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Actually, the figure to the left is supposed to have a goats head, not a ram's. He is Daksha, he is not Agni as stated above.
Daksha is a Prajapati, who Virabathran decapitates because of the insults which Daksha offered to Siva and Sati, and for his behavior which (along with Siva's) eventually drove Sati to commit suicide. Sati does this by walking into the fires of the Yagna which was being performed by Daksa (who is both her father and nemesis to her husband Siva). She does so with the explicit intention of profaning the sacrifice, because she cannot bear to live between the two men in her life that refuse to get along.
There are many variations of this story, but they all end with Daksha being beheaded by Virabhadra and then ressurected by Siva, who then gives Daksha the head of a goat. In the part of India that I am from, this resurrected Daksha with the goats head is called "Kariyadi Mada Sami", or "Talavay Mada Sami". He always follows Virabhadra in a conciliatory spirit, and is believed to be his Ksethrapala, or temple Guardian.
Also, the character to the right is not Sati, the first incarnation of Siva's Wife. Actually, this figure is called "Brahmahatya", and is a personification of "braminicide" (the murder of a Brahmin). She is concieved of as a very powerful and malevolent spirit. Daksha is a Brahmin, a member of the highest and most priveleged caste. In ancient India, killing a Brahmin, even if justifiable for whatever reason, was looked upon as the greatest crime. Siva and Virabhadra are said to have had to do penance for attacking certain infamous Brahmin characters (e.g., Daksha, even the creator god Brahma himself). In the legends, when either Virabhadra or Siva combats and kills a brahmin, then Brahmahatya appears as a sort of fury that follows these dieties around, tormenting them until they or their assocaites commit some act to purify them of this act. Brahmahatya was even said to follow Prince Rama around, since Ravana, his defeated enemy, was actually a Brahmin and a devotee of Siva. In all of the stories, the attack on the brahmin character is considered justifiable, but even so, the result is always the appearance of Brahmahatya.
Also, Sati (Siva's wife) is not the same as "sutte" (the unjust ritual suicide which wives in certain communities were made to commit when their husbands died) In the actual legend, Sati commits suicide because she is frustrated that her father and husband refuse to get along, and both make the effort to cause her distress over the issue of her divided loyalties. In the purunas, Sati commits suicide because she no longer wants to live under the pressure of trying to be faithful to both her father and her husband, both of whose demands are impossible for her. But her suicide is different fro suttee, which woman were made to do in order to "follow their husbands to the oither shore"... in theory, to join them in death. That is very diufferent from Sati, who the legend makes just plain sick and tired of both her husband and her blood-relations.
by S. Nair on 21st Jul 2009
We see the legend of his creation in association with the fire suicide (suttee) of Shiva's first wife, Sati, who is seen at right, and the ram-headed figure to left represents the fire god, Agni, through his vahana. Unusually, the arch is topped at left with Nandi and at right with a Shivalingam.
by Ian Ison on 21st Jul 2009
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