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Shiva as Sharabha subduing Narasimha (Lord Vishnu), panel view from Munneswaram temple in Sri Lanka.
Devanagari शरभ
Sanskrit Transliteration Śarabha
Tamil Transliteration Caraba
Affiliation Avatar of Shiva
Consort Prathyangira

Sharabha (Sanskrit: शरभ, Śarabha, Kannada: ಶರಭ) is a creature in Hindu mythology that is part lion and part bird. According to Sanskrit literature, Sharabha is an eight-legged beast, mightier than a lion and elephant and which can kill the lion. Sharabha, can clear a valley in one jump. In later literature, Sharabha is described as an eight-legged deer.[1][2]

Shaiva scriptures narrate that god Shiva assumed the Avatar (incarnation) of Sharabha to pacify Narasimha - the fierce man-lion avatar of Vishnu worshipped by Vaishnava sect. This form is popularly known as Sarabeshwara ("Lord Sarabha") or Sharabeshwaramurti.[3] The Vaishnavas refute the portrayal of Narasimha as being destroyed by Shiva-Sharabha and regard Sharabha as a name of Vishnu. Another tale narrates that Vishnu assumed the form of the ferocious Gandaberunda bird-animal to combat Sharabha. In Buddhism, Sharabha appears in Jataka Tales as a previous birth of the Buddha.

Sharabha also appears in the emblem of State government of the Indian state of Karnataka, University of Mysore and the Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited.


  • Development of character and iconography 1
    • Shiva's incarnation 1.1
  • In Hindu scriptures 2
    • In Mahabharata 2.1
    • Vedic and Shaivite views 2.2
    • Vedic Supreme God-Sharabh Upanishad 2.3
      • Tantra View-Akash Bhairava Kalpa. 2.3.1
    • Vaishnava and Smartha views Vedic History Sharabh Upanishad 2.4
  • In Buddhist scriptures 3
  • As emblem 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Development of character and iconography

In Sanskrit literature, Sharabha is initially described as an animal that roared and scared other animals in the hills and forest areas. Similies compare warriors to Sharabha. In the later epic Mahabharata, this form of Sharabha was exaggerated as a lion-slaying monster with eight legs, eyes on the top; living in the forest and which ate raw flesh. It is also mentioned as residing on Mount Krauncha but not as a monster but as an ordinary beast along with lions and tigers on mount Gandhamandana. The epic also includes Sharabha in the list of edible animals - the mrigajatis- the animal group of antelope, deer, hare, bear, ruru deer, sambar, gayal, boar, and buffalo - which was offered as part of food at dinner to guests. Sharabha also appears as a name of a monkey-king in the epic Ramayana, also as a proper name of heroes, apes, demons (danavas) and serpent Nāgas and one of the names of god Vishnu as well as Buddha.[4][5] In defining the ecological theme in Hindu medicine related to jungle and the aroma of meats, Sharabha has also been listed among the deer natives of Kashmir, Nepal, and Sikkim. However, the features explained are of an eight legged animal of the size of a camel with huge horns and conjectured as a large Himalayan goat.[6]

Shiva's incarnation

In Puranic literature, Sharabha is associated with god Shiva, who incarnates to subdue fierce manifestations of Vishnu. The legend of Sharabha fighting Narasimha - the man-lion form of Vishnu - brings to fore the overt rivalry between the devotees of Vishnu (Vaishnavite sect) and those of Shiva (Shaivite sect), which exposes the gory blood-letting aspect.[1][7] According to Roy, the Narasimha-Sharabha encounter may be a Shiava version of Vedic tale of Vishnu piercing the boar.[8] Shiva Purana describes Sharabha as thousand-armed, lion-faced and with matted hair, wings and eight feet.[1][9] Sharabha Upanishad portrays Sharabha with two heads, two wings, eight legs of the lion with sharp claws and a long tail.[10] Kalika Purana describes Sharabha as black in colour, with four feet downwards and four feet uplifted, with an enormous body. It also has a long face and nose, nails, eight legs, eight tusks, a cluster of manes, and a long tail. It jumps high repeatedly making a loud cry.[11][12]

Two-headed Sharabha with four legs.

