A short history of Virabhadra

There is a somewhat large movement in the modern Yoga community that refutes the claim that asanas are millennium old postures, but rather made up in the last 100 years from Indian gymnastics schools. The movement often refers to yoga that comes from the Krishnamacharya lineage as “modern postural yoga.”

I for one wasn’t around a few millennium ago, and if I were, I could not recall my incarnation at the time. So now I am stuck in this life trying to ponder these questions. However, some asanas give certain clues to how “old” they are. It seems as though if a name of an asana is named after a sage, or a diety, it tends to be much older than poses like “wild thing.”

One of my odd hobbies to to read about different Hindu temples throughout the world on the internet. I suppose it is the next best thing to doing it traditionally by foot. I came across a temple dedicated to Veerabhadra Swamy, or a henchman of Shiva. This is the same figure for whom the Virabhadrasana (Warrior) poses are named after. Much like depictions of Kali, he is a terrifying figure with a necklace of severed heads from his conquests. TemplePurohit, an informational website about Hindu temples, describes him as an incarnation of Shiva, having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet; wielding a thousand clubs; and wearing a tiger’s skin.

Veerabhadra-Swamy-The-Manifestation-of-Lord-Shivas-Wrath

There are scores of temples that are dedicated to, or depict Veerabhadra, including Lepakshi temple in Andhra Pradesh that dates back to the 1300s. Slightly older that 100 years as MPY theorists would have you thinking. And you have to consider that these were built to worship Veerabhadra, who as a concept would be thousands of years older.

Kalyan_Mantap_Lepakshi

Before jumping to conclusions that Veerabhadra was a wrathful being, we have to explore the symbolism of this figure. The enemy he is fighting isn’t some innocent victim, it represents the prideful ego which creates maya, or illusion of an inflates self that causes endless suffering in our lives. By lopping off the head of the ego, this is not an act that violates ahimsa (non-harming) in the same way that killing cancer cells is not a violent act as it saves the body from a much worse fate. And like Shiva, who is depicted as the “destroyer,” Veerabhadra goes along the same line of thought of the impermanence and eventual destruction of all things.

Just as the figure of Veerabhadra is fierce, the standing postures Virabhadrasana I, II, and III are fierce as well. Of the standing poses they often require the most energy. Holding any of these three poses for more that 30 seconds is quite a feat. Any longer than that and your ego might just get lopped off too!

VB 123

 

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10 thoughts on “A short history of Virabhadra

  1. Erway Marjorie

    and I’ve always believed, after watching Guruji in action several times, (only once in Pune), that is what his harsh-sounding words are meant to do too — lop off one’s ego. Either students take it and learn from him, OR won’t and leave. I’ve seen both happen, and I experienced him once — I certainly learned from him at the Boston convention in 1997. 🙂 Mahalo for blogging . .. always worthwhile. Marjorie (in Kona)

    >

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  2. So...

    While chanting the invocation in class today, my thought was on my ego. How I am full of it and all I could do was surrender it to my teacher, Guruji and all the teachers before. It’s a painful character defect that troubles me. We also spent some time in Virbhadrasana 1 and 3 using the wall/column. Your timely post makes me think the universe is trying to tell me something!

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    1. k8macdo

      Dear Sonia,
      Ego has its uses too! It allows us to take our place in the world and enter into our dharma. As long as we don’t get confused into thinking that it is all of who we are : ) I like to talk to my ego as I would talk to a young child, in a reassuring and compassionate way. It worries so much about disappearing! Who wouldn’t? ; ]

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  3. ottercreekyoga

    I like your writing about Virabhadra! Especially as slayer of ego. Isn’t it possible, though, that modern poses could have been named after an ancient mythological figure? I mean the fact that there are ancient, historical temples to this warrior doesn’t mean the poses named in his honor are also ancient?

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    1. yogibattle Post author

      I am certain Virabhadrasana is not as old as the said temples, however it is much older than 100 years old as some theorists purport. What those theorists are not considering is that yoga is an oral tradition, not a written tradition. To boot, the oral transmission was kept secret between guru and shishya. My theory is that Krishnamacharya was seeing that the tradition was in jeopardy of extinction, and that is why he shared the teachings.

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      1. k8macdo

        Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra(s) make little mention of asana – and my understanding is that the term for him would have designated a seated posture for meditation.

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  4. yogibattle Post author

    Thanks k8. Asana is indeed translated into “meditative seat.” However, other sutras like Prayatna saithilyam ananta samapattibhyam infer that some postures are “effortful” and the objective is to decrease the effort while maintaining the posture. Another text, Hatha Yoga Pratipika has asanas that require tremendous effort.
    As an Iyengar student, I follow his interpretation as asana as a vehicle to penetrate to kosas. The more I practice, the more I have evidence that initially a posture is quite physical (annamayakosa level), but as my practice evolves, the same posture transforms into the mental level (manomayakosa), and then levels beyond that with continued practice.
    It is nice to see postures that are named after figures like Veerabhara because it gives us a sense of the “shakti” in each pose, and in this case these fierce nature poses address reducing one’s ego. That is how even physically demanding postures can become a “meditative seat.”

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