The Symbolic Meaning of Mitra-Varuna in Hindu Mythology

Several weeks ago, I published an article that presented evidence the ancient Sanskrit writers of India understood consciousness and the psychology of humans, thousands of years before Sigmund Freud established his id-ego-superego thesis of psychoanalysis.

Varuna is Jung's shadow self

In the legends of Mitra-Varuna, we find even more evidence that mankind understood the sub-conscious mind thousands of years Before Christ. The Mitra-Varuna connection in the Rig Veda explains Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow self.

Just as we find in ancient mythology, Jung’s model of the human psyche includes archetypes, two of which he defined as persona, the physical aspect of our nature that relates to the external world, and anima, our spiritual nature that relates to the internal world.

Jung also recognised that ignorance of the shadow self can cause destruction in man. The shadow is the dark passenger that evokes feelings of jealousy, anger and revenge. These negative energies are then projected back on to us in the form of negative manifestations.

In his writings, Jung warns of the dangers the shadow presents; “it is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism.”

The wise sages of old were also aware of the destructive qualities that reside deep within our subconscious. One of the mechanisms they used to demonstrate this was through the esoteric symbolism in the stories of Varuna and Mitra.

What does Mitra represent in Hindu mythology?

In ancient symbolism, the character of Mitra was used to represent the morning star. He is a solar deity, one of the 12 Adityas mentioned in the Rig Vedas and the deva that presides over day. He is known as Lord of Light and grants wealth (of knowledge).

Mitra is also associated with harmony and the integrity of truth that keep relationships strong. Hindus invoke this god when signing a business contract. He is also the god of friendship together with other important aspects that are required to maintain a peaceful life.

In Hindu mythology, Mitra and Varuna are sometimes regarded as twins or as an androgynous entity. Whilst Varuna is seen as the monarchy, Mitra is the priesthood and is responsible for balancing day and night, good and evil.

When you apply the character of Mitra in Hindu myth to Jung’s model of the human psyche, it becomes clear that the ancient writers were explaining the persona of conscious awareness, that in good people, bring good tidings.

Varuna on the other hand is the shadow self and can either be destructive or rewarding.

What does Varuna represent in Hindu mythology?

There are two aspects to Varuna is ancient symbolism. As an Aditya, he was elevated from an Asura who are part god-part demon. But solar deities are also noted as “Sovereigns of the Cosmos” and can be both terrible and magical.

Like Mitra, Varuna is an “omnipresent” and “omniscient” god which reflects they are an element of human consciousness and not rooted to the mind. The shadow self is part of our sub-conscious that we are not always aware of. As Jung pointed out:

“if an inferiority is conscious, one has the chance to correct it…if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

Varuna is chief of the Adityas and represented the ‘dark side of the sun’ thus presided over sunset and the coming of the night. It is said that the moon moved by his will alone. The moon represents emotions and the mysterious aspect of our consciousness when we know there is something else, but not sure what that something is.

Varuna lives in the kingdom of Sukha which represents happiness and is said to “extend the air above the trees; he has put strength in horses, milk in cows, willpower in hearts, fire in waters, the sun in the heaven and soma upon the mountain.”

The shadow self is a sub-conscious reflection of the True Self


Although Varuna represents our shadow self where the base consciousness of our animal instincts resides, tapping into this aspect of our character can bring happiness. We call it fun, letting off steam; getting sloshed. In Hindu art, Varuna is pictured with a snake that he uses as a noose to capture miscreants. Snakes are a symbol of wisdom.

Our dark passenger is not a piece of our consciousness we should dismiss lightly like religions teach. Rather we should embrace it as it helps us discover negative aspects of our selves and morality which we can use to positively improve ourselves as people.

Providing we can control the beast through the dharma of Mitra and bring good and bad into balance, there is no harm practicing the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues.

Even our dark passenger is with us to help us expand our conscious knowing. After all, it is consciousness and consciousness wants to evolve.