The iconography of Sharabeshwaramurti (Shiva as Sharabha) is specifically defined in texts such as Khamikagama and Sritattvanidhi. In Khamikagama, Sharabha is described in the form of a bird with golden colour, with two uplifted wings, two red eyes, four legs in the form of a lion touching the ground, four legs with claws upwards, and with an animal tail. The top part of the body is shown as human but with the face of a lion with an ornamented crown; side tusks are also depicted giving an overall frightening sight. It also shows the Narasimha beneath Sharabha’s legs as a lion-faced human with anjali (hands folded prayer gesture). (See Infobox image)[13]

In the Sritattvanidhi, the depiction prescribed for Sharabeshwaramurti is of thirty arms; arms on the right are to hold thunderbolt, mushti, abhaya, chakra (discus), sakti, staff, goad, sword, Khatvanga, axe, akshamala, a bone, bow, musala, and fire; and the left hands to display noose, varada, mace, arrow, flag, and another type of sword, a snake, a lotus flower, skull-cup, pustaka, plough, and mrudanga with one hand encircling Durga in a hug. This form is extolled to usher good luck, cure all diseases and destroy all enemies.[14]

The Chola dynasty in Tamil Nadu was particularly favourable to the beliefs of Shaiva sect. It is said that the sectarian aspect got highlighted during their reign. This is evident from the four Sharabha images, the earliest at the Vikramsolishwaram temple near Kumbakonam built by Vikrama Chola (1118–35). The other images are at Darasuram and Kampahareshvarar temple, Thirubuvanam built by a Chola ruler, Kulottunga Chola III where Sharabha's image is housed in a separate shrine.[15]

A sculpture of Sharbeshwaramurti in the Tribhuvanam temple, a Shiva temple in Tanjore district, in Tamil Nadu is seen with three legs, with body and face of a lion and a tail. It has four human arms, the right upper hand holds axe, noose is held in the lower right hand, the deer in the upper left hand and fire in the lower left hand. Narasimha is shown with eight armsIn the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram, a rare image of the Chola period, in black basalt, depicts Shiva as Sharabha. It is deified in an exclusive small shrine, as part man, beast and bird, destroying the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu, Narasimha. This highlights the hostility between the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects. In the Chennakeshava temple of Belur (1113), Karnataka, Gandaberunda (2-faced bird identified with Vishnu) depiction is a carved scene of "chain of destruction". Initially, a deer is prey to a large python, followed by being lifted by an elephant and a lion attacking the elephant, and the lion shown as devoured by Sharabha. The last scene depicted is Gandaberunda destroying Sharabha.[16]

In iconographic representations of the myth of Shiva vis-à-vis Vishnu, Sharabha form has been built around Narasimha but substantially embellished with wings to represent Kali and Durga to denote the female powers (shaktis) of Shiva; Sharabha is also shown with a bird head and a serpent in his beak head.[17]

In Hindu scriptures

In Mahabharata

The great Hindu epic does not narrates Sharabha except in two Shiva Sahastranams, where one of his names is Sharabha ,One of them was sung by Vishnu to worship Shiva by thousand lotus flowers,and Shiva gave him famous Sudarshan Chakra.The epic does not relate Shiva to Sharabha it is specific for that particular period only and Sharabha incident was much ancient so ancient purans and vedas narrates a lot about Sharabha and Vedic literature declared him as Supreme being who is worhipped by all gods including Vishnu Bramha and Indra .

Vedic and Shaivite views

Sharabha (right) with Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu as Prahlada and his mother look on.

The legend of Sharabha as an incarnation of Shiva is narrated in many Hindu scriptures and each presents a different version to suit one’s religious beliefs. But the one common aspect of countenance in in all these depictions is that Sharabha is a combination of a huge animal-bird beast with enormous strength manifested with the purpose of pacifying similar ferocious avatars of Vishnu such as Narasimha (man-lion) or Varaha (the boar).

The Narasimha-Sharabha legend is linked to gods assuming mythical animal forms to slay or subdue as the case may be. First, Vishnu assumed the form of Narasimha to slay Hiranyakashipu, an asura (demon) king, who was terrorizing the universe and devotee of Shiva.[1][7] The Shiva Purana mentions: After slaying Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha’s wrath was not appeased. The world trembled, fearing what he might do.he was about to cause untimely pralaya The Devas (the gods) requested Shiva to tackle Narasimha. Initially, Shiva send forth Virabhadra, one of his ardent gana (commander) his own invincible terrifying form, in order to calm Narasimha. When that failed, Shiva manifested in Veerbhadra as the human-lion-bird Sharabha. Shiva then assumed the Sharabha form. Sharabha then attacked Narasimha and seized him up until he was immobilized. He thus quelled Narasimha’s terrifying rage. Narasimha became a devotee of Shiva after being bound by Sharabha.[18][19] Sharabha then decapitated and de-skinned Narasimha so Shiva could wear the hide and lion-head as a garment.[1][9][20] The Linga Purana and Sharabha Upanishad also mention this mutilation and murder of Narasimha.When Narasimha would not pay heed to fatherly advice of Veerbhadra ,he manifested as Sharabha terrible human-bird-dear cosmic entity much mightier and bigger than Narsimha,thisf frightened and humbled Narsimha and Sharabha severed his chest and grabbing him flew to the skies, gaining his senses Narsimha eulogized him with Sharbheshwar ashtotttar shatnam stotram and asked him to always subdue him when his avatar go ego bound suffer from ahamkar false pride dharma than always bring me to senses my lord god.After the mutilation,in one version of a dfferent kalpa aeon Vishnu assumed his normal form and retired to his abode, after duly praising Shiva. It was from here on that Shiva came to be known as "Sharabeshamurti" or "Simhagnamurti".[10][20]

