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God of Wisdom[1]
Painting of Hayagriva, Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
Other namesHayashirsha
Sanskrit transliterationHayagrīva
Mantrajñānānandamayaṃ devaṃ nirmala sphaṭikākṛtim / ādhāraṃ sarva viddyānāṃ hayagrīvaṃ upāsmahe //
WeaponSudarshana Chakra Panchajanya

Hayagriva (Sanskrit: हयग्रीव IAST hayagrīva, lit.'horse-necked one') is a Hindu deity, the horse-headed avatar of Vishnu. The purpose of this incarnation was to slay a danava also named Hayagriva (A descendant of Kashyapa and Danu), who had the neck of a horse and the body of a human.[2]


Hayagriva in Khajuraho Lakshamana Temple

Hayagriva is an avatara of the god Vishnu.[3] He is worshipped as the god of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Symbolically, the story represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of Divinity, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.[4]

Vedanta Desika's dhyāna-śloka (meditative verse) on Hayagriva typifies this deity's depiction in Hindu iconography:

He has four hands, with one in the mode of bestowing knowledge; another holds books of wisdom, and the other two hold the Conch and Discus. His beauty, like fresh cut crystal, is an auspicious brilliance that never decays. May this Lord of speech who showers such cooling rays of grace on me be forever manifest in my heart![5]

In several other sources he is a white horse who pulls the sun into the sky every morning. In others such as the great epic Taraka-battle where the demigods are fallen on and attacked by the Danava's [demons], Vishnu appears as a great ferocious warrior called Hayagriva when he comes to their aid. It says: "Hayagriva appears in his chariot, drawn by 1,000 powerful steeds, crushing the enemies of the gods beneath him!"[This quote needs a citation] There are many other references to Hayagriva throughout the Mahabharata.

It is said that Vishnu comes from battle as a conqueror in the magnificent mystic form of the great and terrible Hayagriva:

The great Hayagriva having been praised in this way by the different saints and ascetics, assumes a great white horses head. The verda’s [mantras] made up his shape, his body built of all the great demigods; in the middle of his head was Shiva, in his heart was Brahmā; the rays of sun (Marichi) were his mane, the sun and moon his eyes; the Vasus and Sadhyas were his legs, in all his bones were the demigods. Agni [Ka-ten; god of fire] was his tongue, the goddess Satya his speech, while his knees were formed by the Maruts and Varuna. Having assumed this form, an awesome wonder to behold to the demigods, he vanquished the asura, and cast them down, with eyes that were red with anger.[This quote needs a citation]

Invariably, Hayagriva is depicted seated, most often with his right hand either blessing the supplicant or in the vyākhyā mudrā pose of teaching. The right hand also usually holds a akṣa-mālā (rosary), indicating his identification with meditative knowledge. His left holds a book, indicating his role as a teacher. His face is always serene and peaceful, if not smiling. Unlike his Buddhist counterpart, there is no hint of a fearsome side in the Hindu description of this deity.

Hayagriva is sometimes worshiped in a solitary pose of meditation, as in Thiruvanthipuram Devanathasvami Temple. This form is known as Yoga-Hayagriva. However, he is most commonly worshipped along with his consort Lakshmi and is known as Lakshmi-Hayagriva. Hayagriva in this form is the presiding deity of Mysuru's Parakala Matha, a significant Sri Vaishnavism monastic institution.[6]


According to legend, during the period of creation, two demons Madhu and kaitabha stole the Vedas from Brahma, and Vishnu assumed the Hayagriva form to recover them. Yet another legend has it that during the creation, Vishnu compiled the Vedas in the Hayagriva form.

Hayagriva is listed as one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu in canto 10, chapter 40 of the Bhagavata Purana. In the text, Akrura's prayer contains Hayagriva's name when he had a vision while bathing in the Yamuna.[7]

The Mahabharata also features the legend of Hayagriva:[citation needed]

Having compassed the destruction of the two Asuras and restored the Vedas to Brahma, the Supreme Being dispelled the grief of Brahma. Aided then by Hari and assisted by the Vedas, Brahma created all the worlds with their mobile and immobile creatures. After this, Hari, granting unto the Grandsire intelligence of the foremost order relating to the Creation, disappeared there and then for going to the place he had come from. It was thus that Narayana, having assumed the form equipped with the horse-head, slew the two Danavas Madhu and Kaitabha (and disappeared from the sight of Brahma).

— Mahabharata, Book 12, Chapter 348


Origins about the worship of Hayagriva have been researched, some of the early evidences dates back to 2,000 BCE,[8] when people worshipped the horse for its speed, strength, intelligence.[9] Hayagriva is one of the prominent deities in Vaikhanasas, Sri Vaishnavism, and the Dvaita Vedanta traditions. His blessings are sought when beginning study of both sacred and secular subjects. Special worship is conducted on the day of the full moon in August (Shravana-Paurnami) (the day of his incarnation) and on Mahanavami, the ninth day of the Navaratri festival.

