The mythological tradition as enshrines Shiva Purana,
Shatarudrasamhita and other texts perceives Sharabha as Virabhadra’s
incarnation who humbled two of Vishnu’s incarnations, Varaha and
Narsimha, that having incarnated Vishnu had grown extremely arrogant
and were insulting everyone they encountered. They proclaimed their
supremacy over all animals, men and even gods. Already annoyed with
Vishnu and all his incarnations for taking the side of Daksha
Prajapati when he fought for avenging Sati’s death Virabhadra had an
opportunity to punish two of his incarnations when their arrogance
made them extremely unpopular. Thereupon Virabhadra incarnated as
Sharabha, a crane with a huge body, large wings, mighty legs,
‘tri-netra’ – three eyes, and unfathomable might.
As prescribes the Sharabha’s iconographic tradition, it has been
represented as housing in its wings Mahakali and Parvati, in its main
body, Yogi Shiva with Yoginis in attendance, in hands on the right
side, a goad and bow, and in those on the left, an arrow and spear. A
Tantric vision, while the two Yogini figures define the Muladhara zone
close to genetic part that has special significance in Shaivite
philosophy, the image of Yogi Shiva enshrines the ‘Atman’ zone that is
the universal consciousness. A huge snake moving round its breast,
belly and thighs defines the huge bird’s main body. It is wearing
snakes as wristlets, necklace and anklets. It is said Sharabha
incarnated Virabhadra in the sky wherefrom it landed on the earth and
with one claw picked and held Varaha, and with the other, Narsimha and
holding them in its mighty claws flew back and disappeared into sky.
Narsimha tried to challenge Sharabha. The provoked Sharabha then
killed Narsimha and wore its skin.
Sati, the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, one of Brahma’s sons, loved
Shiva and married him against her father’s wishes. Daksha had enmity
against Shiva and insulted him whenever he found any opportunity. Once
Daksha held a great Yajna to which even Brahma and Vishnu were invited
but Shiva and even Daksha’s own daughter Sati were ignored. Sati felt
greatly insulted and in protest wanted to go there and chide her
father. Shiva advised her not to go but Sati insisted and went. As she
reached the site of the Yajna her father and the host of the Yajna
Daksha not only ignored but even insulted her. Desperate Sati,
insulted by her own father publicly, jumped into the Yajna-fire and
ended her life. The moment the news reached Shiva who madly loved Sati
he got so infuriated that his wrath personified and there emerged from
it Virabhadra, a great warrior. Shiva ordered him to go and destroy
Daksha’s Yajna, his kingdom and him, which after a long battle
Virabhadra accomplished. Vishnu was among those who fought on Daksha’s
side. This annoyed Virabhadra who in his incarnation as Sharabha
destroyed two of his incarnations.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.
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