The story happens in each different Kalpa in a different way. Bhagavata, telling us the lore from the Saraswata Kalpa, tells us that Madhu & Kaitabha stole the Vedas, and Hayagreeva avatar had to retrieve them. However, Markandeya, telling us the lores from a Kalpa older than Rathantara Kalpa (perhaps older, perhaps newer, who knows!) does not refer to theft of the Vedas – but only that Madhu & Kaitabha tormented Brahma no to end, and Vishnu fought them in His own form – not in Hayagreeva avatar form.
Interesting is to observe the contrast between the 2 parts of the Bhagavata purana – Shreemad Bhagavatam and Devi Bhagavatam. While the storyline mentioned above is in Shreemad Bhagavatam, the Devi Bhagavatam counterpart narrates it as – Hayagreeva avatar was taken by Vishnu to destroy Hayagreeva asura, because of a special boon received by the asura. And this is the asura who had stolen the Vedas from Brahma. I had narrated this lore here earlier: https://twitter.com/_ichat/status/1310677045223895041?s=20
Stealing of Vedas, and retrieval by Vishnu is also repeated in the story of Matsya avatar, where it was Hiranyaksha who stole the Vedas. And sometimes, the same lore is attributed to asura Hayagreeva – but this time, defeated by Matsya avatar.
There are more variations. As I said, each Kalpa has a variation. Hence puranas offer the same variation back to us.
Coming back to the “forms” of the Vedas, well, it’s an interesting question. The pictures often show that there are 4 child like forms taken up by the Vedas, which are rescued by Vishnu. However, if you link this back to the way the Vedas were stolen (they escaped through the yawns of Brahma), you may be able to establish only 3 Vedas (Rik, Saam, Yajur) – and not 4. Atharva-veda was realised later, approved by Shiva, contested heavily for authenticity by Sanatkumaras, and finally incorporated into the corpus as the 4th Veda. But then again, we also have lores talking about 4 faces of Brahma linked with 4 Vedas. Complex context. Who knows the real truth?
When this question was asked – it made me think. And I focused on the meta-information on the 4 Vedas. What uniquely identifies, isolates, and yet connects them all?
Rik – the rhythm – chhanda
Saam – the tune – sur
Yajur – the meaning – jnan
Atharva – the power – mantra
Altogether, they are complete. Altogether, they are the seal of absolute authority.
Can, then, they be imagined in humanoid forms? Well, at the edge of my vision, maybe I just can see the shapes. But words fail me. Probably, that’s how it is supposed to be! 🙂