Bhairava is an extremely aggressive form of Lord Shiva, the supreme God of destruction. He is also regarded as his wandering form. There are as many as 64 Bhairavas, who are all 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. Kala Bhairava 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, 8 are of special significance and are considered as very important manifestations of Shiva. They are together known as Ashta Bhairavas, the eight-Bhairavas.
Legend of Bhairava
There are interesting legends about the origin of Bhairava.
According to one of them, once, Lord Brahma, the God of creation too was having 5 heads, just like Lord Shiva. He became a bit arrogant on account of this feature, began taking himself as equal to Shiva in all respects and started considering self as the ultimate source of all creations. Also holding himself as the supreme Almighty, he started expecting everyone else to worship him. Shiva realized what was happening and felt that it is time that Brahma is shown his place for the good of the universe. It is then that he then took the fierce form of Bhairava and plucked out one of Brahma’s heads. Thus chastised, Brahma’s arrogance was destroyed and he bowed to Shiva as atonement for his illusion.
However, 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 is said that at last, Lord Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi gave him food, which filled 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 God.
Ashta Bhairava — The Features
Ashta Bhairava, the 8 famous forms of Bhairava remain as the widely worshipped Bhairava forms of Lord Shiva. Though they are normally taken together for many rituals and worships, they are unique Godly beings with distinct characteristics. They are said to represent the five fundamental elements like space, air, water, fire and earth and also the Sun, the Moon and Atma, the soul. These 8 Gods are called as –Asitanga Bhairava, Ruru Bhairava, Chanda Bhairava, Krotha Bhairava, Unmatha Bhairava, Kapaala Bhairava, Bheeshana Bhairava and Samhara Bhairava.
Asitanga Bhairava is an east facing God, who has Bhrami as his consort and swan as his mount. He can bless a devotee with creative ability.
The southeast facing Ruru Bhairava has Maheshwari as his consort and ox as his mount, and he can bestow divine knowledge.
Goddess Kaumari is the consort of the south-facing Lord Chanda Bhairava and he rides on a peacock. He can bless devotees with immense energy and success over rivals.
Krotha Bhairava has Varahi as his consort. The eagle is his mount and he is seen facing south-west direction. He can bless one with the strength to take strong actions.
Unmatha Bhairava is a west-facing deity, having Varahi as his consort and horse as his mount. His worship can have a check on the negative trait of ego.
Kapaala Bhairava is north-west facing, has an elephant mount and has Indrani as his consort. His worship can relieve one from futile pursuits.
Bheeshana Bhairava has Chamundi as his Goddess, lion as his mount and north is the direction that he is facing. His worship can remove negative energies.
With the dog as his mount, Samhara Bhairava is northeast facing and is having Chandi as his consort. His worship can dissipate past sins.