He is part of Shiva’s Retinue, Shiva Pariwar, the other three being Nandi, Bhringi and Chandesvara. Virabhadra is Shiva in ferocious mood, indeed Shiva manifested himself as Vira. This fierce warrior’s story is simply symbolism...of ego-shedding. He is a form of Rudra-Shiva who created him to act as his henchman in his quarrel with Daksha. He is also the principal deity of Virasaiva movement and still worshipped by bhkatas especially in the Karnakata region of India .
Two temples are dedicated to Virabhadra in the main: Perambalur in Tamil Naadu and the other in the town of Veerabhadra near Rishikesh.
The images of Virabhadra depict the anger and ferocity of Shiva. In destructive mood, he wears a garland of skulls, and with four arms holding four different kinds of weapons.
Virabhadra is a warrior god who was worshipped during wars in ancient and
medieval periods. As an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand
heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet; wielding a thousand clubs; and
wearing a tiger's skin. His consort Bhadrakali also came into being by Mother
Devi’s wrath. Although auspicious, Bhadrakali assumes terrible aspect, and is
represented with three eyes, and four, twelve or eighteen hands. She carries a
number of weapons, with flames flowing from her head, and a small tusk
protruding from her mouth.
The Trinity quarrels continued into feud with Daksha, Brahma’s son. In Sati’s swayamvara, all gods were invited except Siva. Sati was madly in love with Siva and disconsolate to discover Shiva's absence. In despair, she threw the garland into the air and
calls upon Shiva to receive it. The Lord appeared and received it. Daksha was
forced to allow the marriage but invited quarrel. When Daksha entered the hall,
all rose except his father Brahma and his son-in-law, Siva. Brahma had no
difference but Daksha had earned his own disrespect out of the initial insult.
He declared to the assembly his low opinion of Shiva and denounced Him of
Auspiciousness. Having done so, Daksha plans his next move.
Daksha holds a horse sacrifice without Siva. This revenge was to miscarry. While all
the gods troop off to the sacrifice, Sati pleads the father. Daksha repeats the
strictures of the early assembly, upon which, in vindication Sati enters the
sacrificial fire and consumed by flames. Sati, Shiva’s love was gone and he was
devastated. An enraged Shiva tore a hair and created the fiercest warrior,
Virabhadra. His body was tall to reach the high heavens; he was as dark as the
clouds; he had a thousand arms; three burning eyes, fiery hair and he wore a
garland of skulls and carried terrible weapons. Mother Devi caused Bhadrakali to
arrive and provide Shakti energy. Thus Virabhadra and Bhadrakali were born of
the wrath of Siva and Shakti and personified their anger.
The Mahabaratha Book 12 Santi Parva: Mahadeva created from his mouth a terrible
Being whose very sight could make one's hair stand on its end. The blazing
flames that emanated from his body rendered him exceedingly awful to behold. His
arms were many in number and in each was a weapon that struck the beholder with
fear. . “I am known by the name of Virabhadra’’ and I have sprung from the wrath
of Rudra. This lady.who is my companion, and who is called Bhadrakali, hath
sprung from the wrath of the goddess.”
Virabhadra was ordered to destroy Daksha’s horse sacrifice. Virabhadra awaits instructions and this, according to Vayu Purana: "Lead my army against Daksha and destroy his sacrifice; fear not the Brahmanas, for thou art a portion of my very self".
'Spoil the sacrifice of Daksha'. Then the mighty Virabhadra, having heard the
pleasure of his lord, bowed down his head to the feet of Shiva; and starting
like a lion loosed from bonds, despoiled the sacrifice of Daksha, knowing that
this had been created by the displeasure of Devi. She too in her wrath, as the
fearful goddess Rudrakali, accompanied him, with all her train, to witness his
As directed by Shiva, this ‘fire of fate’ scattered all the gods
and cut off Daksha’s head. Vishnu had a few roles to play here. According to
Skanda Purana, when Virabhadra confronted Vishnu, the former swallows his
chakra. That was a lesson for Vishnu to conduct himself wisely. The gods send
Vishnu to plead for Daksha’s life to complete the yagna favouring them. Next the
defeated Gods sent Brahma to Kailasa. There Brahma prays to Shiva and asks for
pardon. The all-merciful Shiva replaces Daksha’s burnt head with a goat’s head.
Shiva is invited to the yagna. There Daksha shows reverence and all the gods
salute Shiva. Thereafter Daksha becomes a great Shiva bhakta. Shiva tattva here
is Lord Shiva representing the Higher Self; Sati as Shakti representing the
Heart and Daksha representing the ego. Symbolism of losing your head is related
to destroying ego.
Shiva stormed into Daksha’s home and gave himself to insane grief. He retrieved Sati’s body from the embers and clasped her so lovingly. But a lifeless Sati in his arms makes Him emotionally violent and the rhythm of Thandava, encompassing the world seven times with Sati in his arms, makes the universe suffer. Vishnu had to put a stop to this, lest the frenzy of mourning has no meaning to his preserving status. He cuts up Sati’s body, the Shiva-lila that gave the 51 powerful Shakti peeths.
The Mahabaratha version makes it clear the Trinity rivalry making a lesser issue with Brahma than Vishnu’s race for supremacy. In Daksha’s sacrificial hall, Siva inspires
fear with his arrow offerings. He hurled the Pinaka, his blazing lightning
Trishula. This destroys the sacrifice which was held in honour of Vishnu and he
is struck in the breasts but it is hurled back in equal vigour. Battle flared
and as per myths Indra was trampled underfoot, Saraswathi’s nose was cut,
Mitra’s eyes was put out, Pushan’s teeth knocked off, Chandra was beaten, Agni’s
hands were cut off and the whole universe quaked.This was all halted when Brahma
intervened. Daksha then declares Shiva’s supremacy.
Virabhadra is not simply a murderous demon. Just as Shiva and destruction are an
essential part of the Trinity, as destroyer, Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,
symbolizes that within ourselves which has the power to overcome the prideful
ego - symbolized in stories by king Daksha; for the sake of the heart -
symbolized by Sati, Daksha's daughter and first wife of Lord Shiva. In the
Daksha episode, Shiva represents the Higher Self; Sati or Shakti represents the
heart and Daksha represents the ego. Thus the representation here is that the
Higher Self destroys the ego for the sake of the heart. Through compassion the
higher self forgives the ego but still withdrawals to remember the essence of
Om Nama Shivaya.
Yogi Ananada Saraswathi