A verse originally from the Pancaratra Agama, but is now popularly prefixed to the Hayagriva Stotram of the 13th-century poet-philosopher Vedanta Desika is popular among devotees of Hayagriva:

jñānānandamayaṃ devaṃ nirmalasphaṭikākṛtiṃ
ādhāraṃ sarvavidyānāṃ hayagrīvaṃ upāsmahe

Acoording to legend, a Dvaita philosopher named Vadirajatirtha is regarded to have offer cooked horse gram (kollu) to Hayagriva, and the deity is regarded to have appeared to consume his offerings.[10] Vadirajatirtha would recite the following shloka:

naḥ hayagrīvat paraṃ aṣṭi maṅgalam
naḥ hayagrīvat paraṃ aṣṭi pāvanam
naḥ hayagrīvat paraṃ aṣṭi daivatam
naḥ hayagrīvam praṇipatya siddhati

Hayagriva is also amongst the deities present at the Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam.


Hayagreevar Temple, adjacent to Koodal Azhagar Temple


Tamil Nadu

Most of the major Vishnu temples in Tamil Nadu have a separate shrine for Lord Hayagriva.[citation needed]


Sri Lakshmi Hayagriva Temple in Pondicherry
Sri Lakshmi Hayagriva Temple in Sri Ramakrishna Nagar, Muthialpet, Pondicherry


Lakshmi Hayagreeva Vigraha at Parakala Mutt
Seen in center is Lakshmi Hayagreeva Vigraha at Parakala Mutt

Andhra Pradesh


Influence on other cultures

In the 2015 documentary series, The Creatures of Philippine Mythology, the spread of Hinduism and the imagery of Hayagriva is tracked through Southeast Asia. It is speculated that Hayagriva influenced the present imagery of the horse-headed Philippine mythological spirit, the Tikbalang.[11]

An extinct genus of basal neornithischian dinosaur known from Mongolia has been named Haya griva. This name refers to the elongate horse-like skull of Haya and the appearance of this deity in the Buddhist art of Mongolia.[12]

Demon Hayagriva

The demon Hayagriva was a son of Kashyapa and Danu. He became the first ruler of the Danavas. In Hindu texts, it is stated that when Vishnu had created the Vedas and given them to Brahma, Shiva had decided to wipe out all of humanity except for Manu and his wife, as the rest of humanity was too corrupt to obtain the Vedas. When Hayagariva learnt that humans would be greater than the Danavas, he set out to stop the humans from obtaining the Vedas. Hayagriva visited the Satyaloka when Brahma was absent, and turned into a horse to get the attention of the Vedas (who were in the form of 4 children). He asked them why Brahma has brought them to his realm rather than taking them to humanity. After hearing their tale, Hayagriva laughed and deceived them regarding the intentions of Brahma, stating that the deity wished to keep them for himself. The Vedas were then subsequently imprisoned by the demon. Soon, Vishnu assumed his Matsya avatar and instructed Manu the manner by which he should survive the oncoming flood that Shiva would shortly send to vanquish all evil. Vishnu then slew Hayagriva in his Matsya form and freed the Vedas to bequeath them to Manu after the passage of the flood.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ Ninan, M. M. (23 June 2008). The Development of Hinduism. Madathil Mammen Ninan. ISBN 9781438228204.
  2. ^ "The Hare Krsnas - Battles of Vishnu Avatars - Ajnana / Hayagriva". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  3. ^ Swami Parmeshwaranand (1 January 2001). Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas. Sarup & Sons. pp. 632–. ISBN 978-81-7625-226-3. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  4. ^ Santhanam, Kanakavalli (9 January 2020). "Hayagriva – The Bestower of Knowledge". Fundamatics. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  5. ^ "Vedanta Desika's Hayagriva Stotram (". Retrieved 11 January 2023.
  6. ^ "Lakshmi Hayagrivar Temple : Lakshmi Hayagrivar Temple Details | Lakshmi Hayagrivar - Muthialpettai | Tamilnadu Temple | லட்சுமி ஹயக்ரீவர்". Dinamalar. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  7. ^ "Srimad Bhagavatam: Canto 10 - Chapter 40". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  8. ^ T. Volker (1950). The Animal in Far Eastern Art: And Especially in the Art of the Japanese Netzsuke, with References to Chinese Origins, Traditions, Legends, and Art. BRILL. p. 102.
  9. ^ Mārg̲, Volume 43. p. 77.Originally from = University of Michigan
  10. ^ Śrī Vadiraja's lifehistory
  11. ^ Clark, Jordan "Tikbalang: The Horse Demon" Episode 01, Creatures Of Philippine Mythology (2015)
  12. ^ Makovicky, Peter J.; Kilbourne, Brandon M.; Sadleir, Rudyard W.; Norell, Mark A. (9 May 2011). "A new basal ornithopod (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 31 (3): 626–640. Bibcode:2011JVPal..31..626M. doi:10.1080/02724634.2011.557114. ISSN 0272-4634. S2CID 86257644.
  13. ^ corvusfugit (13 August 2017). "2.2 mya: Matsya and the Asura Hayagriva". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  14. ^ "Who was Hayagriva, why did he steal the four Vedas and how did Lord Vishnu eliminate him?". 21 May 2020. Retrieved 15 November 2021.