Durvasana -Mythology and Symbolism

The word Durvasa (दुर्वासा) literally means someone who is difficult to live with. It comes from "dur" which is a negative prefix indicating difficult or bad-tempered, as in durgunam (bad qualities), and the word "Vasathi" which means to live or stay at a place. Combined together it means "the one who is difficult to live with".

According to legend, when Parvathi once complained to Shiva of his anger and the difficulty to live with him owing to this, Shiva bottled up his anger and deposited in Rishi Atri's wife, the noble Anusaya. From this deposit was born the great Rishi Durvasa, posessed of a short temper.

In a previous article, I had written about the symbolism of the leg behind the neck in Eka Pada Shirashasana. The leg that is behind the neck symbolizes a sword to remind one to keep the ego in check, or else ...

There are many leg behind the neck poses- sitting, bending (Skandasana, shown to the left), standing and many more. The standing version is called Durvasana (first picture above).


Durvasa was famous for his curses. Some of his curses have spurred tumultous action and great stories in the mythology. For example, him cursing Indra, the king of the Gods, to lose his power, wealth and immortality, resulted in the churning of the ocean, from which great things emerged, along with, mainly, Amritha- the nectar of immortality. 

The famous asanas, Kurmasana and Suptakurmasana are named after Vishnu who takes the avatara of a tortoise and supports mount Mandhara (left), in all the chaos that resulted from the Devas' (Gods) and the asuras' (demons) churning of the ocean with mount Mandara as the ladle and the celestial Serpent Vasuki as the ladle rope.


Durvasana was received with great respect by humans as well as the devas (Gods), for fear of receiving a curse from him. However, he had also given boons when he was pleased with the devotion of people. The five pandavas in the Mahabharatha were born to Kunti with the grace of various Gods because of a boon she received on account of feeding him during one of his long travels.


While eka pada shirashasana, the sitting leg behind the neck asana, symbolizes a sword to keep one's ego in check, Durvasana, the standing version, symbolizes the sword to keep one's anger in check.