While we were discussing the posts on karaikkal ammai and Puli Kaal muni, we had mentioned about Bringhi Rishi. He is quite a character but very rarely seen in sculpture.
He was such a staunch shiva devotee that he refused to pray to anyone other God. Once when he went to visit Shiva in his holy abode of Kailash, he saw much to his discomfort that he was giving darshan ( private audience) with his consort Parvathi seated beside him. Such was the saints devotion to Shiva that he felt that he could not even pray to his consort.
Inorder to overcome the problem, the saint morphed into a bee and flew around shiva three times. There is a version of story which says that its due to this that Parvathi got shiva to offer her half his body ( as Artha naari) . Anyway, she was greatly enraged that this devotee refused to worship her and would only pray to her husband. Enraged, she took back her strength ( parvathi is called shakthi - the life force) since he did not want to pray to her, why would be want her strength alone.
Deprived off this, the saint became a mere skeletal form and could even balance himself, Shiva took pity on him and lent him his staff to learn on which got transformed to a third leg. What happened after this is a longer story which we will see later. ( There is another version which states that as the Saint was walking towards Shiva, Parvathi realised his intentions not to worship her and hence edged closer and closer to Shiva. When the Saint still managed to squeeze through inbetween them,she demanded one half of Shiva’s body - and hence he became Ardhanaari.. yet the rishi persisted and taking the form of a bee, bored through the shiva part and came out !!! so much for devotion)
But we return to the sculpture, had searched high and dry for this sculpture and at last found it in the outside hall pillar in tiruchendur. Though the skeletal form is not well sculpted, you can clearly see the three legs and the arms raised in devotion.
To see the skeletal forms, please view this collection of pictures.
South Indian shrines illustrated By P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar