Vyaghrapada is a great sage and an ardent devotee of God Shiva, who lived in the region of Chidambaram. He expressed his devotion to the great god by offering flowers daily which are even untouched by honeybees. During which his legs use to get injured by the thorns and rough surfaces of the trees. Seeing his devotion, Shiva granted the boon of tiger legs. Hence got the Vyaghrapada (Vyaghra means Tiger and pada means legs).
He belongs to the Nandinatha sampradaya sect in Shaivism and is one among the eight disciples of God Nandi and spread the teaching of Shaivism.
Vyaghrapada was the son of sage Madhyandina who use to live in the banks of river Ganga. The child acquired remarkable proficiency in Vedas and other religious scriptures during his early childhood.
One day Vyaghrapada asked his father, what is the way to get rid of the cycle of birth and death and attain moksha. His father replied O, son, doing penance and worshipping the Great God Shiva is the best way for attaining moksha.
Then Vyaghrapada said to his father, he is wishing to do the same and asked to suggest the best place for offering the penance. Listening to these words, Muni Madhyandina felt happy and said to his son that thillai forest is the best place for fulfilling his wish.
Story of Vyaghrapada
Vyaghrapada moved towards the south and reached the forest of thillai trees (Excoecaria agallocha) in Chidambaram. He created a hermitage near the Shivaganga water pond which was filled with lotus flowers.
He dedicated his life to worship the Shiva linga present under the banyan tree every day by offering flowers.
One day while collecting the flowers he observed honey bees are drinking the nectar from flowers which he wished to offer for the god. He felt very sad seeing that incident and thought to come early before sunrise and collect the flowers which were even untouched by honey bees.
In the course of collecting flawless flowers and tender bilva leaves, he gets wounded by the thorns and rough surfaces of the trees. However, he continued collecting flowers even from the deepest parts of the forest. After several years he started to lose the vision and gets much more wounded by the thorns.
Unable to collect flowers in this situation, he prayed the Almighty Shiva for help. Shiva then gave the boon of having tiger legs and eyes in the hands and feet. Vyaghrapada felt very happy and continued to offer the flowers to the great god and waited for seeing the Ananda-tandava.
While awaiting Vyaghrapada continued his worship to the mulasthana (Main Shiva Lingam) and also established his own linga near to it in Chidambaram.
Patanjali, a great Maharshi well known for his teachings on yoga sutras and Sanskrit grammar also came to Chidambaram to see the Anandatandava became a great friend of Vyaghrapada.
Later, God Shiva, one day gave his presence in Chidambaram and performed the divine dance of joy (Ananda Tandava) in the kanaka sabha and gave Moksha to Vyaghrapada, Patanjali and Jaimini.
Vyaghrpada also wrote his own book on the importance of Chidambaram(Sthalapurana).
Vyaghrapada married the daughter of sage Vasishtha and had a son named Upamanyu, who became a great Sage and got several boons from God Shiva.
Vyaghrapada also raised a girl child named Hemalekha, who was left at the river by her parents. Hemalekha was born a celestial nymph named Vidyutprabha and King Sushena.
She married a prince named Hemachuda who fell in love with her and she was well known for her preaching’s about the Moksha, Viveka, and Vairagya to her husband and further enlightened the people of the kingdom.
The prince of Gauda Kingdom, Hiranyavarman who left the kingdom and devoted himself to asceticism was also adopted by Vyaghrapada and his wife as their son. Who later rebuilt the temple.
In India, Vyaghrapada is normally depicted as a human with the legs of Tiger along with a tail, pointed beard and also having eyes in both the hands and feet. He is normally seen in a standing posture. However, sometimes he is also portrayed in a bent position like that of a tiger.
In the Statue present in eastern gopura of the Thillai Nataraja temple, Vyaghrapada is depicted with tiger legs and also carrying a stick with hook and flower basket on this right shoulder.
Several paintings also depict Vyaghrapada worshipping Shiva accompanied by Patanjali as a duo and sometimes as a trio with Jaimini.
In the case of Sinhalese (Sri-Lankan) paintings or specimens, a flower can also be seen in the hands of Vyaghrapada.