Warrior Poses (Virabhadrasana) – Sanskrit Stories
by Sammi Contarini
This Saturday Charlie Anderson will be teaching the first of our Pose of the Month Class and the Warrior Poses are the focus! Warriors 1, 2 and 3 are known in the three studios at Red Hot Yoga as strong poses – they are invigorating, strengthen our legs and core and provide a strong foundation from where we can work on both our forward bending and back bending. They also stretch the hip flexors and calf muscles while strengthening and stabilizing the muscles of the feet and knees, shoulders, arms and the back.
So those are the anatomical benefits and aspects of the Warrior Series. Nonetheless, I wonder where the inspiration for the name of the warrior poses comes from. The Sanskrit name of the asana is Vīrabhadrāsana; what does this mean? Is there a reference to what or who Vīrabhadrāsana is in the Vedas or the Hatha Yoga Pradipika?
After some research, I have learnt that the name of this pose is rooted in Hindu mythology. The story tells of how the powerful priest Daksha, the grandson of Brahma, planned the largest and greatest ritual sacrifice (yagna) ever seen. Three days before the event, Daksha invited hundreds of people to attend. However, he chose not to invite his beautiful youngest daughter Sati nor her husband Shiva (the supreme ruler of all that is; the glorious universe and everything that exists inside it). In recent months Daksha had come to develop a huge ego and a peculiar pride that was very unhealthy. He demanded respect everywhere he went and he strutted through the world as though he, and not Shiva, was the master of the universe!
It was not until the morning of the ritual, just a few hours after the sun rose in a flurry of red and gold glows over the earth, that Sati heard of her father’s plan to host and perform a sacrifice that evening. For a moment, she stood and stared at the horizon. How could her father not have invited Shiva and her? Why would his other daughters be permitted to attend, but she must become worse than a shadow; the only child to not be a witness to this significant ritual? Sati fumed over this question in every hour of that day. By nightfall, and against Shiva’s warning that she should not go, Sati went alone to the yagna and confronted her father. Sati did not listen; she wanted justice for herself and her husband.
There was a large fire in the centre of the gathering and Daksha was himself the guest of honour. When he entered the arena to begin the ritual he shone with pride, a glow like a thousand suns, and the entire assembly bowed to welcome him.
On seeing Sati arrive, Daksha approached her and they began arguing about why he had not invited her and why he had refused to give Shiva his customary share in the sacrificial offerings. Daksha began to insult his daughter, abusing her every way he could think of. “You are not my daughter,” he said, “I do not need to invite you to an event like this because I do not consider you my child”.
Unable to withstand his horrible words, and distraught that she had been born to such an uncouth man, Sati looked her father straight in the eye and held his gaze for a long time. Her anger rose inside her like boiling lava in an erupting volcano:
“Since it was you who gave me this body, I no longer wish to be associated with it!” she cried.
She walked to the ceremonial fire in the centre of the assembly and threw herself into the flames.
Daksha, though shocked at the death his daughter had chosen for herself, nevertheless continued with the yagna. But all was not well; the sky turned dark and a thunderstorm lashed across it. The sacrificial fires died down to tiny sparks of light and the howls of wolves could be heard across the gathering. The assembled devas read these omens and cursed Daksha for his foolish and proud behaviour.
When Shiva heard of Sati’s death, he fell to the floor and screamed in agony. A tidal wave of heartbreak and grief at the loss of his wife shook his body, and as his sadness turned to anger his eyes turned to the colour of blood. Livid with rage he stood up and plucked a lock of his hair. He dashed it to the ground and the lock split in two and from it rose a powerful warrior. Shiva named this warrior Virabhadra – Vira (hero) + Bhadra (friend) – and ordered him to go to the yagna and destroy Daksha and all his guests.
- Virabhadra’s first aspect, (Vīrabhadrāsana I) is his arrival, holding swords in both hands, thrusting his way up through the earth from below.
- In his second aspect, (Vīrabhadrāsana II) he sights his opponent, Daksha.
- And in his third aspect (Vīrabhadrāsana III), moving swiftly and precisely, he decapitates Daksha with his sword.
Shiva then arrived at the yagna and saw the disarray that Virabhadra had wrought. Shiva absorbed Virabhadra back into his own form and then Shiva transformed into Hara, the ravisher. When this transformation was complete Shiva became filled with sorrow and compassion, and he looked for Daksha’s body. When he found it he gave it the head of a goat, which brought Daksha back to life. Daksha, reborn, fell at Shiva’s feet and begged for mercy, praising his lenience and grace. Everyone began celebrating and rejoicing in the happy way Shiva had allowed the situation to be resolved, dancing and singing around the enormous fire.
Everyone celebrated except for Shiva. Deprived of his beloved Sati, he returned to his home where he immersed himself in meditation. Until one day, Sati took another incarnation and joined him for all eternity.
(The inspiration behind this story comes from the third Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatham in a conversation between Vidura and Maithreya Maharishi)