakapi has slain a wild animal –

it is slain because it has come out of the grip of Indra (senses)

Who this slain one- a noble one or not – is left to the wisdom of the onlooker / reader.

But the so-called slain one is wise and has drunk Soma.

But the world goes Indra way. Hail Indra!


"18 O Indra this Vrsakapi hath found a slain wild animal, Dresser, and new-made pan, and knife, and wagon with a load of wood. Supreme is Indra over all. 19 Distinguishing the Dasa and the Arya, viewing all, I go. I look upon the wise, and drink the simple votary's Soma juice. Supreme is Indra over all."


Vrishakapi as permeator of all beings, keeps off Indra from the one who has realized

His presence in him!

This is a core Sanatanic principle!

Such a feat of Vrishakapi is comparable to Him as Varaha

who lifted up the earth from deluge, from darkness of Ignorance.

A Sanatanic practice is to remember such feats in the objects related

to the same rationale.

The different forms of different gods is due to this rationale.

So whenever the Unicorn is thought of,

the need to adhere to Dharma is remembered.

And vice versa.

Dharma is tough like the unicorn's temper.

Dharma is attracted to Bhoo devi, the earth (earthlings)

as how the unicorn is attracted to a maiden.

Dharma protects the one who is protective towards it,

like how the unicorn is protective of the maiden who gives a place for it in her lap.

It is Vrisha – as opposed to Indriya-attractions.

The war is always on between the two.

Vrisha does not excel in Taurus as per astrology.

Venus, the lord of Taurus exalts in Meena (matsyavatara)

in the house of the upright Jupier.

And Venus, the female factor has given its other house, its Moola trikona,

namely Libra to Saturn, to exalt!

Saturn holds the Balance and stands for Justice.

Where he exalts, the king deflates.

It is in Libra where Saturn exalts, the Sun debilitates!

No king or powerful authority can shake Dharma.

No power in the world can shake Dharma

who is firmly posited in the house

in front of the Bull!

Again another pointer from astrology.

The Varaha or Vrishakapi or Unicorn symbolizes the play of God

who is Dharma personified, to Earth.

Sage Parashara in his Brihad Parashara Hora sastra describes the association

of avatars to planets.

It is significant to note that the two serpent planets are associated

with the 2 Eka shringa.

Rahu is associated with Varaha

and Ketu with Matsya!

Rahu is associated with earth –

any offence to earth results in Rahu dosha.

The first rule to be adhered to before starting digging for foundation,

is to see if Rahu is offended on that particular day / month, in that particular time.

A house started with an offence to Rahu will not give peaceful life.

Varaha signifying Rahu, is the protector on earth.

Whereas Matsya, the other eka-shringi, is a protector on water.

The eka shringi is like an amulet that protects one both on land and in water.

Besides this, it is a constant remainder to follow dharma.

No wonder this would have been part of Santana thought for ages

and was followed in the Saraswad civilization.

Now a question comes, if Varaha as an Unicorn is an important symbol,

why it did not continue with our continuing civilization.

The answer can be traced to the slokas / verses on Varaha,

particularly the Varaha Charama sloka which was ruling the Sanatanic world

for ages in antiquity.

Details of the sloka from Varaha puranam can be read here:-


Varaha vs Krishna

The world of a Sanatanist is like this – pre - Krishna and post-krishna.

The Varaha mantra was the ruling sloka for salvation in pre-Krishna period,

which was replaced by the Krishna charama sloka from Gita

(sarva dharmaan parithyajya,.. BG 18 -66)

in the post- Krishna period and is continuing even today.

In Varaha- salvation manthra, the Lord Varaha will remember one at his hour of death - even though the person will be incapable of remembering him then.

There is no conditional clause here.

The qualities expected are belief in god as root cause,

as one who commands from within,

as the all pervasive, Ultimate who is near us all the time

and as one who alone is to be worshiped –

these qualities of bhakthi will do.

But with the onset of Kali, when only one fourth of dharma can be practiced,

there is no use telling people to be 100% Dharmic.

The prescription for this scenario is given by Krishna to just give up everything,

and dedicate to Lord even the bad act to be done.

The Lord will take such a person out of the cycle of rebirth

and lift him up to Parama padam.

Post Krishna, Varaha charama sloka gradually lost its place,

only to be replaced by Krishna charama sloka.

The Saraswad people, in my opinion were in the transition period,

a time when Krishna cult had not completely taken over the masses.

