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I have been told that Yali is a fierce animal of ancient times. I have seen this in temple sculptures:

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It is beyond doubt that this animal is extinct now, but my questions are as below.

  1. Which Hindu scriptures mention this creature Yali?
  2. What are the its characteristics?
  3. Who controls it?

EDIT: Another fascinating point is that this animal seems to be sculptured only in dravidian (in Tamil Nadu) style temples and not others.

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  • It seems similar to the Sharabha, which I discuss here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/7506/36 Aug 11, 2015 at 3:54
  • Is it just me or is there any coincidence between Sharabha and Sharabheswara who is quite often considered as an equivalent of Sri Nrisimha (by few school of thought)?
    – Narayanan
    Aug 11, 2015 at 7:16
  • It's not just a random coincidence. Shiva took an incarnation as a Sharabha to fight Narasimha (because Sharabhas are the natural predators of lions). And then Narasimha created a two-headed bird beast called Ghandaberunda; see my answer here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/2479/36 Aug 11, 2015 at 7:38
  • @Keshav - In the food chain Ghandabherunda is devorer of Sarabhas. There is this food chain sculpted in a temple in Karnataka, where Ghandabherunda consumes Sarabha.
    – user808
    Aug 11, 2015 at 8:05
  • @Krishna I'm not sure whether there were actually wild Ghandaberundas roaming about, or whether it was a special creature created by Vishnu. Aug 11, 2015 at 14:13

1 Answer 1

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Yāḷi (யாளி), that is primarily a term used in Southern India, is commonly known as vyāla in Saṁskṛta. It's also known by the name varāla or varālikā.
Bhojadeva's Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra (57.163) mentions varāla.

śūrasenaṁ prakurvīta madhyavartālitoraṇam /
varālagrāsamakarairvarāhagajasuṇḍakaiḥ //

Kīrtimukha or grāsa, although with a really different śāstrīya basis (as in Skanda Purāṇa 2.4.17.26-31, etc.), is manifestly the mukha of a vyāla in rendering.

gamanī gajaripu sūkarasyāpi karṇau bhṛikuṭi kuṭilaḥ /
mārjāranetrau mahiṣasya śṛṅgau grāso kīrttimānayukto //
~ Śrījñānaratnakośa

The fundamental siṁha face with sinister brows, by grafting sūkara's ears, mārjāra's eyes, & mahiṣa's horns mutates into grāsa (i.e. kīrttimukha). There's also a direct graphical description of siṁha alongwith that of kīrtti in Bhuvanadeva's Aparājitapṛcchā, which applied to none else but vyāla. It agrees in principle, if not in details, with preceding śāstra in its injunctions -

bhṛkuṭikuṭilāntra vārāhakarṇa meṣaśṛṅgodabhavaṁ /
mṛgakapola siṁhavaktraṁ kīrttiḥ syānmukhopamākhyātā //
bhṛkuṭiḥ syād baddhakarṇāśvaskandhaḥ kesarāvṛttaḥ /
kramamadhye parāvṛtto hrasvapādaḥ siṁhottamaḥ //
~ Aparājitapṛcchā (233.2-3)

Thus, the face of kīrtti and hence that of the vyāla is a combination of the facial parts of a number of paśus. The basic face is once again that of a lion with a forehead of an antelope, ears of a boar and horns of a ram. The shoulders should resemble that of a horse with leonine curve and feline feet. Śrījñānaratnakośa, in its description of varālika, recommends a basic face of a dog, with the horns of ibex/ram, neck of a horse, & feet of a lion. (I haven't been able to find Śrījñānaratnakośa, and quote its info from Dhaky's research article regarding vyālas). Also, seeing the various vigrahas of vyāla in mandiras, etc., we know it's a composite paśu, which has parts of more than one paśu, in its śarīra. Furthermore, it has giant & imposing figure and stature, in iconography. Many such vyālas are seen in Harappan seals too. For e.g. in this article by amateurs, an attempt is made to decode the composite iconography of vyāla in a seal.