The Skanda Purana considers Narasimha as a mere irritation and not a threat to the world, The perception was that Vishnu may permanently adopt the fierce form of Narasimha, which would be detrimental to his role of doing good deeds. Hence, the purpose of Shiva assuming the form of Sharabha was to ensure that the lion body of Vishnu was discarded and he got united with his original divine form. Narasimha struck Sharabha with his body, it was Vishnu who groaned in pain and not Sharabha who was in an "adamantine body". It was then that Vishnu realised that Sharabha was none other than Shiva and bowed and praised Sharabha. Shiva then blesses Vishnu and gives him a boon to kill demons.[20] A Purana ends the story with gods fearing that Sharabha may not be able to control his rage and thus urging Shiva to give up his Sharabha form. Thereafter, Shiva dismembered Sharabha’s form; his limbs were given away and his torso became a Kapalika.[21] The Vamana Purana too discusses the tale, ending with Narasimha becoming the calm Vishnu again and Sharabha becoming a lingam, the symbol of Shiva.[20]

In the Kalika Purana, Varaha - Vishnu’s boar avatar - had amorous dalliance with the earth goddess. He and his four boar sons then created mayhem in the world, which necessitated Shiva to take the form of Sharabha, to kill the Varaha form. Even, Vishnu requests Shiva to destroy Varaha, unable to control his own form. Here, Narasimha appears to aid Varaha. Sharabha kills Narasimha first and then kills Varaha, allowing Vishnu to reabsorb the energies of both his fierce forms. Finally, Sharabha.kills all of his four sons and the spirit melt back in Vishnu and henceforth universe was again at peace[11][22][23]

Vedic Supreme God-Sharabh Upanishad

Sharabha has his origin in Vedas,Sharabha upanishat details about the incident aestheticaly depicting terrible power of Sharabha to kill Narsimha.This is dialogue between Bramha as master guru and Rishi Pippaladi as disciple shishya ,when pippaladi enquires about supermost lord omnipotent and god of all gods ,so bramha tells dear time the kaal is supreme no avatar or gods are beyond its domain and greater than him is Mahakaal who devours kaal at Mahapralaya the end of the time he extolls further that being beyond time and maya and as final destroyer none of the god precedes him and he narrates about Shivas most terrible form Sharabheshwar who conquered and killed Narasimha destroying his dillusion and false pride,The upanishad eloberates esoteric and deep spiritual significance of this avatar.Shara means the the one unit of body, mind and jeeva ,abh means Parmatman the supreme inexplicable entity formless Shiva the final God.So when jeeva is deluded by ego false pride ,the lord as Sharabha knowledge which destroys darkness of egotism and vainglory and establishes the jeeva in his real identity,eternal bliss of Shiva Parbramhan.Hence Sharbha gives liberation Moksha.

Tantra View-Akash Bhairava Kalpa.

Sharabheshwar Mahadev is also highly worshiped in Tantra ,many tantras are dedicated to him ,the foremost among them is Akash bhairava kalpa or tantra here there are many rituals and meditations mantras technical details of yantras and various rituals along with stotras eulogies saharsranam thousand names ,hundred and eight names and various occultish and dangerous frightful rituals along with peaceful devotional sadhnas,He is the gateway to higher and highest dimension and the supreme most lord lettin devotee realize highest spiritual possibility of human than enter into infinite bliss of parmatman through atman.He is worshiped for instant gains of mundane and spiritual His benevolence is such that he grants what his devotee would wish for ,his energies and munificence over whelms the devotee making him invincible blissful and prosperous.Sharabh is mentioned in many tantras which contain meditation mantras rituals etc for specific purposes siddhi and in Shree vidya too one of many boons of chanting lalita sahasranam properly is that the devotee,s enemies would be perished by Sharabheshwar.

