The Story of Virabhadra

I share with you the story of Virabhadra written by Karen Smith for an Iyengar publication in the UK.  My apologies, I can no longer find the website to give proper credit.
The People Behind the Poses, by Karen Smith

While many of the names of yoga poses are based on the Sanskrit words for parts of the body and how they are worked (such as Prasarita Padottanasana ‘extended stretched leg pose’) or the shape made during the pose (Ardha Chandrasana ‘half moon pose’), others have their basis in Indian mythology. In this article I look at the character behind Virabhadrasana, the legendary warrior Virabhadra.

Brahma, the Lord of Creation, made ten sons to carry out his tasks of creation and destruction; two of these sons were Siva and Daska. Siva was the more powerful and the jealous Daska resented his brother’s supremacy. To make matters worse, contrary to Daska’s wishes, his daughter Sita had chosen the reputedly mattedhaired, alcohol drinking, cremation-ground frequenting Siva to be her husband.

Daska organised a yajna, a ritual sacrifice, to which all were invited. When Daska entered the celebration the guests – great sages, philosophers and demigods – stood in respect for their host, with the exceptions of Brahma (his father: so, understandable) and Siva (not so understandable). Daska was offended because as Siva’s father-in-law he believed himself superior and worthy of more respect. As a stickler for etiquette and rules, Daska decided to snub his daughter and son-in-law at his next yajna to teach them a lesson.

The day of the ritual sacrifice arrived, and Sita saw people making their way to her father’s house. She asked her husband where they were going and when she found out that there was a party to which they had not been invited, Sita was determined to go and confront her father. Siva advised her not to, but his wife was strongminded and she rode to the yajna on her husband’s white bull. When she arrived her father asked why she had come, since she had no invitation. He began to insult Sita’s husband calling him the ‘king of goblins’, ‘beggar’, ‘ash-man’ and ‘long-haired yogi’. Sita was humiliated, hurt and, above all, ashamed to be Daska’s daughter; consumed by anger, she threw herself onto the sacrificial fire where she preferred to die than be associated with Daska.

Hearing of his beloved wife’s death, Siva became enraged. He tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground, where it became the powerful warrior Virabhadra. Siva equipped his warrior with an army and sent him to destroy Daska and his ritual sacrifice.

Virabhadra arrived at the party like a hurricane, brandishing swords in both arms. He reached way up through the earth from underground and we get the pose Virabhadrasana I; then he spied his opponent, Daska, and the pose is Virabhadrasana II; finally he cut off Daska’s head, Virabhadrasana III. The head was thrown into the sacrificial fire; those who tried to defend Daska were killed, and, needless to say, the party was ruined.

Virabhadrasana a 16-05

Siva went to the scene of the yajna to inspect Virabhadra’s work and there he absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form. The other gods begged Siva to bring Daska back to life, fearing the consequences if he did not. Siva’s anger had now gone and his sorrow had turned to compassion, so he agreed. Since Daska’s head had been burnt, Brahma substituted the head of a goat, cut off at a sacrifice. Daska therefore bore the mark of his foolishness for the rest of his life.

Still feeling grief for the loss of his wife, Siva fell into deep meditation until the time when Sita was reincarnated as Parvati to become his wife once more.

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