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Virabhadra, the Warrior of Change

Om namah Shivaya gurave Sat-Chid-Ananda-murtye

Nishprapanchaya Shantaya Niralambaya Tejase

Meaning: Salutations to the Guru who is Shiva. You are Truth, Consciousness, and Bliss. You are always there, independent and illuminating. Interpretation: Austin Sanderson – Interpretation, Austin Sanderson

The Indian myth of Virabhadra is the story of the marriage of Shiva to Sati and the conflict between Shiva and Sati’s father, Daksha, a Vedic priest who leads the Yagna for the Devas or sky gods. The story is quite complicated, so I will try and break it down to keep it simple.

Sati meets Shiva: Daksha was the son of Brahma (the creator deity), and he was a Vedic priest. Daksha was also called “Prajapati,” meaning emperor of earth. Daksha was a great devotee of Vishnu, the sustainer deity. Daksha preferred indifference over passion and control over unconventional forms of spirituality. Daksha had 28 daughters; his youngest daughter was Sati.

Among the 28 daughters, the most beautiful was Rohini. She fell in love with the strong, handsome, and vain Chandra (the Moon deva). She told Daksha about her love for Chandra and hearing that, Daksha felt that this was a good marriage alliance; he invited Chandra to his palace and asked him to marry his daughter Rohini along with 26 of his other daughters. Feeling that Sati was too young for marriage, he did not offer her.

Chandra agreed to marry Daksha’s 27 daughters (known as 27 Nakshatras), leaving Sati unengaged and feeling a little left out. Daksha invited all the gods and sages to his daughters’ wedding. Reluctantly, he invited Lord Shiva, the deity of destruction and transformation. Shiva was an uncouth yogi, and Daksha did not like Shiva’s destructive nature; furthermore, change unsettled Daksha.

At the wedding, Sati saw Lord Shiva for the first time, and she fell in love with him. She told her father that she desired to marry Shiva, but Daksha disapproved because of his dislike of Shiva.

From dislike to hate: After some time, handsome Chandra began to neglect his 27 wives, so Rohini and her sisters visited Daksha to complain about Chandra’s neglect. Acknowledging his daughters’ grievances, Daksha spoke to Chandra and warned him to take care of his daughters. Daksha reminded the vain Chandra that even though they were married, as their father, he would still protect his daughters. Chandra apologized and promised to be more attentive.

Within weeks, the daughters were again complaining to their father about Chandra’s behavior.

This time, Daksha’s anger toward Chandra was expressed with a curse: he foretold that the strong, handsome, and vain Chandra would day by day grow weak, small, and ugly until he disappeared. Chandra, the beautiful moon god, started to weaken and shrink.

Fearing death, Chandra asked the sage Narada for help. Sage Narada had no solution for the curse. Narada suggested that Chandra should visit Lord Shiva and ask for help.

Chandra went to Lord Shiva. Shiva told Chandra, “I can’t erase Daksha’s curse, but if you sit in my hair when you grow weak, my healing energy will nourish you and you will grow strong again; but as time passes, Daksha’s curse will return and you will wane again, and you will have to return to sit in my hair.” This is why the moon waxes and wanes.

Sage Narada saw Daksha and told him that Chandra had enlisted Shiva to overcome the effects of his curse. Sati was amazed by Shiva’s powers and again expressed her love for Shiva and her desire to marry him. Daksha looked at his daughter and said, “You will never marry him! Shiva will never be my son-in-law. Who does he think he is to interfere like this!”

Sati was heartbroken; her father could not see in Shiva what she saw in Shiva. Daksha looked at Sati and the tears in her eyes and said, “We will hold a Swayavara and find you a proper husband.”

Sati’s Swayavara: Daksha kept his word and held a Swayavara for Sati – a ceremony where a young girl is allowed to choose her husband from suitable bachelors. Daksha invited all the gods except Shiva.

During the ceremony, Sati was supposed to place a garland of flowers around the neck of the god she chose as her husband to be. Instead, she threw the garland into the air and called out “Shiva,” even though he was not there. Her actions paid off: Shiva appeared, and the flower garland floated down and landed around his neck.

Daksha was furious about this but, determined not to lose face, he accepted that Sati and Shiva should be married.

