Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, , at sacred-texts.com
There is the same conflicting account of this as of the two preceding incarnations; the older books, and some of the more modern ones, describing it as an Avatāra of Brahmā; and some of the modern books and popular belief regarding it as the work of Vishnu. There is, however, this distinction, that in the former, the transformation of the deity into a boar has apparently a purely cosmical character," the earth being immersed in the ocean. Brahmā, the Creator, in the shape of a boar, raised it on his tusk; "whereas, in the latter, it altogether represents the extrication of the world from a deluge of iniquity by the rites of religion." *
The first mention of this incarnation is in the "Taittiriya Sanhitā," † and is as follows: "The universe was formerly water, fluid. On it Prajāpati (Brahmā) becoming wind, moved. Becoming a boar, he took it up." In harmony with this is a verse in the "Taittiriya Brāhmana":—"This universe was formerly water, fluid. With that (water) Prajāpati practised arduous devotions
[paragraph continues] (saying), 'How shall this universe be (developed)?' He beheld a lotus leaf standing. He thought, 'There is something on which this rests.' He as a boar—having assumed that form—plunged beneath towards it. He found the earth down below. Breaking off (a portion of) her, he rose to the surface." In the "Satapatha Brāhmana" * there is a similar reference, but there the boar is called "Emusha." Formerly the earth was only of the size of a span. A boar called Emusha raised her up.
Dr. Muir † gives two accounts of this incarnation from two recensions of the Rāmāyana. In one, which he considers the older, it is said that Brahmā assumed the form of a boar; in the other, Vishnu in the form of Brahmā is said to have accomplished this work. The alteration of the text is very noticeable. "All was water only, in which the earth was formed. Thence arose Brahmā, the self-existent, with the deities. He then becoming a boar, raised up the earth, and created the whole world with the saints his sons." So far the probably older recension. In the later one we read, "All was water only, through which the earth was formed. Thence arose Brahmā, the self-existent, the imperishable Vishnu. He then, becoming a boar, raised up this earth and created the whole world."
In the following account from the "Vishnu Purāna" ‡ it will be noticed that, as in the last quotation from the Rāmāyana, it was Vishnu in the form of Brahmā who became a boar. As the earlier writers had declared this to have been Brahmā's work, it was necessary to identify Vishnu with him.
"Tell me how at the commencement of the present age, Nārāyana, who is named Brahmā, created all existing
things. At the close of the last age, the divine Brahmā endowed with the quality of goodness, awoke from his night of sleep, and beheld the universal void. He, the supreme Nārāyana, . . . invested with the form of Brahmā, . . . concluding that within the waters lay the earth, and being desirous to raise it up, created another form for that purpose. And as in the preceding ages he had assumed the shape of a fish, or a tortoise, so in this he took the form of a boar. Having adopted a form composed of the sacrifices of the Vedas for the preservation of the whole earth, the eternal, supreme, and universal soul plunged into the ocean." In a note on this passage in the "Vishnu Purāna," by Professor Wilson, it is stated that, according to the "Vāyu Purāna," the form of a boar was chosen because it is an animal delighting in water; but in other Purānas, as in the Vishnu, it is said to be a type of the ritual of the Vedas, for which reason the elevation of the earth on the tusks of a boar is regarded as an allegorical representation of the extrication of the world from a deluge of sin, by the rites of religion.
The earth, bowing with devout adoration, addressed the boar, as he approached, in a hymn of great beauty, in which she reminds him that she sprang from him, and is dependent on him, as in fact are all things. Being thus praised, "the auspicious supporter of the world emitted a low murmuring sound, like the chanting of the Sama-Veda; and the mighty boar, whose eyes were like the lotus, whose body was vast as the Nila mountains, and of the dark colour of the lotus leaves, uplifted upon his ample tusks the earth from its lowest regions. As he reared up his head, the waters that rushed from his brow purified the great sages, Sanandana and others residing in the sphere of the saints. Through
the indentations made by his hoofs, the waters rushed into the lower worlds with a thundering noise. Before his breath, the pious denizens of Janaloka (abode of men) were scattered, and the Munis sought for shelter amongst the bristles upon the body of the boar, trembling as he rose up supporting the earth, and dripping with moisture. Then the great sages Sanandana and the rest, residing continually in the sphere of the saints, were inspired with delight, and bowing lowly, they praised the stern-eyed upholder of the earth."
Before noticing the hymn of these saints, in which the boar is identified with the various parts of worship, we can gather a little more information from the other Purānas respecting the dimensions, etc., of this animal. The Vāyu says, "The boar was ten yojanas * in breadth, and a thousand yojanas in height; his colour was like a dark cloud, and his roar like thunder. His bulk was vast as a mountain; his tusks were white, sharp, and fearful; fire flashed from his eyes like lightning, and he was radiant as the sun. His shoulders were round, fat, and large; he strode along like a powerful lion; his haunches were fat, his loins slender, and his body smooth and beautiful." With this the Matsya agrees. The Bhāgavata describes the boar "as issuing from the nostrils of Brahmā; at first of the size of a thumb, and presently increasing to the size of an elephant." This Purāna adds a legend of the slaying of Hiranyāksha, who, in a former birth, was a doorkeeper of Vishnu's palace. He having refused admission to a number of Munis, so enraged them, that they cursed him; in consequence of this he was re-born as a son of Diti. When the earth sunk in the waters, Vishnu was seen by this
demon in the act of raising it. Hiranyāksha claimed the earth, and defying Vishnu, they fought, and the demon was slain.
Now follow the hymns to the Varāha as sung by the saints: "Triumph, lord of lords, supreme! Kesava, sovereign of the earth . . . cause of production, destruction and existence. Thou art, O god! there is none other supreme condition than thou. Thou, lord, art the person of the sacrifice; thy feet are the Vedas; thy tusks are the stake to which the victim is bound; thy teeth are the offerings; thy mouth is the altar; thy tongue is the fire; and the hairs of thy body are the sacrificial grass. Thy eyes, O omnipotent! are day and night; thy head is the seat of all—the place of Brahmā; thy name is all the hymns of the Vedas; thy nostrils are all oblations. O thou, whose snout is the ladle of oblation; whose deep voice is the chanting of the Sama-Veda; whose body is the hall of sacrifice; whose joints are the different ceremonies; and whose ears have the properties of both voluntary and obligatory rites; do thou, who art eternal, who art in size a mountain, be propitious . . . raise up this earth for the habitation of created beings!"
"The supreme being thus eulogized, upholding the earth, raised it quickly, and placed it on the summit of the ocean, where it floats like a mighty vessel, and, on account of its expansive surface, does not sink beneath the waters." This seems rather to contradict the common notion of the Hindus, that the earth rests upon the back ōf a tortoise; and that earthquakes are the result of the tortoise changing the foot on which he stands, when weary.
144:* Goldstücker, Chambers's Cyclopedia, s.v. "Vishnu."
144:† Muir, O. S. T., i. 52.
145:* Muir, O. S. T., iv. 33.
145:‡ Page 27 ff.
147:* A yojan is at least four miles and a half; some reckon it at nine miles.