Lord Hayagriva represents the restorer archetype who restores wisdom from the clutches of ignorance.
Aarkesh is a BTech and MTech Dual Degree holder in the field of Mechanical Engineering. He loves to travel, engage with new people and read up on subjects such as history, physics and maths. He is enthusiast about the depth of Indic knowledge systems and has a special interest in Indian Architecture and Philosophy
“Om Nyananandamayam Devam Nirmala Spadikridam
Aadharam Sarva Vidhyanam Hayagriva Upasmahe”
This sloka, in the Shri Hayagriva Stotram composed by Shri Vedanata Desigar, is used by school children across South India** before going to exam halls. It translates to:
“We meditate upon that Supreme One, who has the neck and face of a horse and who is the embodiment of Jn~AnA (divine Knowledge) and AnandhA (Bliss). He has a ThirumEni (body) like a radiant, blemishless Spatikam (Crystal) and is the abode of all VidhyAs (branches of Learning).”
Lord Hayagriva the horse-faced Avatar of Lord Vishnu is considered to be the protector of the Vedas. Hayagriva literally translates to the horse-faced one. There are multiple stories in Vedas, Upanishads, and the Itihasa Puranas about the origin of this Avatar of Vishnu . In this article, I shall try to explore these stories, and also give an insight into my multiple visits to Shri Varadharajaswamy Temple in Chettipunyam, also known as the Yoga Hayagriva Swamy Temple.
Introduction to Shri Hayagriva Swamy
It was a chance visit with my extended family to the Yoga Hayagriva Swamy Temple that led me to know about the name, and powers of Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy. Back then, I was in the ninth standard and while I was considered an intelligent student, yet I never performed to potential. At this time, I needed to anchor myself in someone more powerful. And Shri Yoga Hayagrivar was the perfect anchor upon whom I could build academic success. After all, it was He who had retrieved the Vedas and allowed Bhagwan Brahma to proceed with the process of creation.
[Entrance to Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy Temple] 
As the Puranic (Santi Parva of the Mahabharata) legend goes, two Asuras - Madu and Kaithaba (representing the qualities of Rajas and Tamas respectively) - had stolen the Vedas from Bhagwan Brahma hindering the process of creation. Hayagriva went to the netherworlds and defeated the Asuras restoring the Vedas to Bhagwan Brahma.
[Shri Hayagriva restoring the Vedas to Shri Brahma] 
This story is significant at multiple levels, but I would like to explain it by sharing a small anecdote. I was and still am a huge fan of Tamasic food, the consumption of which doesn’t go well with academic pursuits. The visit to the Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy temple persuaded me to give up eating onions till the time I would finish my schooling. This decision wasn’t made with the knowledge that Tamasic food was harmful to academic pursuits, but was rather a tyaga I wanted to make in the name of the Supreme to help me study better. Thus, without even me realizing, Shri Hayagriva had helped me defeat my Kaithaba (Tamas) leading me towards the path of academic success.
My story is a microcosm of what Shri Hayagriva helps His Bhaktas achieve when they have true faith in him. He is the personification of the Sattva one needs to imbibe to be able to master academic pursuits. His Spatika (Quartz) like Transparent White Color signifies Sattvic Gunas. He being an Avatara of Lord Vishnu, the preserver of Dharma in the universe, represents the Gunas needed to preserve Vidya (knowledge) from various causes of Avidya.
