Here is the story of Shiva and Sati, and of how Virabhadra (of virabhadrasana/warrior pose fame) came to be.
Sati’s father is Daksha. Daksha is the son of Brahma the Creator, and all of Brahma’s children also create; Daksha creates culture. Since Shiva stands outside of culture, there are many stories that set Shiva and Daksha against one another. This is one of them. Sati married Shiva against her father’s wishes.
So Daksha held a huge fire ceremony (yajna) and invited all of the gods and goddesses and the great sages. But he did not invite Shiva and Sati. When Sati heard of this, she was angry and determined to go anyway. Shiva said, “Nothing good will come of it,” but he did not stop her.
Hearing this, Sati replied, “Shiva is everyone’s friend. No one but you speaks ill of him. All that you said, the gods and goddesses know and still they adore him.” According to custom (to culture), when a wife heard her husband reviled, she was to either leave the place with her hands over her ears. Or, if she had the power, she should end her life.
Sati walked into the fire and died.
When Shiva heard of this, he was furious. He tore out one of his dreadlocks and from it created the personification of his anger – Virabhadra, a thousand-armed demon.
In Sanskrit, vira means hero and bhadra means blessed, fair, beautiful, and auspicious. Just as in the renaming of Rudra into Shiva, we see a wild and violent deity beseeched to mercy through naming.
The description that follows of Virabhadra and the ceremony is from Tales of the Shiva Purana, compiled by H. G. Sadhana Sidh Das.
“Virabhadra shone with energy and he had thousands of mouths and eyes. His hair glistened like lightning and his hands were full of all sorts of weapons. When he spoke it was like thunder. From his body, Virabhadra created a female demon named Bhadrakali.
“’What are our order?’ asked Virabhadra and Bhadrakali of Shiva. ‘Go and destroy Daksha’s Yajna,’ was the order. To help them in this mission, Virabhadra created several other demons from the parts of his body. All of them had a thousand arms and carried weapons. Virabhadra, Bhadrakali, and these other demons headed for Daksha’s Yajna. When they got there, they found that the sacrifice had already started and the sacred fire was burning.
“The sages were reciting hymns and the Gods were watching. Musical instruments were being played. Virabhadra roared and the sound of the roar was so loud that several of the Gods began to run away. The earth shook and there were tidal waves in the ocean.
“Daksha was frightened. But he summoned up courage and inquired who they were. ‘We are Shiva’s assistants and we have come to take part in the sacrifice,’ replied Virabhadra. Virabhadra and the other demons then proceeded to burn down the structure where the sacrifice was being held. They tied up the priests and threw all the offerings away.
“With their weapons, they attacked the Gods. Whatever resistance the Gods tried to put up was taken care of by Virabhadra’s [trident] and Bhadrakali’s spear. The Goddess Sarasvati lost her nose and the God Agni lost his arms. The sage Bhaga had his eyes gouged out and the sage Pusha lost all his teeth. Virabhadra sliced off Daksha’s head and gave it to Bhadrakali. Thousands of thousands of Gods died and the sacrifice became a battlefield.
“Vishnu tried to fight it out and he and Virabhadra shot arrows at each other. But one of Virabhadra’s arrows struck Vishnu on the chest and he fell down unconscious. Spurred on by Brahma, the Gods began to pray to Shiva. These prayers pacified Shiva and he asked Virabhadra and Bhadrakali to refrain from causing further damage. Brahma asked about the Gods who had been killed to bring them back to life.
“When Shiva calmed down, he returned the lives of the dead Gods and everyone was back to normal. But Daksha’s head could not be restored. So a goat’s head was put instead and Daksha was forgiven.”
Shiva, the long-haired yogi who lives outside of culture and is concerned only with meditation, defeats the Culture Maker whenever they come up against one another. Culture is maya, an impermanent illusion. Culture led Sati to throw herself on the fire and Shiva sent a vicious reminder that some things are more important than following the rules.