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This outstanding wood panel is created in Rakta Chandan (Red Sandalwood). Red Sandalwood is not aromatic like usual Sandalwood but it has many other uses which are therapeutic. It is also used for carving statues, particularly in South India. This very old piece appears to be from Kerala and part of a bigger wood carving.
The panel depicts Sage Vyaghrapada offering flowers on a Shivalingam. The upper half of his body is human and lower half that of a tiger. ‘Vyghrapada’ means ‘the one with feet of a tiger’. There is an interesting story behind how the sage acquired feet or claws of a tiger.
Sage Vyaghrapada was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva and he particularly adored his Nataraja aspect. Probably this is the reason why this story is associated with the Nataraja temple of Chidambaram. The sage would hunt for fresh flowers daily to offer to Lord Shiva.
He was so keen on the purity and freshness of these flowers that he would pluck them in the night thus ensuring that they remained untouched even by honey bees. He would climb trees, move about in dense forests in his search for flowers for Shiva. However his feet would get wounded with such effort and he was also unable to climb tall trees or access certain sections of vegetation in the forest.
The sage therefore beseeched Lord Shiva to grant him feet like that of a tiger to enable him to climb trees with ease and move about freely in dense forests. Shiva granted him such boon and the sage came to be known as Vyaghrapada (Vyaghra - tiger, Pada - foot) since.
He stands among foremost devotee-attendants of Lord Shiva like sage Patanjali, Bhrigi etc. and depicted so in Shaiva art, particularly associated with Nataraja aspect of Shiva.