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Bhairava (Sanskrit, "Terrible, Frightful") is a Hindu deity, a fierce manifestation of Shiva associated with annihilation. Bhairava originated in Hindu legends and is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike. He is worshiped throughout India and Nepal.
Bhairava is the wandering form of Lord Shiva and they guard the cardinal points. There are sixty four Bhairava's. These sixty four Bhairava's are grouped under eight categories and each category is headed by one major Bhairava. The major eight Bhairava's are called Aṣṭāṅga Bhairava's. The Ashta Bhairava's control the eight directions of this universe. Each Bhairava has eight sub Bhairavas under them, totaling 64 Bhairava's. All of the Bhairavas are ruled and controlled by Maha Swarna Kala Bhairava otherwise known as Kala Bhairava, who is the supreme ruler of time of this universe as per Hindu scriptures. Bhairavi is the consort of Kala Bhairava Bhairava is also called as protector, as he guards the eight directions of the universe. In all Hindu temples, there will be a Bhairava idol. This Bhairava is the protector of the temple. In Shiva temples, when the temple is closed, the keys are placed before Bhairava. Bhairava is also described as the protector of women. He is described as the protector of the timid and in general women who are timid in nature.
The word Bhairava originates from the word bhīru, which means fearful. Bhairava means terribly fearful form. The right interpretation is that he protects his devotees from dreadful enemies, greed, lust and anger. Bhairava protects his devotees from these enemies. These enemies are dangerous as they never allow us to seek God within. There is also another interpretation. Bha means creation, ra means sustenance and va means destruction. Therefore, Bhairava is the one who creates, sustains and dissolves the three stages of life. Therefore, he becomes the ultimate or the supreme.
The origin of Bhairava can be traced to a conversation between Brahma and Vishnu which is recounted in the Shiv Mahapuran. In it, Vishnu inquired of Brahma, "Who is the supreme creator of the Universe?" Arrogantly, Brahma told Vishnu to worship him as Supreme Creator. One day, Brahma thought "I have five heads. Shiva also has five heads. I can do everything that Shiva does and therefore I am Shiva." Brahma became a little egotistical as a result of this. Additionally, he began to forge the work of Shiva and also started interfering in what Shiva was supposed to be doing. Consequently, Mahadeva (Shiva) threw a small nail from his finger which assumed the form of Kala Bhairava and casually went to cut off one of Brahma's heads. The skull of Brahma is held in the hands of Kala Bhairava; Brahma Kapala in the hands of Kala Bhairava and Brahma’s ego was destroyed and he became enlightened. From then on, he became useful to himself, to the world and deeply grateful to Shiva. In the form of the Kala Bhairava, Shiva is said to be guarding each of these Shaktipeeths. Each Shaktipeeth temple is accompanied by a temple dedicated to Bhairava.
There is another school of thought which says that Shiva himself crated Bhairava. There was one demon by name Dahurāsuraṇ who got a boon that he could be killed only by a woman. Kali was invoked by Parvati to kill him. The wrath of Kali killed the demon. After killing the demon, her wrath metamorphosed as a child. Kali fed the child with her milk. Shiva made both Kali and the child to merge with him. From this merged form of Shiva, Bhairava appeared in his eight forms (Aṣṭāṅga Bhairava's). Since Bhairava was thus created by Shiva, he is said to be one of the sons of Shiva.
Puranas too give different versions of Bhairava. In this version there was a war between gods and demons. To eradicate the demons, Shiva created Kala Bhairava from whom Aṣṭāṅga Bhairava's were created. These Ashta Bhairava's got married to Ashta Matrikas. These Ashta Bhairava's and Ashta Matrika's have dreadful forms. From these Ashta Bhairava's and Ashta Matrika's, 64 Bhairava's and 64 Yogini's were created.
Normally in Shiva temples idols of Bhairava are situated in the north facing, southern facing direction. He is also called Kṣetrapāla. He appears in a standing position with four hands. His weapons are drum, pāśa (noose), trident and skull. In some forms of Bhairava, there are more than four hands. He appears without dress and with a dog. His weapons, dog, protruding teeth, terrifying looks, garland with red flowers all these give him frightening appearance.
