Bhringi is an ardent devotee of God Shiva and a Rishi, who is well known in the Hindu mythology as a member closely associated with God Shiva’s family and is also one among the chief ganas. He is portrayed with three legs and skeleton-like body.
The Birth of Bhringi
The birth of sage Bhringi has been linked to Kumara Sambhavam (which explains the birth of Kumara or Murugan). According to it, this sage has been born from some part of tejas of God Shiva which fell on Giriprastha mountain and lead to the birth of Mahakala (one among the Dwarapalakas) and sage Bhringi.
Another version about his birth is related to the demon Andhaka, who later became the devotee of God Shiva with name Bhringi.
Story of Bhringi Rishi
The story of Bhringi rishi is absolutely one of the most interesting ones in Hinduism. His devotion is ultimate and had been praised in several scriptures.
His story explains the importance of Shakthi(Parvati) and also teaches Shiva and Shakthi are the same and inseparable.
Bhringi was so immersed in God Shiva’s devotion in such a way that, where he only offered prayers to God and ignored the Goddess Parvati who is a part and parcel of Shiva himself.
One day when Bhringi along with several sages visited mount Kailash to pay their respects, All the sages paid their respects to both Shiva and Parvati. But, Bhringi had only paid his respects to Shiva by circumambulating (pradakshina) and bowing to him, leaving Goddess Parvati aside.
The same situation continued whenever the sage visited Kailash.
Annoyed by his acts, Goddess Parvati wished to teach him a lesson that, Shiva and Parvati are not different but one and the same.
Next time when the rishi came to offer his prayers, Goddess Parvati sat on the left lap of the God Shiva to avoid him to circumambulate only around Shiva.
Seeing this, Bhringi took the form of a bee(some say it as a bird) and circumambulated only around Shiva’s head and left the Kailash.
Next time when he had visited both the god and goddess merged together as Ardhanareeswara (The form representing Shiva’s half as Shakti).
Goddess Parvati thought that he has no chance but to do the pradakshina around them. However, Bhringi transformed into a small bee and made a hole in between them and circumambulated only around Shiva.
Angered by this incident and Bhringi’s steadfastness, Goddess Parvati said O Bhringi, your acts might be welcomed by your father(Shiva) but not me. I have tried to explain to you in several ways that we both are same, but you ignored it.
If you think you only need your father, then why do you need Shakti in you? Hence, I am going to take away that part from you.
Thus, the rishi had lost his blood and flesh and left with a bare skeletal form.
Seeing Bhringi in such a difficult situation where he was unable to support himself, Shiva granted the third leg (some say even third hand too) to attain equilibrium and support himself at the same time not to revoke the parvati’s sayings and to make understand that they both are same.
Bhringi then realized the fact that Shiva and Shakti are one and apologized to Goddess Parvati for his actions.
Seeing the merciful nature of the God Shiva for granting a third leg, Bhringi danced out of joy and praised both the god and goddess
Bhringi is normally depicted as a rishi with three legs, pointed beard and having a skeleton-like body. He can be distinguished among the Shiva parivara mostly by his skeletal form.
However, as an utsava vahana, he is represented as a young person with four arms in which the upper two holding a trident and a damaru and the rest two hands showing upwards
Some sculptures even depict Bhringi as one with three hands and three legs. In the dancing form, he is usually depicted holding a whip or stick to make the sound to start and stop the tandava dance.
Bhringi and Kashi
Poet Srinadha in his Book Kashi Khandam had explained the role of Bhringi as the one who removes the fear and applies the Vibhuthi as Tripunda on the forehead of the person near to his final journey in kashi.
His role in Shiva’s tandava
This sage is also given great importance during the Shiva Tandava where he has all the power to instruct the Great God himself when to start and stop the ananda tandava dance. This explains the importance given to his devotees by the god Shiva.
His importance during the Shiva Tandava dance is also explained by the Adi Sankaracharya in Shivanandalahari (stanza 51) saying that
‘Bhringhiicha natanothkatah Karamadi-grahee sphuran Madhava’
explaining that shiva obeys the orders of Bhringi during the tandava dance.
Bhringi can be mostly seen depicted on the walls and temple towers of the ancient shaivate temples.
In some ancient temples of Shiva, one can see Bhringi mandapa present near to the raja dwaram. In such temples, processions will be done where both the God and Goddess murthi’s are carried in a palanquin to the mandapa on special occasions.
Few temples where one can see this rishi’s statues and depictions are
Bhramaramba Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple, Srisailam.
Veerabhadra Swamy Temple, Lepakshi.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Mylapore, Chennai.
Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram.