Yali (Hindu mythology)
Yali ([jaːɭi]), also known as Vyala or Sarabham or Vidala in Sanskrit, is a mythical creature seen in many Hindu temples, often sculpted onto the pillars. It is called as Leogryph in English. Yali is a motif in Indian art and it has been widely used in south Indian sculpture. Descriptions of and references to yalis are very old, but they became prominent in south Indian sculpture in the 16th century. Yalis are believed to be more powerful than the lion/Tiger or the elephant.
Iconography and image
In its iconography and image the yali has a catlike graceful body, but the head of a lion with tusks of an elephant (gaja) and tail of a serpent. Sometimes they have been shown standing on the back of a makara, another mythical creature. Some images look like three-dimensional representation of yalis. Images or icons have been found on the entrance walls of the temples, and the graceful mythical lion is believed to protect and guard the temples and ways leading to the temple. They usually have the stylized body of a lion and the head of some other beast, most often an elephant (gaja-vyala). Other common examples are: the lion-headed (simha-vyala), horse-(ashva-vyala), human-(nir-vyala) and the dog-headed (shvana-vyala) ones.
Siva as Yali
Saiva texts hold that the unpacified Narasimha Avatar of Vishnu was controlled and assimilated by Siva in the form of Sarabesvara (Sanskrit) or the Yaliappar (Tamil) . This can be taken as another proof that the yali is more powerful than a lion. However, Vaisnavas maintain that in response to Siva's transformation, Narasimha took on the form of Gundabherundanarasimha (Narasimha with 32 arms and a pair of wings) and subdued Siva. Imagery of this can be seen in the Narasimha Sanathi in the Srirangam temple. Iconography can be seen in temples like Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple . However Vaisnavas differ from this version due to the subordinate position given to Vishnu.This form of Siva is considered to be one of the most powerful manifestations of the Lord.
Yali pillars at Vittala temple at Hampi, Karnataka state, India
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