As Kali advanced further with adharma spreading its tentacles,

Krishna dharma of giving up the fruits of all dharmas

had come to occupy the centre stage of all Sanatanic preachings

Related post:-



Foot notes:-

(1) Taking up the root of the word 'daanam',

it is explained in Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad. (5-2.1to3)

The root word is 'da'

The 3 sons of Prajapathi, (devas, manushyas / humans and asuras)

on completion of their Brahmacharya-hood

approaches Prajapathi asking for a piece of advice from him.

To the Devas, he said, 'da' as his advice.

They understood it as "daamyathethi"

It means 'control of the senses'.

Since devas are known for lack of control over indriyas / senses,

they understood 'da' as control of the senses.

By controlling their senses

the devas can prosper.

To the humans, Prajapathi said, 'da'.

Since humans have a weakness in greediness,

they understood it as 'dattha' (give )

Dattha is root word of daanam.

By giving daanam, the humans can prosper.

To the asuras, Prajapathi said, 'da'.

Since asuras have an irresistible tendency to harm others,

they understood it as 'dayathvam' – merciful.

By being kind to others, the asuras can prosper.

Here the 3 sons are personification of human beings only,

with three dominant traits, says Adi shankara in his commentary.

(2) HYMN LXXXVI. Indra. ( Rig veda chapter 10)

1. MEN have abstained from pouring juice they count not Indra as a God.

Where at the votary's store my friend Vrsakapi hath drunk his fill. Supreme is Indra over all.

2 Thou, Indra, heedless passest by the ill Vrsakapi hath wrought;

Yet nowhere else thou findest place wherein to drink the Soma juice. Supreme is Indra over all.

3 What hath he done to injure thee, this tawny beast Vrsakapi,

With whom thou art so angry now? What is the votary's foodful store? Supreme is Indra over all.

4 Soon may the hound who hunts the boar seize him and bite him in the car,

O Indra, that Vrsakapi whom thou protectest as a friend, Supreme is Indra over all.

5 Kapi hath marred the beauteous things, all deftly wrought, that were my joy.

In pieces will I rend his head; the sinner's portion sball be woo. Supreme is Indra over all.

6 No Dame hath ampler charms than 1, or greater wealth of love's delights.

None with more ardour offers all her beauty to her lord's embrace. Supreme is Indra over all.

7 Mother whose love is quickly wibn, I say what verily will be.

My,breast, O Mother, and my head and both my hips seem quivering. Supreme is Indra over all.

8 Dame with the lovely hands and arms, with broad hair-plaits add ample hips,

Why, O thou Hero's wife, art thou angry with our Vrsakapi? Supreme is Indra over all.

9 This noxious creature looks on me as one bereft of hero's love,

Yet Heroes for my sons have I, the Maruts' Friend and Indra's Queen. Supreme is Indra over all.

10 From olden time the matron goes to feast and general sacrifice.

Mother of Heroes, Indra's Queen, the rite's ordainer is extolled. Supreme is Indra over all.

11 So have I heard Indrani called most fortunate among these Dames,

For never shall her Consort die in future time through length of days. Supreme is Indra overall.

12 Never, Indralni, have I joyed without my friend Vrsakapi,

Whose welcome offering here, made pure with water, goeth to the Gods. Supreme is Indra over all.

13 Wealthy Vrsakapayi, blest with sons and consorts of thy sons,

Indra will eat thy bulls, thy dear oblation that effecteth much. Supreme is Indra over all.

14 Fifteen in number, then, for me a score of bullocks they prepare,

And I devour the fat thereof: they fill my belly full with food. Supreme is Indra over all.

15 Like as a bull with pointed horn, loud bellowing amid the herds,

Sweet to thine heart, O Indra, is the brew which she who tends thee pours. Supreme is Indra over all.

18 O Indra this Vrsakapi hath found a slain wild animal,

Dresser, and new-made pan, and knife, and wagon with a load of wood. Supreme is Indra over all.

19 Distinguishing the Dasa and the Arya, viewing all, I go.

I look upon the wise, and drink the simple votary's Soma juice. Supreme is Indra over all.

20 The desert plains and steep descents, how many leagues in length they spread!

Go to the nearest houses, go unto thine home, Vrsakapi. Supreme is Indra over all.

21 Turn thee again Vrsakapi: we twain will bring thee happiness.

Thou goest homeward on thy way along this path which leads to sleep. Supreme is Indra over all.

22 When, Indra and Vrsakapi, ye travelled upward to your home,

Where was that noisome beast, to whom went it, the beast that troubles man? Supreme is Indra over all.

23 Daughter of Manu, Parsu bare a score of children at a birth.

Her portion verily was bliss although her burthen caused her grief.

No comments: