In total there are eight Variations of Marichyasana in the sequences of Ashtanga Yoga: the first four in the First Series, the others in the Fourth Series. This lateral twisting posture is named after the sage Marichi.
Rishi Marichi is the son of Brahma, the cosmic creator, and also one of the Saptarshi (Seven Great Sages) in the First Manvantara. Marichi literally means a ray of light from either the moon or the sun, and Marichi was to be the chief of the Maruts (‘the shining ones’).
At the beginning of time Lord Brahma needed some people to oversee the complicated process of constructing the remainder of the universe. This is why he created 10 rulers (Prajapatis) springing from his mind (Manas) and 9 others coming from his body. Marichi is one of the sages who came from Lord Brahma’s mind (Manasuptras).
Marichi was married to Kala and gave birth to Kashyapa, who was known as the ‘Lord of Creatures’. His grandson was the sun god Surya, the giver of life who is the god to whom Surya Namaskara is dedicated. And his great-grandson was Manu, the father of humanity. The first three letters of Manu are man which is a Sanskrit root meaning ‘to think’, and it is this same Sanskrit root that gave birth to the English word man.
The following story gives a taste of Marichi’s character. One day Marichi went to the forest to collect wood and flowers and returned to his home extremely tired. He called his wife Dharmavrata, and told her that she was to wash his feet for him. Just as Dharmavrata began to wash her husband’s feet, Brahma arrived. Dharmavrata did not know what she should do, should she continue to wash her husband’s feet, or turn her attentions to Brahma, who was Marichi’s father. She chose the latter and suffered the wrath of her husband. Marichi became extremely angry and put a curse on his wife, turning her into a stone. Dharmavrata was naturally upset by this, believing that she was being punished unnecessarily. As a reaction to this, Dharmavrata began many years of meditation which were noticed by Lord Visnu who, impressed by her devotion, granted her a wish. All Dharmavrata wanted was to have Marichi’s curse lifted. Unfortunately, Marichi was such a powerful sage that this was impossible to do. Instead, Dharmavrata was transformed into a holy stone, which was desired by all gods.
Marichi also appears several times in the Mahabharata (Mahābhārata). One time he celebrated the birth of Arjuna, another time he went to the deathbed of Bhishma. Bhishma was the teacher of Pandavas and Kauravas. In the Mahabharata by unlucky coincidence he fights on the side of the “bad guys” Kauravas. When he dies on the battlefield he instructs his students about the Dharma. In the Bhagavata Purana he unties the God of Fire, Indra, by a ritual from the sin he committed by killing the demon Vritra. After his life on earth Marichi has risen into the Firmament as he became one of the stars in the star sign of the Great Wagon.
Interestingly enough, the name ‘Marichi’ also belongs to a female Buddhist deity, whose name also means ‘Ray of Light’. She has a chariot drawn by 7 pigs, whereas the Hindu version has a chariot drawn by 7 horses. She is associated with the dawn. She has an eye in the middle of her forehead, three frightening faces, and ten arms. In Japanese Buddhism, she is Marishi-ten, who was popular among the samurai, who placed her image on their helmets as protection. She is also depicted as riding on a boar, and one of her faces is that of a boar. She is also considered the Queen of heaven in China and is a protector who removes obstacles and brings pleasure.