#MythMonday : Virabhadra

Shiva’s first wife was named Sati, who was a princess. Her father, King Daksha, did not approve of their marriage AT ALL. He thought Shiva was a bit of a dirtbag – he has long dreadlocks and is covered in ash and tattoos. He hangs out in graveyards with ghouls and ghosts and is covered in snakes. He also smokes something called bhang, which is a marijuana derivative. Daksha did NOT think Shiva was prince material. Shiva and Sati got married anyway, and pretty much kept to themselves. They lived on Mount Kailash, on the outskirts of the kingdom, and let Daksha do his thing.

As part of Daksha’s political responsibilities, he was in charge of making sure that all Vedic rituals were done properly. He was throwing a large party (a yajña, or ritualistic ceremony) where a goat was to be offered to the sacrificial fire. Daksha invited EVERYONE in the kingdom, no matter who they were, EXCEPT for Shiva and Sati. Sati was extremely upset, and told Shiva they should go to the party anyway. Shiva thought she was crazy, and told her she could go by herself if she wanted, but he was going to stay home and meditate.

Sati attended the party on her own, and when she arrived, Daksha started pointed and laughing at her, saying horrible things about her and Shiva, all of the attendees joined in the laughter, and it got worse and worse as the party went on. The yajña was a mockery in and of itself. The Lord of the Universe (Shiva) wasn’t even invited and was being made fun of. All Daksha truly cared about was showing off his wealth. There was no truth or honor behind this Vedic ritual. Sati became more and more upset, and decided to offer herself to the fire, and threw herself into the flames.

Shiva heard about the death of Sati and was completely distraught. He was angry at Daksha and felt guilty about letting Sati attend the party on her own, so out of pure anger, grief and despair, he ripped out one of his dreadlocks, threw it to the earth, and out from the earth rose Vīrabhadra with a sword in his hands (in the form of Warrior I) (vīra = hero/warrior, bhadra = friend).

Vīrabhadra is Shiva’s warrior friend, but also the embodiment of all of Shiva’s emotional distress. He is also just a foot-soldier; he only does what he is told, without any thought behind it, following orders without second-guessing. Shiva sends Vīrabhadra to the yajña to avenge the death of Sati. Vīrabhadra again bursts through the earth with sword in hand. Spots Daksha across the way and points his sword at him (Warrior II) and chops off his head.

Shiva arrives soon after to check out the situation, and immediately regrets what he’s done. Now Shiva does this a lot – he chops people’s heads off out of anger, and only regrets his actions afterwards. He always feels bad, and will bring them back to life with the head of the nearest animal, which happens to be the goat that was never sacrificed. So now Daksha is a part man, part goat. Shiva also chops heads off out of compassion, so that we cut off the head of the ego, learn from our mistakes, and make changes for a hopefully better future. Daksha now has to live with the head of a goat, but hopefully does better this time around…

Shiva asks Vīrabhadra to pick Sati up out of the sacrificial fire and they fly home (in the form of Warrior III) to give her a proper burial. As they are flying home, pieces of Sati’s burnt body fall into the ocean and across the land, and there are Shaivanists, or devotees of Shiva, who have what they believe to be actual relics of Sati. Sati was reincarnated thousands of years later as Parvati, who became Shiva’s second wife and Shakti consort.

There is a lot happening in this story, but mostly the characters are an allegory for the human condition. How many times have you acted out of anger and regretted your actions after? What would happen if you blindly followed orders without questioning why you are doing what you are doing? How does it make you feel when you hear unkind words? Are you practicing yoga just to show off your skills, or is there a deeper meaning behind the practice?

The physical warrior āsanas can be quite challenging when held, and give us an opportunity to explore emotions that come up. Are you clenching your jaw, biting your lips, scrunching your eyebrows (your lips and eyebrows cannot help – they just make your face look pretty! They try really hard though 😉 Is your breathing jagged, or smooth? You cannot remove the mind from the body, and what you do with the body affects the mind. These practices involve the whole being. The warrior poses offer an opportunity to smooth this out – to find a grace an ease that allows us to embody a spiritual warrior rather than chopping through life.

Virabhadrasana 1 Virabhadrasana 2 Virabhadrasana 3

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