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Varuna, the God of Waters
The Ruling Deity of Shatabhishaj Nakshatra

Dr K S Charak

Shatabhishaj in Astrology

Physical attributes: A hundred stars; disposed in circular fashion.

Order in the zodiac: Twenty-fourth.

Ruling deity: Varuna (god of Waters).

Planetary lord: Rahu.

Extent in the Zodiac: Kumbha (Aquarius) 6°40' to 20°00'.

Navamsha signs: Dhanu (Sagittarius), Makara (Capricorn), Kumbha (Aquarius) and Meena (Pisces).

Category: Chara (‘chala’; movable).

Prescribed deeds: Entry into a new house, shaving, medication, riding, travel, shopping, house building, sculpting, ornaments, coronation, flag hoisting.

Significations: A hunter who uses a net, a fisherman, all materials that originate in water, one who lives by the (sale of) watery creatures, one who tends pigs, a washerman, seller of liquor, a killer of birds.

Characteristics of the Shatabhishaj born: Harsh, vicious, inconstant, truthful, not easily conquered, courageous, of independent nature, a conqueror of his enemies.

Lord Varuna was the son of sage Kashyapa from his wife Aditi. He is one of the twelve gods labelled as Adityas because of their origin from Aditi, the mother of gods.

Early in the cycle of manifestation, in the earliest Krita-yuga, all the gods together went to Varuna and said to him:

“May you accept the lordship of all waters on the earth and protect us, even as our king Indra protects us all. May you ever dwell in the ocean, the refuge of the aquatic creatures. The great ocean, the husband to all the rivers and streams, would thus remain subservient to you. You would swell and shrink along with the Moon.”

Varuna accepted the lordship of the waters. With appropriate ceremonies, the gods installed him as the king of waters. Thus lord Varuna took under his protection all rivers, streams, lakes, oceans and other reservoirs of water. Varuna also happens to be the lord of the western direction.

Varuna Curses Kashyapa

Events on earth have their inception in the celestial plane. Lord Vishnu incarnated as lord Krishna who, in order to uphold the principles of Dharma, helped the Pandavas to destroy the evil Kauravas. Lord Krishna was the son of Vasudeva and Devaki who were none other than the incarnated sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi, the god-mother. Here goes the story.

Sage Kashyapa once prepared to perform a great sacrifice. All arrangements were complete but he could not procure a suitable cow for the Yajna. So he stole a cow, Homadhenu, from the cattle-shed of Varuna. Aditi and Surasaa, his two wives, concealed the cow in the Ashrama as the sage started performing the Yajna.

When Varuna came to know of the theft of his heavenly cow, he went to sage Kashyapa and demanded his cow. However, Kashyapa was not inclined to return it. Varuna was annoyed and cursed Kashyapa, his own father, thus:

“May you be born as a human being on the earth and tend the cows, you who have stolen my lovely cow. Both your wives would be born there too. The calves of my cow are in distress without their mother. As a consequence, Aditi would suffer confinement as well as loss of her children.”

Varuna went to lord Brahma and said to him, “Lord! What should I do? My cow has been stolen by sage Kashyapa who refuses to return her despite my entreaties. So I have pronounced a curse upon him.”

Lord Brahma summoned sage Kashyapa and addressed him thus:

“Noble sage, why don’t you return the cow of Varuna? You are wise and learned. There is nothing that is not known to you. How could you stoop to this lowly act? You have succumbed to greed which is a certain path to hell. Greed, the greatest enemy of man, robs a man of his piety. Greed has led you, O’ sage, to this fallen state.”

Saying thus, lord Brahma too cursed sage Kashyapa: “Be born, through a fraction of your being, as an earthling along with your two wives, and serve there as a cowherd.”

Sage Kashyapa incarnated on the earth, through a fraction of his celestial existence, as Vasudeva. His wives Aditi and Surasaa were born as Devaki and Rohini, respectively the mothers of Krishna and Balarama.

Help to Krishna and Arjuna

Agni, the Fire-god, made seven unsuccessful attempts to burn the Khandava forest but was unsuccessful. Indra, the king of gods, would foil all attempts of Agni-deva to destroy the forest. But, for Agni-deva, it was a matter of life and death. He had to burn the forest and derive nourishment from the plant and animal life that the huge forest supported. Lord Brahma advised Agni-deva to seek the help of lord Krishna and Arjuna to achieve his mission.

At that time, the Pandavas ruled over the newly constructed capital of Indraprastha. This was a somewhat jejune region which the Pandavas received from their uncle, the blind king Dhritarashtra, as a share of the kingdom which was once ruled by Pandu, their father. The Khandava forest was adjacent to Indraprastha and lord Krishna and Arjuna were taking rest close to the forest when Agni-deva approached them in the guise of a resplendent Brahmin. Said he to them:

“I am a Brahmin given to gluttony. I am capable of eating unlimited food, O’ valorous Krishna and Arjuna. I ask of you to provide me enough food to at least once allay my hunger and grant me satiety.”

Hearing him, lord Krishna and Arjuna asked the Brahmin, “Pray tell us what food you desire, O’ Brahmin. Both of us would try to procure that for you.”

When the Brahmin succeeded in extracting the promise from them, he disclosed his identity. “I am not seeking normal food for human consumption,” he said to them. “You must provide me food that is appropriate for me. Lord Indra protects this Khandava forest because his friend, the serpent king Takshaka, dwells in here along with his family members. Whenever I attempt to burn this forest, Indra sends his army of clouds that cause rain and obstruct me in my venture. The two of you must protect me against the wishes of Indra when I am busy consuming the vegetation and the animal population of this rich forest.”

