Today is the appearance day of Śrī Varāhadeva. I’ve heard that He did it twice, though, during reigns of two different Manus, so it’s unclear whose birthday it is exactly.
In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, in the Third Canto, there’s only one incarnation but in Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Laghu-Bhāgavatāmṛta it is explained the Maitreya in his conversation with Vidura combined the two.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam still makes total sense, though. At the end of the 12th Chapter (SB 3.12) Maitreya described the appearance of Svāyambhuva Manu and his wife, Śatarūpā. At the beginning of the 13th chapter this Svāyambhuva Manu begs Lord Brahmā to rescue the Earth fallen to the bottom of the ocean and it appears it was his very first task so there shouldn’t have been any demons around to kill. That’s the reason given for two Varāha incarnations. The 12th chapter, however, specifically mentions that Svāyambhuva Manu gave away his daughter Prasūti to Dakṣa, who, in turn, was the father of Diti who gave birth to Hiraṇyākṣa, and killing this same Hiraṇyāksa (addressed as daitya, son of Diti) is mentioned as the first thing Lord Varāha did (SB 3.13.31).
In the purport Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī (not Rūpa Gosvāmī) as the one who suggested there were two Varāha incarnations, and to Śrīla Viśvaṇatha Cakravartī as the one who suggested that Maitreya combined the two incarnations into one narrative.
One thing is clear – there’s a lack of clarity here. Rūpa Gosvāmī used several sources for his Laghu Bhāgavatāmṛta so his explanation should be accepted as authoritative. There’s no scope for even the slightest doubt that he somehow found a fault in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and hurried to correct it. Personally, I take shelter in the possibility that all quoted scriptures and ācāryas are correct at the same time.
It looks like Dakṣa appears in every Manvantara and demons appear in every Manvantara, too, and so should Lord Varāha, which is a līlā incarnation who comes to fight with them again and again. It is also possible that sometimes He just wants to rescue the Earth. At the end of each Manu there’s universal devastation and the Earth gets inundated so the next Manu needs to lift it back up. Sometimes the waters of inundation might recede on their own but sometimes it might not work.
In SB 3.13.17 Lord Brahmā keeps wondering why the Earth was submerged in water and that’s when Lord Varāha appeared from his nostril. In this chapter of the Bhāgavatam it’s all about saving the Earth while slaying of Hiraṇyākṣa mentioned only once. It gets full coverage only five chapters later, as if it was a separate story.
We can also note that Hiraṇyākṣa could have been killed by the Lord in His human form while boar form was particularly suitable for digging up the Earth.
The reason for saving the Earth while battling the demon is also different – it wasn’t a post-inundation problem, it was the result of Hiraṇyākṣa extracting too much gold from the planet which made it lose its balance and dunk into the ocean.
Perhaps both pastimes, rescuing the Earth and killing Hiraṇyākṣa, are equally important. Perhaps sometimes the Lord does only one of them while on other occasions He does both. With fourteen Manvantaras in a day of Brahmā the Lord has a lot of time to try every combination.
What’s important is that He does not get bored and performs His pastimes again and again with great pleasure. We, otoh, tend to lose interest in hearing the same story over and over, and it’s not a very exciting one either.
Boar digging up the Earth is not a life changing, earth-shattering experience. You can be surprised at the suitability of using boar form for this task only once, after that it gets repetitive, but not for the Lord. He likes coming out small and then growing bigger than the sky, completely blowing away all the spectators. He likes diving into the ocean and searching for the Earth.
Boars search for their food by their sense of smell so it’s only appropriate that Lord Varāha sniffed around to find the Earth. Smell, as it happens, is the property of the earth element just as taste is the property of water. If you want to find earth, you need to smell for it.
Of course one could say that perfume smells, too, but we should not confuse Vedic elements like earth and water with soil and liquid we see in our everyday life. We should try to understand it from the other end. Fire is the element that gives form, not something very hot that turns things into ashes. We perceive fire with our eyes, it’s what makes things visible, so we should seek relation to mundane fire starting from this definition and not try to trace it from dictionaries back to Vedas.
Anyway, the Lord liked it. He also liked slapping the demon around. This is where our perception is also deceptive. We haven’t seen this fight, we don’t usually try to even imagine it, only take it on faith that it was awesome. Everyone who saw it said so. Our position, however, is unfortunate. We know all the story, we know background of every character, we know the end, we know the philosophy behind it, we know who was who in their previous incarnation – we know everything but the tiny little detail – the fight itself, which Lord Varāha enjoyed the most. He didn’t come here to read genealogy, He didn’t come here to start discussion on whether Jaya and Vijaya fell from Vaikuṇṭha or it wasn’t a falldown. He came to enjoy the battle, the only thing we can’t really perceive.
Another difficulty we face is how to properly depict the boar incarnation. Boars are not beautiful. Pigs can be pink and cute but not boars. When devotees working on our paintings got to the Lord Varāha they asked for Śrīla Prabhupāda’s advice. He said to draw Him as beautiful as possible, and even draw Him with hands instead of hooves. I don’t think they succeeded, by material standards, of course.
In Indian art there are two solutions there. One is to draw boar’s head onto Viṣṇu’s body, and the other is to try and draw a boar as beautiful on its own. Neither works, really. Why? Because no one has ever seen Lord Varāha, it’s all our own imagination, and sadly, not a very good one.
One could look for boar drawings as computer game characters. I suppose there should be quite a few games featuring boars. Those won’t be drawn as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, of course, but they would convey raw power of this animal. Boars are ferocious and very very strong. In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam it’s mentioned that Lord Varāha’s tusks were fearful, too. If the artist could convey these features in their absolute he would be successful in depicting Lord Varāha even if he didn’t know he was drawing Him. It’s the same principle as with water and fire I mentioned above – Lord Varāha is defined by having fearsome tusks, all other aspects really being only secondary.
Just had a look, btw, and found not video games but mythological boars, one is “Beast of Dean” and another is Greek “Erymanthian Boar”. Google for pictures to see what I mean. It is possible to draw a very respectable looking boar.
Of course drawing by the devotees would always be better because they convey devotion. If we want to know what the Lord looks like in real life we shouldn’t rely on pictures anyway but hope for actual realization.