The most celebrated incarnation in the Vaishnava cult of the
province is Krishna. In fact the Krishna legend formed an essential
element of Vaishnavism in Kamarupa. Hayagriva (Vishnu with horse head) is
the name of one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Under this name, he is
specially worshipped in Assam even to day in the Hayagriva Madhava temple
at Hajo. It is built on a hill
As regards the origin of this Avatara (incarnation) the 'Santiparva' section of the Mahabharata relates that at one time, while Vishnu was sleeping and Brahma was on the lotus, issued out of the navel of Vishnu, two demons Madhu and Kaitabha, who took away the Vedas from Brahma and went to Rasatala. Brahma, being much aggrieved at this, awoke Vishnu, and prayed for the recovery of the Vedas. Vishnu assumed the Hayagriva form, recovered the Vedas, and gave them to Brahma.
He then went to sleep in the northeast corner of the great sea in his Hayagriva form. The demons came to him and invited him to fight, in which they were killed. According to other accounts, it was the Asura Hayagriva who stole away the Vedas, which were subsequently recovered by Vishnu.
According To The Puranas
According to Matsya Purana, the Hayagriva Avtara of Vishnu preceded Matsya; when the worlds were burnt down, Vishnu in the form of a horse recompiled the four Vedas, Vedangas, etc. The Devi Bhagavata and the Skanda Purana in its Dharnmranya Khanda, however, allude to two different accounts on the origin of the Hayagriva form of Vishnu.
The Kalika Purana records that Vishnu in the form of Hayagriva killed the Fever-Demon, Jvarasura in the Manikuta hill and lived there for the benefit of men, gods and Asuras. Afflicted with fever and killing the Fever-Demon, Vishnu took an 'Agada' or recovery bath. It is called "Apunarbhava" because whosoever bathes here suffers no second birth.
The Legend Of The City Of Apunarbhava
As a free rendering has it, the city of Apunarbhava was beautified with blue, red and white palaces, defended by weapons and surrounded by moats. Day and night there was the uproar of festivities. It was full of temples, parks and lakes. Various kinds of lotuses were in the lakes where were seen sporting swans. The women of the city were very beautiful with large eyes; their necks adorned with diverse ornaments.
Their glow and the music of their anklets ever charmed the mind of the populace and in here dwelt Janardana Hayagriva. It is a place where one can get rid of re-births even if he enjoys all the denied things. There is another reference to the killing of a demon named Hayagriva near Visvanatha (also spelt as Vishvanatha); The Lord of the world ('Jagatpita') is said to have fought with Hayagriva and after having killed him migrated to Manikuta.
However, it is not clear whether the Lord of the world refers to Vishnu or Shiva. The context appears to point to Shiva as the 'killer of Hayagriva. The Harivamsa (the Vishnu Parva,) records that Sri Krishna after having killed 'Naraka', 'Nisunda' and Hayagriva went to 'Maniparvata' where Naraka kept confined the daughters of the 'Gandharvas' and Asura chiefs.
The Yogini Tantra gives an account of the origin of the Vishnu image in the Manikuta. King Indradyumna of Orissa dreamt at night that a big nameless tree would come floating by the seashore. He was to take an axe and cut it into seven pieces. In the morning, he did so and of the seven pieces, two were brought over to Kamarupa. With one piece the Hayagriva image was made and the other had the image of the Fish-god named 'Madhava'.
A Sacred Place Of Buddhists
The Manikuta is considered holy by the Buddhists of Tibet and even now Buddhists of the neighbouring Bhutan hills come down during the cold season and worship the god whom they regard as Mahamuni Buddha. Waddell mentions in his work on Lamaism that there is a tradition in Tibet that Buddha had his 'Parinirvana' in Kamarupa. But the Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra make several references to Manikuta.
Kalapahar, who also destroyed the temple of Kamakhya, destroyed the original temple of Hayagriva-Madhava. The present temple, according to an inscription in the temple itself, was rebuilt by King Raghudeva Narayana, son of Sukladhwaj, in Saka 1505 (1583 AD). When it was completed, it was consecrated by the sacrifice of numerous human victims. The king also endowed the temple with grants of land.
General Layout Of The Temple
The principle of general layout of the temple and its adjuncts is quite in keeping with other temples met (seen) elsewhere in Kamarupa. The temple is built on a small hillock and a flight of stone steps composed of slab(s) leads to the main grounds of the temple.
The temple is built in stone, octagonal in plan, about 30-feet in diameter and crowned with a pyramidal roof. It appears from the disarrangement of many of the mouldings and cornices, and awkward position of several bas-reliefs, that the upper portion of the temple has been reconstructed from the old (earlier) materials, without much precision of arrangement.
In its vertical elevation, the temple consists of three parts, the high basement, the middle portion of the temple and the Sikhara. As in many other temples, a row of Elephants or 'Gajathara' appears as a basement moulding. On a moulding of about 2-feet above the plinth, a row of caparisoned elephants in high relief encircle the building and appears to bear the full brunt of the edifice. The elephants, all tuskers, are facing outwards, each standing 16" in height, and are finely designed and executed showing only their tusks, trunks and front legs. The basement moulding is identical with the decorative style of the 'Kailasa' cave temple at Ellora.
The Garbhagriha is a crypt, 14 feet square, into which you descend by a flight of stone steps. It contains the image and its pedestal. The door case to this shrine, is formed of four blocks of granite, and is ten feet high by five feet wide: a lotus over the door - in the entrance of the lintel, is the only ornament. The door opens into an anteroom, also of stone, ten feet by ten feet, having niches of four feet square, stone screens, one on each side with apertures for the admission of light and air, cut in form of lotus flowers.
The Sikhara of this imposing Hayagriva temple has a pyramidal plane face, which continues right upto an apex point.
In the horizontal aspect of the temple, it has large vestibule measuring 40 feet by 20 feet built of brick and resting on massive brick pillars. This is a new addition to the original structure, perhaps constructed by Naranarayan, the Koc King in 1550 AD.
The Temple Figurines
The upper walls of the exterior of the temple contain life-size sculptured figures representing the ten Avataras with Buddha as the ninth. The rest of the figures are of a non-descript character, but they are mostly male, and nearly all figures carry a trident ('Trishul'). According to the Lamas, these figures were originally inside the temple, but were ejected by Buddha.
The temple derives its revenue from the land endowed to it by the kings. Artisans and others are supported out of the temple funds. The chief priest of the temple is called "Dalai". He is elected from among the local priests and holds office till his death. He resides in a large house situated at the foot of the hill, just below the temple. The temples of the Kamrup district could be conveniently seen by camping at Gawahati, which has all tourist facilities.