Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were both sons of the sage Kashyapa, born of his second wife, Diti. Strong and valiant from childhood, they grew to be extremely powerful, and as their power grew, so did their ego. Hiranyaksha’s thirst for invincibility led him to perform great penances to Brahma in search for immortality. However, even the creator couldn’t bless a mortal with immortality, so Hiranyaksha settled instead for immunity from all creatures – human, divine and animal. To make doubly sure that he would indeed be safe from all creatures, he enumerated each creature he thought of! Brahma had no choice but to agree, bound as he was by the power of the sacrifices and penances Hiranyaksha had performed.
His already bloated ego inflated further by the boons, Hiranyaksha proceeded to unleash a reign of terror over the three worlds. He captured the heavens and forced the Gods out, who fled in search of a safe haven. He captured the earth (Bhudevi – the goddess of the earth) and imprisoned her at the bottom of the ocean, in the netherworld. All over, there was a hue and cry over the atrocities perpetrated by Hiranyaksha.
The gods, as usual, when faced with trouble, rushed to Brahma, who told them about the boons bestowed on Hiranyaksha, which depressed them further. After a consultation with Shiva, they proceeded to Vishnu in search of a solution.
Lord Vishnu, reclining on Adishesha, the celestial serpent, welcomed the gods and asked them the reason for their arrival. As the gods laid out their tale of woe, Vishnu smiled and said that the solution to their troubles lay, as always, in the cause of the trouble.
As the gods stared, uncomprehending, Lord Vishnu explained further. He said that Hiranyaksha’s colossal ego had led him to commit the one mistake which would lead to his death – in enumerating every creature he wanted immunity from, he had included every creature he could think of – from the tiny ant to the huge elephant, from the timid deer to the ferocious lion. However, he forgot one animal – the wild boar, which was too common to even be noticed! And this was how he would meet his end!
The gods still seemed to be at sea, so right under their eyes, Vishnu turned into a huge wild boar – the Varaha! Even as the gods looked on, astonished, the boar cleaved the ground with his hoofs, and rushed off towards the sea. Diving deep into the ocean, reaching the netherworld, he picked up Bhudevi with his massive tusks, and carried her to the surface.
Meanwhile, the disturbance caused by Varaha made Hiranyaksha aware of the intruder, and he arrived, ready to do battle with whoever was threatening him. Vishnu paused just long enough to get the earth floating on the surface, before plunging once more into the ocean to do battle with the demon.
Varaha and Hiranyaksha fought and fought, for each was strong and blessed with divine powers. Hiranyaksha used every weapon at his disposal, but none would work against Varaha, for he was Lord Vishnu himself. He tried to use his brute strength, but that was of no avail against the immense strength of the Lord in his boar form. At last, Hiranyaksha’s strength began to flag, and Varaha ran through him with his huge tusks, and Hiranyaksha was no more!
There are temples dedicated to Varaha all over India. Besides, in many Vishnu temples, there are sculptures and carvings depicting him lifting Bhudevi from the bottom of the ocean in his boar form. The image above is from one of the caves at Badami, in Karnataka.