Warrior Poses

by Sharon Gannon |
April, 2002
If one is hurt by the arrows of an enemy, one is not as aggrieved as when cut by the unkind words of a relative, for such grief continues to rend one's heart day and night.
Lord Siva, Bhagavat Purana

Underlying each yoga asana a story can be found. Some of these stories are ancient myths that can reflect to us our own deepest drives, obstacles and desires.

The origin of the warrior poses, Virabhadrasana I, II and III is derived from an ancient story of Lord Shiva. The warrior poses illustrate an incident that occurred in the celestial realms in a timeless time long ago. This is a story of love, attachment, pride, shame, vengeance, violence, sadness, compassion and renunciation. The whole gamut of emotions can be found in this tale of pride and transformation.

Lord Shiva was married to his beloved Sati and lived in the pleasure city, Bhoga which he had created. Sati’s father Daksha had never approved of his daughter’s marriage. To Daksha, Shiva was an unorthodox hermit, who frequented cremation grounds. No yogi with long matted hair, who consumes intoxicants, sings and dances whenever he pleases, was a worthy husband for his daughter. Daksa the Prajapati (the worldly creator), was the upholder of civilization, he thrived on rules and regulations. Shiva was his antithesis.

Shortly after Sati had left her secure home with her father to live with Shiva, Daksa organized a great party, a yagna or ritual sacrifice. He invited all the members of the entire heavenly universe, all that is except Shiva and Sati. Sati got word of this and suggested to Shiva that they go anyway. Shiva said, “Why go, were we are not invited? I do not wish to incite your father’s anger any more than I have already.” Sati was hurt by her father’s refusal to acknowledge her marriage and her husband; she decided to go alone to the party.

When she arrived her father asked her why she was there, as she was not invited. Her father, sniggering, said “Perhaps you have come to your senses and have had it with your wild animal of a husband, isn’t he also called Lord of the Beasts?” All the guests present laughed. Sati defending her husband spoke, “He is one with nature and does not seek to control animals by bending them to his will. Society is artificial and exploits nature.” This dialog between father and daughter entertained the guests. Sati was saddened and humiliated by this public argument with her father. When her father tried to taunt her again she remained silent, letting go of all desire to continue to argue with her father in hopes of defending her husband. She trembled with disgust and indignation at having been so cruelly let down by the one man upon whom she, as a daughter, should always be able to rely. Instead she made an internal resolve to relinquish all family ties. She summoned up her strength and spoke this vow to her father, “Since you have given me this body I no longer wish to be associated with it.” She walked past her father and sat in a meditative seat on the ground. Closing her eyes, envisioning her true Lord, Sati fell into a mystic trance. Going deep within herself she began to increase her own inner fire through yogic exercises until her body burst into flames.

When news of Sati’s death reached Shiva, he was first shocked and saddened, then enraged. He fell into the deepest and darkest place he could find. He tore his hair out, and fashioned from this hair the fiercest of warriors, Siva named this warrior, Virabhadra. Vira (hero)+ Bhadra (friend). He commanded Virabhadra to go to the yagna and destroy Daksha and all guests assembled. Virabhradra arrives at the party, with sword in both hands, thrusting his way up through the earth from deep underground; this is the first aspect (Virabhadrasana I.) Establishing his arrival for all to see he then sites his opponent, Daksha, (Virabradhasana II.) Moving swiftly and precisely, he takes his sword and cuts off Daksha’s head, (Virabadrasana III.)

Shiva arrives at Daksha’s place to see the damage that Virabhadra had ravaged. After this vengeful action, Shiva absorbs Virabhadra back into his own form and then Siva becomes known as Hare, the ravisher. His anger is gone but now he is filled with sorrow. This sorrow turns to compassion when he sees the aftermath; the bloody work of Virabhradra. Shiva finds Daksha’s headless body and giving it the head of a goat, brings Daksha back to life. Overwhelmed by this generous gesture Daksha calls Shiva, Shankar, the kind and benevolent one. With Daksha’s pride put in check he bows in awe and humility to Shiva Shankar. The other gods and goddesses follow his lead and honor Shiva.

The fact still remained; Sati was dead. Shiva walked away from the scene of the party, carrying the lifeless body of his beloved wife, wandering to where he did not know. But one thing he was sure of; he would find the most isolated place possible and once again become the ascetic recluse.

The esoteric meaning of this story –

Shiva is the Higher Self who slays the prideful ego, (Daksha), for the sake of the heart, (Sati). Through means of infinite compassion, the higher Self forgives the ego but never the less withdraws to a secluded place with only the essential nature of the heart left intact. This essential nature of the heart is the power of love which will be brought to life again, in another form, but that’s a different story, best saved for another time.