Samarāṅgaṇa sūtradhāra mentions 16 vyālas, on the basis of mukhabheda -

vyālāḥ śoḍaśa nirdiṣṭā hariṇo gṛdhakaḥ śukaḥ /
kukkuṭaḥ siṁhaśārdulavṛkājāgaṇḍakīgajāḥ //
kroḍāśvamahiṣaśvānomarkaṭa khara ityamī //
~ Samarāṅgaṇa Sūtradhāra (75.27-28)

Bhojadeva mentions these 16 vyālas - hariṇa-vyāla, gṛdhra-vyāla, śuka-vyāla, kukkuṭa-vyāla, siṁha-vyāla, śārdula-vyāla, vṛka-vyāla, aja-vyāla, gaṇḍakī-vyāla, gaja-vyāla, kroḍa-vyāla, aśva-vyāla, mahiṣa-vyāla, śvāna-vyāla, markaṭa-vyāla, & khara-vyāla.
Aparājitapṛcchā also mentioned 16 vyālas on the basis of mukhabheda.

siṁhavyālaṁ gajavyālamaśvavyālaṁ narādikaṁ /
vṛṣavyālam meṣavyālam śukavyālaṁ ca saukraṁ //
māhiṣaṁ mūṣakavyālaṁ kīṭavyālaṁ ca vānaram /
haṁsakukkuṭamāyūraṁ tripalli sarpavyālakam //
iti śoḍaṣa vyālāni uktāni mukhabhedataḥ /
śarīramahivadrūpaṁ hastapādapucchādikaṁ //
vyālānāntarāto rūpamanekākārataḥ smṛtaṁ //
~ Aparājitapṛcchā (233.4-7)

Bhuvanadeva mentions the following 16 vyālas- siṁha-vyāla, gaja-vyāla, aśva-vyāla, nara-vyāla, vṛṣa-vyāla, meṣa-vyāla, śuka-vyāla, sūkara-vyāla, mahiṣa-vyāla, mūṣaka-vyāla, kīṭa-vyāla, vānara-vyāla, haṁsa-vyāla, kukkuṭa-vyāla, mayūra-vyāla, and sarpa-vyāla.

A few of these, such as nara-vyāla, vṛṣa-vyāla, meṣa-vyāla, mūṣaka-vyāla, kīṭa-vyāla, haṁsa-vyāla, mayūra-vyāla, and sarpa-vyāla, aren't mentioned by Bhojadeva. Therefore, from just these two śāstras, we have mentions of 24 unique vyālas, which when multiplied by 24 owing to difference in their poses, yields 576 different figures. All these vyālas mentioned have an imposingly large body with feet, tail, etc. and can be carved in a variety of rūpas. The body of any of these vyālas is a combination. For e.g. even a siṁhavyāla would carry body parts of other paśu (s) too, such as an aśva's lower body, gaja's trunk, etc., as discussed above.

Dhaky, in his research article on vyālas, says that Hemacandra's Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra & Vardhamanasūri's Ācāradinakara, mentions varāla to be the vāhana of Śvetāmbara yakṣiṇī Bhṛkuṭi, who is the śāsanadevatā of tīrthaṅkara Candraprabha (as per Triṣaṣṭi-śalākāpuruṣa-caritra 3.6.108-110, etc.) But after going through the exact Saṁskṛta ślokas (extracted from here), that (varāla being vāhana of Bhṛkuṭi) seems quite incorrect to me.

pītā biḍālagamanā bhṛkuṭiścaturdo'vāme ca hastayugale phalakaṁ suparśum /
tatraiva dakṣiṇakarepyasimudgarau ca ... //
~ Ācāradinakara

Here, 'biḍāla' is said to be vāhana of Bhṛkuṭi; biḍāla is a common name for mārjāra.

marālayānā pītāṅgī bhṛkuṭī nāma devyapi /
dadhati dakṣiṇau bāhu khaḍgamudgaradhāriṇau /
vāmo ca phalakaparaśulāvitau bibhtatī bhujau /
~ Triṣaṣṭiśalākāpuruṣacaritra (3.6)

Here, 'marāla' is used, instead of varāla/vyāla. The former commonly denotes a kind of duck/swan/goose. Therefore, the vāhana of Śvetāmbara yakṣiṇī Bhṛkuṭi isn't vyāla, based on these sources. Then who's vāhana is vyāla really? I'm not yet aware of such a śāstrīya mention. It's important to note though, that since there are a wide variety of vyālas, vyāla itself would most likely not be someone's vāhana. Instead a type of vyāla, might be someone's vāhana.
On a side note, an amateur's article here tries to speculate that gajavyāla and siṁhavyāla have a relation with Skanda (Kārtikeya or Murukaṉ), in an interesting way.

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