Virabhadra, Vasistha & Vishvamitra, Astavakra, Hanuman, Goraksha & Matsyendra…
If we’d grown up in India, these heroes, saints, and sages might be as familiar to us as Superman. But most Western yoga practitioners weren’t raised on tales from Indian classics like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas. For us, learning about these legendary heroes can provide new insights into the deeper dimensions of yoga, a practice that is ultimately concerned with much more than assuming the forms of the asanas. As Kausthub Desikachar, grandson of revered Indian yoga master T.K.V. Krishnamacharya, puts it: “By meditating on these characters, we hope that we might come to embody some of their attributes.”
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Heroes, Saints, and Sages by Colleen Morton Busch
Origins of Virabhadrasana
Shiva and his family at the burning ground. Parvati, Shiva’s wife, holds Skanda while watching Ganesa (left) and Shiva string together the skulls of the dead. The bull Nandi rests behind the tree. Kangra painting, 18th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Kumara sambhava ( Sanskrit: “Birth of Kumara”) is an epic poem by Kalidasa written in the 5th century ce. The work describes the courting of the ascetic Shiva, who is meditating in the mountains, by Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas; the conflagration of Kama (the god of desire)—after his arrow struck Shiva—by the fire from Shiva’s third eye; the wedding and lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati; and the subsequent birth of Kumara (Skanda), the war god.
Virabhadrasana is commonly known as Warrior Pose. In Light on Yoga, Iyengar tells the story of Kumara sambhava, which he gives as the origin of this asana’s name:
Daksa once celebrated a great sacrifice, but he did not invite his daughter Sati nor her husband Siva, the chief of the gods. Sati, however, went to the sacrifice, but being greatly humiliated and insulted threw herself into the fire and perished. When Siva heard this he was gravely provoked, tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground. A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders. He was told to lead Siva’s army against Daksa and destroy his sacrifice. Virabhadra and his army appeared in the midst of Daksa’s assembly like a hurrican and destroyed the sacrifice, routed the other gods and priests and beheaded Daksa. Siva in grief for Sati withdrew to Kailas and plunged into meditation. Sati was born again as Uma in the house of Himalaya. She strove once more for the love of Siva and ultimately won his heart. The story is told by Kalidasa in his great poem Kumara sambhava (The Birth of the War-Lord).
Sreenivasarao S. provides additional insight into the mythological Virabhadra:
- Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).
- Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly. He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued. Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice.
- Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act. Virabhadra, the action-hero, personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.
- The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara. The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders. Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled in performing rituals’, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures. Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded. Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society. He refused to conform to the ways of the world.