Vaishnava and Smartha views Vedic History Sharabh Upanishad

Narasimha transformed into Gandaberunda, to combat Sharabha. Ashtamukha Gandaberunda Narasimha slaying Sharabha and Hiranyakashipu, depicted in his lap.

Vaishnava followers including Dvaita scholars, such as Vijayendra Tirtha (1539–95) refute the portrayal of Narasimha as being destroyed by Sharabha as they consider the Shaivite Puranas as tamasic - and thus not authoritative - based on their reading of Sattvic Puranas and Shruti texts. The refutation of the Sharabha legend along with ten other Shaivite legends is discussed in a text by Vijayindra Tirtha called Shaivasarvasvakhandanam.[24]

Some regional South-Indian scriptures narrate that Narasimha took the form of Gandaberunda (literally "the mighty two-headed"), a more ferocious two-headed bird-animal, who combats and destroys Shiva-Sharabha.[16][25]

The Sharabha Upanishad mentions that shara means jiva ("soul") and Hari (Vishnu) is gleaming in the form of Sharabha, and that Hari has manifested as Sharabha who is capable of granting moksha (salvation).[26] There is a reference to Sharabha in the Vishnu sahasranama, the 1000 names of Vishnu, and the literal meaning seems to suggest the praise of Sharabha (the lion-killing animal).[27]

Narasimhan Krishnamachari, a scholar on Vishishtadvaita philosophy, states that the name "Sharabha" has been interpreted in two ways namely; the first interpretation means “the Destroyer (of those who transgress the bounds of ethics),” as given by the Sri Vaishnavite commentator, Parasara Bhattar and the second interpretation as given by Adi Sankara, among others.[28] The former is based on the Sanskrit verb SR, which means "to injure to destroy".[28] According to C. V. Radhakrishna Sastri, "Sara" also refers to an arrow, and the perishable body shines if it is aimed at Bhagavan, because He shines in that body."[28]

Adi Shankaracharya, as with the reference in the Sharabha Upanishad, refers to this 356th name of Vishnu sahasranama as not mentioning the lion-killing animal at all and instead interprets the name to mean, "As the Lord shines in the body as the indwelling Self, He is called Sharabha, while the body is sara (perishable)."[29] As these commentaries on the Vishnu sahasranama suggest, none of them refer to the avatar of Shiva.

In Buddhist scriptures

Sharabha is depicted similar to a deer, folio from Jataka tales.

In the Jataka tales of the Buddha's previous lives, there is narration related to his birth as Boddhisattva in a forest as a Sharabha, the eight-legged deer. This story is of one compassion of the deer shown towards the King who wanted to hunt the deer. The King, while trying to hunt the deer, fell into a precipice with his horse. The deer instead of abandoning the king to his fate rescued him. The King was deeply touched by the compassion shown by the deer and thereafter promulgated a decry stating that hunting was an illegal activity in his country.[30][31]

In Tibetan Buddhism, sharabha is represented as a beast with a goat's head and horns, a lion's mane and horse's body and legs. It symbolizes determination, strength and speed. Sometimes, it is represented additionally with horns of an antelope and claws of an eagle. Sometimes, the goat head is replaced by a lion's, horse's feet by a lion's and horns can be of a ram. A common feature of all representations is the horse's body. It is often depicted as mounts of young Devas or dwarfs in a Torana – a six-level archway behind an enlightenment throne of a Buddha or Boddhisattva. Together with the devas, they symbolize the perfection of effort (virya).[32][33]

As emblem

Gandaberunda, the Karnataka state emblem, flanked by red maned yellow lion elephant Sharabha

The Government of Karnataka, the University of Mysore and the Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited (KSDL-an industrial unit owned by the Government of Karnataka) have adopted Sharabha, with modifications and also appropriate justifications, as their emblem or logo.[34]

