At first glance, You must observe that in south region of India, Most of the temple’s pillars have figure carved which has organs of lion, horse and elephant all together in one creature.In Hindu Mythology this creature known as Yali or Vyala.
In this image you can see pillar carved on stone depicting the mythological Yali ridden by knight. You can see this sculpture in Jalakanteeswarar Temple. Yali is also known as Vyala or vidala in sanskrit. Mostly Yali portrayed as part lion, part elephant and part horse. Image shown above has horse body and elephant head. If you lucky enough to visit Meenakshi Amman Temple in, Madurai, you’ll be wowed by seeing yali in 1000 pillars. Once Meenakshi Amman temple was a frontrunner in the election for the modern seven wonders of the world for its architecture. Image shown below
Yali is a part of Motif Indian Art. Elements which is create recognizable patterns based on folklore and folk art called Motif. This kind of motif indian art has been widely used in south indian sculpture. In 16th century, Yali became more prominent in south indian temples. Yalis are believed more powerful than lion or elephant.
Yali or Vyala very similar to Gargoyle in European architecture or Leogryph in Asian architecture. Yali or Vyala can be called indian dragons. Yali is personification of rampant natural forces. The function of these mythical creatures is to define spaces. But why these creatures carved on temple’s pillar?
Because life is not all about perfection. Life is not perfect. Besides that there are demonic forces all around us. They can mess all things up and Religious Temple Art should accept this bitter truth. Yali is depiction of this notion.
According to Vastu Shastra, there are 16 types of yalis or vyalas including trunk of rhinoceros,ibex etc. They usually have body of a lion and the head some other beast. Common examples are Elephant head -Gaja vyala, Lion head – Simha vyala, Horse head – Ashva vyala, Human head – Nir vyala, Dog head – Shvana vyala.
Simha vyalas are found on the walls of 10th century temple Mehsana in Gujarat. Gaja vyalas are found in Parsvanath temple of khajuraho and in Manibava temple in Maharashtra and in Tamilnadu. Aja vyala are found on the door frame of the Samlaji temple.
Sometimes they have shown standing on the back of Makara, another mythical creature. Yalis are called protector of Temples. They protect and guard the temples and ways leading to the temples.