In all Shiva temples, regular puja rituals begin with Surya and end with Bhairava. Bhairava likes ghee bath (abhiṣeka), red flowers, ghee lamp, unbroken coconut, honey, boiled food, fibrous fruits etc. If a Bhairava idol is facing west, it is good; facing south is moderate; facing east is not good. The right time to pray to Bhairavi's is midnight. During midnight it is said that Bhairava and his consort Bhairavi will give darśana (appearance) to their devotees. The most appropriate time is Friday midnight. There are eight types of flowers and leaves used in arcana (अर्चन) to Bhairava.
Bhairava is the ultimate form of manifestation or pure "I" consciousness. This form is called Svarṇākarṣṇa Bhairava. He has red complexion and clothed in golden dress. He has moon in his head. He has four hands. In one of the hands he carries a golden vessel. He gives wealth and prosperity. Performing pūja on Tuesdays gives quick results. In some of the ancient texts he is said to have thirty two hands, shape of a bird, golden complexion, terrible teeth, and human form above the hip. Worshiping him destroys enemies.
There are eight types of Bhairava's. The eight Bhairava's are said to represent five elements viz. ākāś, air, fire, water and earth and other three being sun, moon and ātman. Each of the eight Bhairava's are different in appearance, have different weapons, different vāhana's (vehicle) and they bless their devotees with eight types of wealth representing Ashta Lakshmi's. Continuous worship of Bhairava leads the worshipper to a true Guru. There are separate mantra's to all the eight Bhairava's.
It is generally believed that worshiping Bhairava gives prosperity, success and good progeny, prevents premature death and solution to debts and liabilities. Different forms of Bhairava evolve only from Śiva, who is called the Mahā Bhairava.
Temples or shrines to Bhairava are present within or near most Jyotirlinga temples. There are also the sacred twelve shrines dedicated to Shiva which can be found all across India including the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi and the Kal Bhairav temple, Ujjain. The Patal Bhairav and Vikrant Bhairav shrines are located in Ujjain as well.
Another set of people in Kashmir that have their origin from Gorat, or the minister of Mata Sharika, worship Bhairava during Shivratri. The Hindu reformer, Adi Sankara, has written a hymn on Kala Bhairava of Kashi which is called Kala Bhairav Ashtakam.
Bhairava Ashtami commemorating the day Kal Bhairav appeared on earth, is celebrated on Krishna paksha Ashtami of the Margashirsha month of Hindu calendar. It is a day of special prayers and rituals.
Bhairava is depicted as being ornamented with a range of twisted serpents, which serve as earrings, bracelets, anklets, and sacred thread (yajnopavita). He wears a tiger skin and a ritual apron composed of human bones. Bhairava has a dog (Shvan) as his divine vahana (vehicle). Bhairavi is a fierce and terrifying aspect of the Devi who is virtually indistinguishable from Kali, with the exception of her particular identification as the consort of Bhairava.
Bhairava himself has eight manifestations i.e. Ashta Bhairava:
- Asithaanga Bhairava
- Ruru Bhairava
- Chanda Bhairava
- Krodha Bhairava
- Unmattha Bhairava
- Kapaala Bhairava
- Bheeshana Bhairava
- Samhaara Bhairava
Kala Bhairava is conceptualized as the Guru of the planetary deity, Shani (Saturn). Bhairava is known as Bhairavar or Vairavar in Tamil, where he is often presented as a Grama devata or village guardian who safeguards the devotee in eight directions (ettu tikku). Known in Sinhalese as Bahirawa, he is said to protect treasures. Lord Bhairava is the main deity worshipped by the Aghora sect.
Bhairava is an important deity of the Newars. All the traditional settlements of Newars have at least a temple of Bhairava. Most of the temples of Bhairava in Nepal are maintained by Newar priests. There are several Bhairava temples in the Kathmandu valley. In south karnataka lord Sri Kalabhairaveshwara is present as Kshetra Palaka in Sri Adichunchanagiri place.
Kala Bhairava temples can also be found around Shakti Peethas. It is said that Shiva allocated the job of guarding each of the 52 Shakti Peethas to one Bhairava. There are said to be 52 forms of Bhairava, which are considered a manifestation of Shiva himself. Traditionally, Kal Bhairav is the Grama devata in the rural villages of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, where he is referred to as "Bhaivara/Annadhani" Vairavar. In Karnataka, Lord Bhairava is the supreme God for the community and commonly referred to as "Gowdas." In the Gangadikara Gowda caste especially, he is considered the caretaker and punisher.
Images of Bhairava
Head of Bhairava, dated 11th-century CE
Kali and Bhairava in Union, 18th century, Nepal
14th century Bhairava, Indonesia.
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