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Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 925 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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VARUNA, in early Hindu mythology, the greatest, with Indra, of the gods of the Rig Veda. He is invoked with his double Mitra in some dozen hymns. As contrasted with Indra the war god, Varuna is the lord of the natural laws, the up-holder of the physical and moral order of the universe. His power is limitless, his anger at wrong-doing unassuageable, and he is omniscient. He makes the sunshine; the wind is his breath; river valleys are hollowed out at his command. Unlike Indra, Varuna has no myths related of him. In the later Vedic period he is specially connected with the nocturnal heavens. Ultimately in post-Vedic mythology he becomes the Hindu Neptune. The earlier conception of Varuna is singularly similar to that of Ahuramazda, of the Avesta. The name Varuna may be Indo-European, identifiable, some believe, with the Greek ovpavos (Uranus), and ultimately referable to a root var, "to cover," Varuna thus meaning "the Encompasser." Among Varuna's aliases are Jalapati, " Lord of Water," and and Berbera in Somaliland; he then (early in 1 504 ?) ran across to the Indian port of Diu in Gujarat, afterwards famous as a Portuguese fortress. From Diu he sailed up the Gulf of Cambay to Gogo, and thence turning back towards the Persian Gulf made Julfar (just within the entrance of the gulf), Muscat and Ormuz. From Ormuz he seems to have journeyed across Persia to Herat, returning thence south-west to Shiraz, where he entered into partnership with a Persian merchant, who accompanied him during nearly all his travels in South Asia. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach Samarkand, the two returned to Shiraz, came down to Ormuz, and took ship for India. From the mouth of the Indus Varthema coasted down the whole west coast of India, touching at Cambay and Chard; at Goa, whence he made an excursion inland to Bijapur; at Cannanore, from which he again struck into the interior to visit Vijayanagar on the Tungabudra; and at Calicut (1505?), where he stops to describe the society, manners and customs of Malabar, as well as the topography and trade of the city, the court and government of its sovereign (the Zamorin), its justice, religion, navigation and military organization. No-where do Varthema's accuracy and observing power show themselves more strikingly. Passing on by the " backwater of Cochin," and calling at Kulam (Quilon), he rounded Cape Comorin, and passed over to Ceylon (1506?). Though his stay here was brief (at Colombo?), he learnt a good deal about the island, from which he sailed to Pulicat, slightly north of Madras, then subject to Vijayanagar. Thence he crossed over to Tenasserim in the Malay Peninsula, to Banghella, perhaps near Chittagong, at the head of the Bay of Bengal, and to Pegu, in the company of his Persian friend and of two Chinese Christians (Nestorian?) whom he met at Banghella. After some successful trading with the king of Pegu, Varthema and his party sailed on to Malacca, crossed over to Pider (Pedir) in Sumatra, and thence proceeded to Bandan (Banda) and Monoch (one of the Moluccas), the farthest eastward points reached by the Italian traveller. From the Moluccas he returned westward, touched at Borneo, and there chartered a vessel for Java, the " largest of islands," as his Christian companions reckoned it. He notes the use of compass and chart by the native captain on the transit from Bornei to Giava, and preserves a curious, more than half-mythical, reference to supposed Far Southern lands. From Java he crossed over to Malacca, where he and his Persian ally parted from the Chinese Christians; from Malacca he returned to the Coromandel coast, and from Negapatam (?) in Coromandel he voyaged back, round Cape Comorin, to Kulam and Calicut. Varthema was now anxious to resume Christianity and return to Europe; after some time he succeeded in deserting to the Portuguese garrison at Cannanore (early in 15o6?). He fought for the Portuguese in various engagements, and was knighted by the viceroy Francisco d'Almeida, the navigator Tristan da Cunha being his " sponsor." For a year and a half he acted as Portuguese factor at Cochin, and on the 6th of December 1507 (?) he finally left India for Europe by the Cape route. Sailing from Cannanore, Varthema apparently struck Africa about Malindi, and (probably) coasting by Mombasa and Kilwa arrived at Mozambique, where he notices the Portuguese fortress then building, and describes with his usual accuracy the negroes of the mainland. Beyond the Cape of Good Hope he encountered furious storms, but arrived safely in Lisbon after sighting St Helena and Ascension, and touching at the Azores. In Portugal the king received him cordially, kept him some days at court " to learn about India," and confirmed the knighthood conferred by d'Almeida. His narrative finally brings him to Rome, where he takes leave of the reader. As Richard Burton says (Pilgrimage to . . . -Meccah, 1855, vol. ii. p. 352): "For correctness of observation and readiness of wit " Varthema " stands in the foremost rank of the old Oriental travellers." In Arabia and in the Indian archipelago east of Java he is (for Europe and Christendom) a real discoverer. Even where passing over ground traversed by earlier European explorers, his keen intelligence frequently adds valuable original notes on peoples, manners, customs, laws, religions, products, trade, methods of war, &c. Amburaja, " King of Water." See A. A. Macdonell, Vedic Mythology (Strassburg, 1897).
End of Article: VARUNA

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