Daksha Yagna: Soon after the union of Shiva and Sati, Daksha decided to hold a Yagna, a Vedic animal sacrifice to honor all the gods and goddesses. He invited everyone in the universe except Shiva and his new bride Sati.

When Sati heard about the grand Yagna she told her husband Shiva, “There must have been some mistake. We have not received an invitation from my father! It must be a minor oversight. We have to go to the big event!” But Shiva refused and added, “You and I are not invited, and why would you go where you are not welcomed, my dear?”

“But it is my father, my family, and a father would never refuse his daughter,” Sati replied. “Look how he took care with my other sisters when Chandra mistreated them; my father loves all his daughters.” Shiva still refused to go.

On the day of the Yagna, Sati arrived at the celebration late. The fire pit was blazing, and several goats had been decapitated as ritual sacrifice.

As Daksha performed the rite, he saw Sati in the corner of his eye. Stopping his priestly duties, he reacted furiously and insulted his daughter in front of all the guests: “How dare you come into my home uninvited? You humiliated me by marrying that no good yogi, who had the audacity to interfere in a family matter with Chandra and my daughters. Neither of you are welcome in my home.”

Unable to bear the pain of her father’s words, Sati replied to her father, “You, Sir, gave me this body, and your disdain for me leaves me with no desire to continue being in this body.” With that, Sati threw herself into the sacrificial fire and killed herself. All the guests, dignitaries, her mother, and her sister tried to save her but were unable to pull her from the flames. Daksha, heartless and cold, watched with folded arms as his daughter’s lifeless body burned and charred in the fire pit.

Shiva’s Wrath: Upon hearing about what had transpired, Shiva became enraged. Pulling a dreadlock from his matted hair and throwing it upon the ground, with magical incantations he created the fearsome warrior Virabhadra. Shiva instructed the giant warrior to destroy Daksha’s home and kill him by removing his head, and that is exactly what happened. Powered by love for Sati, and rage over her death, Virabhadra laid waste to anything that got in his way. He destroyed Daksha’s palace and decapitated the old Vedic high priest.

Virabhadra’s rage was so uncontrolled that he was about to destroy the three worlds, but Shiva appeared to calm his warrior servant down. Virabhadra handed the head of Daksha to Lord Shiva. Shiva, without emotion, tossed the head into the fire pit.

· Warrior I represents Virabhadra’s entry to the festival. This, with arms extended and the gaze toward the tip of the sword, represents the warrior's emergence.

· Warrior II represents Virabhadra’s stance of attack.

· Warrior III represents Virabhadra offering the head of Daksha to Shiva.

Shiva’s Agony: Brahma and Vishnu both knew that an incomplete Yagna was inauspicious and needed to be completed. They begged Shiva for the sake of all the gods, goddesses, and the three worlds to bring Daksha back to life so he could to finish the ritual. Shiva agreed; he picked up the severed head of a sacrificed goat and placed it onto Daksha’s dead body. With his breath, Shiva reanimated Daksha’s dead body. Daksha begged for forgiveness, and Shiva softened and forgave him. Daksha begged Shiva to stay as he completed the Yagna, chanting mantras to Lord Shiva. Shiva refused to stay; showing no emotion, he picked up the dead body of Sati and carried her away into the upper regions of the universe. At that point, all his pain came out and he screamed in agony. Vishnu, witnessing this from afar, took pity on Shiva and used his chakra: he threw the weapon at Sati’s body and cut it into fifty-one pieces. They fell to earth, and Shiva let go of his attachment to his dead wife’s body.

Shiva’s Peace: Shiva responded as any yogi would: he went inward, into a deep meditation that lasted for a thousand years until Sati was reincarnated as Parvati and they were once again reunited.

The battle between Daksha and Shiva is a conflict between the orthodox Vedic tradition, with its strict religious rules, animal sacrifices, and patriarchal system, and the radical Tantric tradition that rejected all the rules and embraced free will and independence within spirituality. Sati is seen as Shiva’s shakti (energy), which activates him to destroy the ego and create change from within. Transformation always comes from destruction. Embracing this change is the key to our spiritual growth.

~ Austin Sanderson Urban Sadhu Yoga


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