Bhairava is an extremely aggressive form of Lord Shiva, the supreme God of dissolution. He has the power to quell evil, destroy adverse energies and spread positivity around. There are as many as 64 Bhairavas, who are said to be guarding the cardinal points and controlling the directions. Kala Bhairava is the chief of the Bhairavas and is regarded as the supreme ruler of universal time. He is also held as the guardian deity of the sanctum in the temple and hence, it is a traditional practice to leave its keys in his custody, after the main shrine is locked. Bhairava’s mount is the dog.
Of the 64 Bhairavas, eight are of special significance and are considered as very important manifestations of Shiva. These prominent forms are together known as Ashta Bhairavas, the eight-Bhairava aspects. They are said to rule over the eight directions. Asitanga Bhairava is regarded as the first among the Ashta Bhairavas.
Legend of Bhairava
There are interesting legends about the origin of Bhairava. The Shiva Purana narrates one among them.
Once, there arose a debate between the Lords Brahma and Vishnu, as to who is bigger of the two. When the matter went to Shiva, he simply stood between them as a massive beam of light that travelled beyond the three worlds. He then declared that whoever finds the ends of that will be considered the supreme. Vishnu took the form of a wild boar and went down to find the bottom end, but he could not. Brahma went up in the form of a swan to find the upper end and he too could not reach anywhere near the top. However, while Vishnu returned conceding his inability, Brahma boasted that he did see the upper end of the column. In order to prove his claim, he also produced a flower called Ketaki, which was actually falling down from the top when Brahma was flying upwards. Shiva then emerged out of that infinite beam of light, declared that it was not a true claim and showed Brahma’s assertion to be untrue. He then produced the ferocious Bhairava from his fiery third eye, who then plucked out Brahma’s fifth head, which actually made the false claim. Thus chastised, Brahma repented for his mistake and bowed to Shiva as atonement for his illusion.
Thus, the advent of Bhairava itself happened to destroy falsehood and uphold virtue.
It is also said that the separated skull of Brahma got stuck to Bhairava’s hands inextricably and he had to move around from place to place, trying to get rid of the severed head from his hand. As he went about seeking alms in the skull stuck to his hand, so that it could become full and can fall off his hands on its own, the Bhairava Shiva came to be known as Bhikshadana, the mendicant. It was Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi who gave him food at last, which could fill the skull and immediately, it fell off his hands and Bhairava got relieved from the affliction. It is for this reason that Bhairava is also regarded as a wandering form of Shiva.
Ashta Bhairava – The Features
Ashta Bhairava, the eight forms of Bhiarava remain as the widely worshipped Bhairava aspects of Lord Shiva. Though they are normally taken together for many rituals and worships, they are unique Godly beings with distinct characteristics of their own. They are said to represent the 5 fundamental elements like space, air, water, fire and earth, and also the Sun, the Moon and Atma, the soul. These eight Gods are known in the names- Asitanga Bhairava, Ruru Bhairava, Chanda Bhairava, Krotha Bhairava, Unmatha Bhairava, Kapaala Bhairava, Bheeshana Bhairava and Samhara Bhairava.
Asitanga Bhairava is considered the first of the Ashta Bhairavas. He is depicted in a standing posture. He has four arms, in which he is seen holding a rosary, a water vessel, a twisted dagger and a small cup. He is facing the eastern direction and is seen with his mount, the white swan. Goddess Bhrami is worshipped as his consort.
Asitanga Bhairava is believed to bless people with creative instincts. It is believed that people who worship him with faith can enhance their creative abilities and also succeed in endeavors. They can also get relieved of their curses and afflictions.