Yoga Hayagriva in the Devi Bhagvata
Shri Hayagriva has multiple forms and each form has a different backstory. The form of Yoga Hayagriva has a backstory in the Devi Bhagvata. This story is very close to the Yajurvedic version events . The story goes as follows –
Makha-Vishnu*, the Lord to whom all Vedic sacrifices are given, went into a state of deep meditation. The Devas wanted to perform a sacrifice and needed Makha-Vishnu to preside over the sacrifice. In their attempts to wake the meditating Makha-Vishnu, they asked a few termites to eat away the end of a loaded bow that Makha-Vishnu held in his hand (or was sitting on in an alternate version). The breaking of the bow caused a terrible sound that caused the earth to shake, and Makha-Vishnu’s head to fly off his trunk. The terrified Gods were then consoled by Devi. She said that there was a curse that caused the sequence of events and that the Gods should ask Vishwakarman (or the Ashwini Kumars in another version, Skanda Purana ) to replace the head of Makha-Vishnu with that of a horse. This would help Makha-Vishnu defeat the Asura, also named Hayagriva, who had been granted a boon by Devi whereby he could only be defeated by someone with a horse’s head. The needful was done and the Asura who was terrorizing the Devas was defeated.
It was in this meditative state that Makha-Vishnu is said to have restored the Vedic knowledge to the world. A version (Skandapurana) of the above story states that the head used to replace Makha-Vishnu’s head was that of a horse belonging to Surya. Surya being the harbinger of light, his horses are considered to be the light rays that enlighten everyone’s life both on a physical and an Adhyatmic (spiritual) level. Hence, the horse face signifies the enlightenment.
Also, this story has another message regarding Vidya. Tyaga is essential to gaining knowledge and meditation is to be performed to reach the highest states of consciousness that house the highest forms of Vidya. Vishnu, as Yoga Hayagriva, has achieved this state and is thus the perfect anchor for anyone seeking knowledge. An important point to be noted here is the difference in the iconography, and representation of Shri Hayagriva, and Mata Sarasvati. Shri Hayagriva represents the knowledge of the Vedas (more specifically the Aranykas, and deeper meanings) and the stoic, meditative nature*** required to master these subjects, as opposed to the flowing nature of the Kalas and other Vidyas taught to us by Mata Sarasvati. Mata Sarasvati and Shri Hayagriva thus represent the different attributes one needs to master the different aspects of Vidya.
Hayagriva as the first Avatar of Vishnu
In the Matsya Purana, the demon who steals the Vedas from a sleeping Brahma is named Hayagriva. It was around the time of the Pralaya just before the starting of the Satyuga and Bhagwan Vishnu incarnated as Matsya to help Manu preserve the aspects (Rishis, cattle, herbs etc.) key to starting a new civilization. Further details on this aspect of the story can be found in the Matsya Purana or the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata.
A part of the story also says that Bhagwan Vishnu defeated Hayagriva to retrieve the Vedas. Trying to understand this story in the backdrop of the above story makes it clear that Hayagriva was one of the first Avataras of Bhagwan Vishnu, with the Matsya Avatar occurring just before, just after or at the same time***** as the first appearance of the Hayagriva Avatar. This further makes it clear that the founding stone of our civilization is Vidya (knowledge), and the eternal preserver of the Universe restored the knowledge before the start of the current cycle of the four Yugas******.
About the Temple
As mentioned above, the Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy Temple is located in the village of Chetttipunyam near Chengalpattu on the outskirts of Chennai. It is a small temple with a 400-year-old history with Shri Varadharaja Perumal with consorts Sri Devi, and Bhooma Devo, as the presiding deities. Shri Devanatha Perumal and Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy are the urchava moorthys****. The moorthys of Shri Devanatha Perumal, his consorts, and Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy were brought to the temple in 1868, from Tiruvandipuram (near Cuddalore) .
The other deities in the temple are Hemambuja Nayaki (a form of Gajalakshmi), Andal, the Alwars and Garuda in the main sannadhi. The Temple also houses a Shri Ram shrine with Mata Sita, Lakshman, and Anjaneyar.
There is a tradition to light ghee lamps for Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy, with a prescribed number of lamps being lit by devotees with different objectives in mind. The tradition of lighting lamps with the intent of fulfilling material needs may feel very mundane, but it has a deeper spiritual meaning. You are keeping your desires in front of God who represents your true inner Self, promising him that you shall burn like a lamp to achieve the said goals. In this process, you are purifying yourself and going towards Moksha, by virtue of your actions and goals being anchored in God (who is the personification of your true, pure, inner Self).