In Karnataka Soaps and Detergents Limited logo, Sharabha is depicted in the form of a body of a lion with the head of an elephant to represent the virtues of wisdom, courage and strength.[35] The Royal Emblem of Mysore has also been adopted by the University of Mysore as their logo too. This logo displays Gandabherunda flanked on either side by the lion-elephant Sharabha - stronger than the lion and the elephant and defender of uprightness, surmounted by a lion.[36]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Pattanaik, Devdutt (2006). Shiva to Shankara decoding the phallic symbol. Sharabha (Shiva Purana) (Indus Source). pp. 123–124.  
  2. ^ "शरभ". Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary. p. 1057. Archived from the original on 2012-02-26. Retrieved 18 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Waradpande, N. R. (2000). The mythical Aryans and their invasion. Sharabha (Books & Books). pp. 43, 46.  
  4. ^ Hopkins, E. Washburn (2008). Epic mythology. Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan Research. pp. 18–19.  
  5. ^ Mihira, Sree Varaha; Bangalore Venkata Raman and B. Lakshminarain Rao (1986). Brihat Jataka of Varahamihira. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 583.  
  6. ^ Zimmermann, Francis (1999). Volume 4 of Indian medical tradition Alternative Medicine Series. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. p. 82.  
  7. ^ a b Blurton, T. Richard (1993). Hindu art. Sharabha (Harvard University Press). p. 123.  
  8. ^ Roy, Janmajit (2002). Bhagavata Purana. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. pp. 93–95.  
  9. ^ a b David Knipe, Alf (1989).  
  10. ^ a b Rao, T. A.Gopinatha (1997). Elements of Hindu iconography, Volume 2. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. pp. 171–173.  
  11. ^ a b Roy, Janmajit (2002). Bhagavata Purana. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. pp. 93–95.  
  12. ^ Shastri, Biswanarayan (1994). Kalika purana. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 25–27.  
  13. ^ Rao pp.172–173
  14. ^ Rao p.173
  15. ^ Smith, David (2003). The Dance of Siva Religion, Art and Poetry in South India Volume 7 of Cambridge Studies in Religious Traditions. Cambridge University Press. p. 193.  
  16. ^ a b "Gandaberunda- The Two Headed Bird". Kamat Potpourri. Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  17. ^ Kramrisch, Stella (1994). The Presence of Siva. Princeton University Press. p. 436.  
  18. ^ Woodroffe, Sir John. Hymns to the Goddess. Saharab (Forgotten Books). p. 151.  
  19. ^ Soifer, Deborah A. (1991). The myths of Narasiṁha and Vāmana two avatars in cosmological perspective. SUNY Press. pp. 90–91.  
  20. ^ a b c d Phyllis Granoff (2004). "Saving the Saviour". In Bakker, Hans. Origin and growth of the Purāṇic text corpus. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. pp. 116–131.  
  21. ^ O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger; Wendy Doniger (1981). Śiva, the erotic ascetic. Oxford University Press US. pp. 282–3.  
  22. ^ Shastri, Biswanarayan (1994). Kalika purana. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 25–27.  
  23. ^ Frederick M. Smith. The self possessed: deity and spirit possession in South Asian literature. Columbia University Press. pp. 223–4. 
  24. ^ Sharma, B. N. Krishnamurti (2000). A history of the Dvaita school of Vedānta and its literature from the earliest beginnings to our own times. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.  
  25. ^ "Nrsimhadev-Ganda Bherunada and Shiva Sarabha". The Sampradaya Sun ( May 23, 2005. Archived from the original on 2012-04-06. Retrieved 2 April 2010. 
  26. ^ Rao p.174
  27. ^ Swami   Stanza 37, line 1: "atulah sharabhah bheemah samayagno havirharih sarvalakshanalakshanyah lakshmeevaan samitinjayah."
  28. ^ a b c "Vishnusahsranamam, Volume II- Annotated Commentaries by Sri Narasimhan Krishnamachari" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  29. ^ Tapasyananda, Swami, Sri Vishnu Sahasranama, pg. 91, Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math. Sanskrit and English, with an English translation of Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada's commentary.
  30. ^ "Shakyamuni Buddha - Jataka (previous lives)". Archived from the original on 2013-10-31. Retrieved 2010-01-09. 
  31. ^ Edward Byles Cowell; Sir Robert Chalmers; William Henry Denham Rouse; Henry Thomas Francis; Robert Alexander Neil (2000). "Sarabha-Miga-Jataka". In Edward Byles Cowell. The Jātaka or stories of the Buddha's former births 4. Asian Educational Services. pp. 166–74.  
  32. ^ Robert Beér (2004). The encyclopedia of Tibetan symbols and motifs. Serindia Publications, Inc. pp. 80, 90.  
  33. ^ Robert Beer (2003). The handbook of Tibetan Buddhist symbols. Serindia Publications, Inc. p. 259.  
  34. ^ "Gandaberunda- The Two Headed Bird". Archived from the original on 2014-02-02. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  35. ^ "Profile: Sharabha". Karnataka Saops and Detergents Limited. Archived from the original on 2010-06-10. Retrieved 2010-01-09. 
  36. ^ "The University Emblem". University of Mysore. Archived from the original on 2013-10-27. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 

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