The promise given to the Brahmin had to be honoured even if it involved a confrontation with Indra, the king of gods. However, all necessary precautions would have to be taken if one desired to succeed. So Arjuna said to Agni-deva :

“Lord! I have several godly weapons by which I can confront several Indras simultaneously. However, I do not have a suitable bow, appropriate to the strength of my arms, which can withstand my agility in battle. Nor do I possess a quiver to hold an incessant supply of arrows for me, for I shoot at a formidable pace. Nor even do I have a strong enough chariot which can carry the load of arrows that I need in battle. I am in dire need of a strong chariot and powerful horses that move with the pace of the Wind-god. Lord Krishna too does not have a weapon at hand to be able to meet in battle the formidable creatures that inhabit this jungle. If you want us to neutralise the wrath of Indra, O’ Brahmin, pray do help us to procure these means for success.”

Agni-deva thought for a while. Then he meditated upon lord Varuna, the son of Aditi and the lord as well as the inhabitant of water. Varuna soon appeared before Agni and sought the reason for his invitation. Agni-deva asked Varuna to help him with all that Arjuna had asked for. Varuna was only too pleased to oblige.

Lord Varuna had been given a celestial bow and two quivers with unceasing supply of arrows by Soma, the Moon-god. This bow, the Gandiva, was matchless in that it was unbreakable and endowed with supernatural sturdiness. This bow had been designed by lord Brahma. Varuna also gave a resplendent chariot that had been designed by the heavenly architect Vishwakarma as a result of prolonged penance. The white steeds that drove it matched the speed of the Wind-god. It was provided with all that was essential in battle. The flag on the top of the chariot carried a ferocious monkey that appeared to be able to destroy hordes of enemies. Other creatures of varying ferocity appeared to dwell in that flag. In much earlier times, the Moon-god had used this chariot to overcome the demons. Agni-deva gave a Chakra to lord Krishna for use during the inevitable combat that lay in the offing.

When Arjuna and Krishna were well equipped, the Fire-god started burning the forest from all directions. Both the warriors stopped the escape of creatures from the forest even as the fire raged and destroyed all that came its way. Millions of birds, animals and plants lost their life and satisfied the hunger of Agni-deva. Arjuna with his arrows did not allow even birds to fly out to safety.

Seeing this, lord Indra arrived with his army of clouds and poured streamlets of water from the sky. At this, the brave Arjuna released streams of arrows to create a shield around the huge forest. This prevented escape of creatures as well as protection against rain and thunder. Much as Indra tried, his armies of clouds and thunder could not protect the Khandava forest, which was reduced to ashes by the fury of the Fire-god. Indra recognised the invincibility of the Krishna-Arjuna combination. It was this very bow, the Gandiva, and chariot of Arjuna that helped him later to strike terror in the forces of the Kauravas during the Mahabharata war.

Years later, the Pandavas handed over their kingdom to their grandson Prikshit and undertook their final journey. On their way they met Agni-deva who addressed them thus, “It was for your sake that I borrowed the famous Gandiva and the ever full quivers from Varuna. You must return these to their rightful owner, the lord of the Waters.”

Even while Pandavas had forsaken everything, including their kingdom, Arjuna still had some attachment to his beloved weapons, and was carrying them. On confronting Agni-deva, Arjuna offered the bow and the twin quivers to the ocean, to finally return these to lord Varuna.

Varuna Humbled

Bhadra, the daughter of Soma, the Moon-god, was known for her matchless beauty. She deserved a suitable husband. After due consideration Soma thought that only sage Utathya, widely renowned for his spiritual merit, could be a deserving husband for his lovely daughter. Bhadra too accepted the match. In due course, sage Atri, the father of the Moon-god, invited sage Utathya and gave his grand daughter to him in marriage.

Unknown to others, lord Varuna was already fascinated by Bhadra’s charm and had desired to possess her. Seeing that she had been given in marriage to sage Utathya, lord Varuna was upset. One day, when Bhadra had gone for a bath in the river Yamuna, lord Varuna abducted her and took her to his magnificient abode in the middle of the ocean. He enjoyed with her in his celestial palace for a long time. It was sage Narada who conveyed to sage Utathya that the latter’s wife had been held captive by lord Varuna.

Utathya said to sage Narada, “O’ sage! Pray go to Varuna and tell him to return my wife to me. He is supposed to protect the earthlings, not destroy them. Lord Soma gave his daughter to me in marriage. How can he justify her abduction?”

Narada went to the god of Waters and urged him to release the wife of sage Utathya, but Varuna said, “She is my most loving wife. I cannot give her up.”

Narada returned to Utathya empty-handed. “He would not return your wife to you,” said Narada. “Please, therefore, do whatever you consider appropriate.”

Sage Utathya was infuriated. He gathered all his spiritual merit, immobilised all the bodies of water, and started drinking water out of them. As reservoirs of water got emptied one after the other, the well-wishers of lord Varuna requested him to release the wife of the sage. But Varuna was so infatuated of Bhadra that he could not give her up.

Seeing the obstinacy of lord Varuna, sage Utathya drank the ocean dry and the whole earth became arid. Lord Varuna, the ruler of the Waters, had no escape now. He came to sage Utathya, returned Bhadra to the sage, and sought his forgiveness.

The sage was magnanimous. He forgave lord Varuna and relieved him, as well as the rest of the world, of the suffering by restoring the bodies of water to their original state.