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Mythology of the Warrior Poses

The Warrior asanas are named after the mythical warrior, Virabhadra. His story is told by Kalidasa, in the epic Sanskrit poem Kumarasambhava, and in the Sri Shiva Lita by Vanamali. The three warrior postures that are derived from it arise from an almighty battle of wills between an arrogant father, Daksha, and his esoteric son in law, Shiva.

The classic Indian texts, The Puranas, also tell us of a fire sacrifice held by Daksha, which led to terrible consequences. In this shortened version of the story, Daksha was a prajapati (Lord of the people) and the father of Sati. Sati was the first wife of Lord Shiva.

Daksha was at odds with his son-in-law Shiva. Daksha ought to have appreciated what a great honour it was for his daughter to be married to Shiva, but he was foolish and vain and could not see past initial appearances. Despite Shiva's great power, he is frequently depicted in the scriptures as a wild, untamed character who hangs out with goblins and ghouls. He eschews culture and refinement and lives in the burial grounds, covered in ashes and wearing garlands of snakes and serpents. As dinner party guests go, Shiva is decidedly persona non grata! Nevertheless, the true devotees of Shiva see through these unprepossessing first impressions and give him the honour that is his due.

However, Daksha was furious that his daughter married to such an apparently oafish wastrel and was further incensed that Shiva refused to pay obeisance to him. Daksha had become so very arrogant in his position as the Emperor of the people, he wanted to show the world that he was far greater than the Lord Shiva. So instead of honouring Shiva, he cursed him and, to add insult to injury, when he conducted a fire sacrifice, as was the tradition during the vedic age, Shiva and Sati were wilfully omitted from the guest list. This act of ego was seen by Sati as being the ultimate insult towards her husband. She confronted her father on his audacity but Daksha reacted with venom and insulted her and her husband Shiva in front of all the guests and dignitaries.

Sati became overwhelmed with shame and fury at her father's insults, "You are wicked in every respect, I will have nothing to do with this body born of you. I shall cast it off as a corpse. It is worthy of contempt".

Tragically, Sati could take no more. She threw herself into the sacrificial fire and killed her physical body. Her mother, sisters and guests tried to save her but were unable to get her out of the fire in time.

Upon hearing about the traumatic events that had transpired, Shiva became utterly enraged and created Virabhadra from a lock of his matted hair and instructed him to kill Daksha and to destroy his army. Virabhadra had the same features, dress and embellishments as Lord Shiva. He was the vengeful and terrifying form of Shiva himself. Powered by rage and out of love for Sati, Virabhadra let out a huge roar. The stars fell from the sky and fallen comets were seen. The earth with its oceans and continents shuddered in terror.

Virabhadra would lay waste to anything that got in his way and destroyed Daksha’s kingdom. Virabhadra would drag Daksha by the hair and lay him on an alter. Virabhadra then raised his sword in honour of Sati and proceeded to decapitate Daksha, before making an offering of Daksha's head to the sacrificial fire.

And so to the postures:

The Warrior 1 position represents Virabhadra holding his sword in the air, arms reaching up and gazing upwards ready to destroy Daksha and all those who witnessed the events.

Warrior 2 pose represents Virabhadra as he readied himself, drawing his sword.

Warrior 3 is the position Virabhadra would assume after decapitating Dakhsa, and offering Daksha's head to the very fire sacrifice that was the catalyst of the entire event.

It's a gruesome tale, and you might well think, am I supposed to be inspired in my yoga practice by this? Is this insane act of appallingly violent retribution in any way relevant to my life as a yogi? After all, one of the very first principles of yoga is 'ahimsa' - do not harm.

Vamamali offers this by way of explanation: "We practise Virabhadrasana, not to condone violence, but to honour our fight against our own ignorance and ego, and to cultivate the strength and courage to do the right thing under difficult circumstances" - The story of Virabhadra isn't to be taken literally, but offers a challenging metaphor for our inner struggle to live a balanced life.

There is a happy ending to this epic story. Sati would eventually be re-born as Parvati and after many trials be together once again with Shiva. In the Hindu culture, Shiva and Sati/Parvati are considered to be the primal principle of everything that exists and everything that does not exist in the universe, Sati is the energy force of Shiva.

The entire story of Shiva and his consort revolves around one question, can one exist without the other? Can Purusha (Shiva) survive without Prakriti (Sati/Parviti)? The conclusion is that they cannot. They are always together. They always will be. One calibrates the other. The male energy cannot survive without the feminine and vice-versa.

Jealousy, pride, rage, arrogance and ego threatened to triumph in this story. But these things did not last. Only the love of Shiva and Sati survived, and perhaps that's something to meditate on when your balance is wavering or your limbs are burning. Cultivate your inner strength and be a warrior to find your inner equilibrium.

A special thank you to Teacher Trainee Cecilia Townley for her contributions to this post.

Zahir Akram - eternal seeker

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