Another beautiful aspect about the Temple is that of people bringing pens, admit cards, and other exam related items to get the blessings of ShriYoga Hayagriva Swamy. I have written many an exam with these pens. This might look to be superstitious but conversely, it represents the confidence that you give yourself by anchoring your acts in Shri Yoga Hayagriva, the manifestation of your true Self.
The temple also has a tree, where all devotees tie threads from the clothes they are wearing to signify the anchoring of their soul in the Shri Yoga Hayagriva Swamy. It also signifies the Tyaga you are willing to make to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
A favourite pass time of mine at the temple is feeding the Cow and her calf with Tulsi or Keera leaves. The joy you get from feeding an animal so divine and so gentle is something to behold.
Vadiraja and Hayagriva
Shri Vadirajatirtha, of the Udupi Krishna Mutt, was a 16th Century Saint considered fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to have multiple Darshanas of Shri Hayagriva in his horse form. On the day of Hayagriva Jayanti, in the Avani month, (falling on the 26th of August 2018, this year) he used to offer cooked horse Gram (Kollu) while reciting the following Sloka –
Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi MangaLam
Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi Paavanam
Na HayagrivAth Param Asthi Dhaivatham
Na Hayagrivam Pranipathya Seedhathi!
There is no auspiciousness greater than Hayagrivan. Nothing is more sacred than Sri Hayagrivan to destroy our accumulated sins. No other God is superior to Hayagrivan. No one grieves after performing Śaraṇagati at the sacred feet of Hayagrivan.
Hayagriva used to appear in horse form and eat the offerings kept by Vadiraja on his head. This also happens to be the first thing I ever cooked. Admittedly it is not something that I could continue doing, but Shri Hayagriva also taught me another important skill in my life.
Om Hayagrivay Namah
Om Sam Sarasvatiyaey Namah
Om Namah Shivaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
 https://www.sadagopan.org/pdfuploads/Hayagriva%20Stotram.pdf – Swamy Desikan’s Shri Hayagriva Stotram, Annotated Commentary in English By: Oppiliappan Koil SrI VaradAchAri SaThakopan
 HAYAGRIVA THE HORSE-HEADED DEITY IN INDIAN CULTURE, BY Prof. D. SRIDHARA BABU
 Image Source – Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayagriva)
* Makha translates to Sacrifice and Vishnu translates to One who is everywhere. Makha Vishnu thus means the Omnipotent one to who all sacrifice is offered. The deeper meaning of this is that all Sacrifices we do for the preservation of all things must be offered to Makha Vishu. The Sloka –
Kaayen Vacha Mansendriyevaah,Buddhyatmnava prakrute swabhavat |
Karomi Yad Yat Sakalam Parasmai,Narayana Iti Samarpayami
conveys the same meaning. This Shloka isn’t used only by Vaishnavites and thus shows that the concept of Vishnu being the preserver, Brahma the creator and Shiva the Destroyer of evil is beyond all sects in Hinduism.
** I haven’t found Hayagriva worship to be prominent in the North Indian states and hence the comment. Some research I did led me to know that there is a Hayagriva Temple in Assam but I am not aware of the extent of Hayagriva’s association with school children at the place.
*** The word Veda means that which flows. So I am not saying that the Vedas are stoic and the Kalas are not. The meaning that I am trying to convey is that Vedas need to be anchored in a much calmer, motionless self which creates a breeding ground for the qualities that nurture the much more free flowing Kalas.
**** Urchava Moorthy – It is the moorthy that is taken out of the temple on procession days.
***** Two Avatars of Bhagwan Vishnu being at the same time is neither unprecedented nor illogical. Parashurama is considered as an Amar Avatar of Vishnu and has been and shall be helping all other subsequent Avatars of Bhagwan Vishnu.
****** According to various texts like the Uttapati Prakaran of Yog Vashista the cycle of Yugas has been and will be unending and most of the Avataras and personalities will incarnate in each Yuga in either the same or slightly different forms.