If we limit ourselves to only following the light, how can we experience the rich and vast existence that we have been presented with on earth? Varuna grants wealth to the divine as well whilst protecting cattle – cattle representing our animal instincts.

Mitra-Varuna and morality

The twins, Mitra and Varuna teach us lessons of morality. Sometimes we have to understand our dark side and be consciously aware of the evil that resides in us in order to take control of it.

In the earlier legends of Hindu mythology, this connection with morality saw Mitra-Varuna as an extremely powerful god, arguably the most important although there were more popular gods such as Indra and Agni that are mentioned much more often.

But Mitra-Varuna were considered as the moral laws of the Universe that guard justice and truth. Varuna is described as having thousands of eyes (the stars) and is the god that hands out punishment when judging humans on the merits of their actions (dharma).

The role of Mitra-Varuna was later taken on by the sons of Surya, Yama the god of death that represents Karma, and his twin sister, Shani or Yami who represents dharma, the practice of living a righteous life, a likeness we find reflected in Mitra.

In religions, sin is recognized as a violation of the pure mind, and Varuna helps us to shatter the illusion our minds are programmed with as we grow up. The culture of sex and violence in TV, mainstream films and many other sources merely serve to provoke the desires of our dark passenger.

But as Lord of Light, Mitra-Varuna is that part of our consciousness that can identify the error of our ways when we take things too far. The Truth delivers us from bondage. It does not mean that we are bad, we are experiencing dimensions of our conscious reality.

The shadow self in other ancient cultures

When I was researching my first book, “What Modern Man Can Learn From Ancient Civilisations,” I noticed the ancient Maya had an obsession with Venus.

When it comes to the Maya civilisations, scholars have only gotten as far as pushing the astronomy connection and at the time, I missed the connection Meso-american cultures used astronomy in myths as analogies of human consciousness.

In the legends of the Sun God, Quetzalcoatl and his dark twin, Xolotl, we find the brothers referred to as the morning star and the evening star. In the myths of the ancient Maya, the stars’ reference Venus which can be seen at certain times of year in the morning sky and the evening sky.

Xolotl ruled over Venus in the evening, thus representing the shadow nature of our psyche, whilst Quetzalcoatl, known as the “precious twin” resided over the “light” of day when we see things more clearly. In other words, we are consciously aware.

Writers in ancient Rome used details of astronomy in myth as well as we find in the Goddess Venus. Primarily known as the goddess of love, she also has a jealous and devilish side that she uses to punish mortals and other gods. This reveals her dual nature.

The twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome also reflect the persona and anima of our consciousness. As we find in the mythology of other cultures, Romulus and Remus have a disagreement which results in the good brother killing the evil brother.

The Roman twins Romulus and Remus are the same as Mitra and Varuna in hindu myth

In Persian mythology, there is the righteous Gilgamesh and his wild brother Enkidu, whilst the Zoroastrian legends talk of Ahura Mazda, the creator of light, truth and goodness, battling with his twin enemy, Ahriman, the spirit of darkness, lies and evil.

There are many ancient myths that use twins as symbolism to reflect the dual sides of our character. The good twin usually overcomes the evil twin. Even the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible’s book of Genesis, tells this same story.

Cain and Abel are the first creations of Adam and Eve, creations in this sense meaning thoughts which are born from higher consciousness and lower consciousness. Genesis tells us that Abel minds the flocks so is associated with animals – lower consciousness –  whilst Cain tills the soil, putting in hard work to produce the harvest.

Yet the Lord (you) favours the offerings of Abel (fun), which caused Cain to be jealous. So he kills his brother, but is then cursed. By killing Abel, Cain destroys his shadow self from which he can learn to become a better human being.

When Jung wrote about the shadow self, he said the way to recognize your dark passenger is to see the reflection of your hidden soul in the minds and actions of others. Shadows project themselves onto light surfaces, and as beings of light, we see our shadow self in others.




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