Bhairava is a belligerent form of Lord Shiva, the supreme God of destruction. He has the power to annihilate evil, destroy negative energies and spread auspicious vibrations all around. Bhairavas are said to be as many as 64 in number, and they are believed to be the guardians of the cardinal points and the different directions. Kala Bhairava is the overlord of the Bhairavas and he is regarded as the supreme ruler of universal time. The dog is Bhairava’s mount and also his companion.
Of the many forms of Bhairava, 8 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 be the rulers of the 8 directions. Kapala Bhairava is the sixth of the Ashta Bhairava forms.
Legend of Bhairava
There are interesting legends about the origin of Bhairava. One of them is stated by the Shiva Purana.
Once, there arose an argument between the Gods Brahma and Vishnu, as to who among the two was more important. The matter reached Lord Shiva and in order to settle it, he transformed himself into a massive pillar of light that went stretching beyond all frontiers and stood there between them. He then proclaimed that whoever finds its ends would be considered as the bigger entity. Vishnu assumed the form of a wild boar and went deep down; searching for the bottom end, but it was beyond his reach. Brahma, meanwhile, took the form of a swan and started flying upwards with a view of finding the upper end. However, he too could not go anywhere near his destination. However, while Vishnu returned empty-handed and conceded his failure, Brahma started gloating that he did indeed reach the top of the amazing column of light. In order to support his claim, he also produced the Ketaki flower as a proof for having reached the top and taken it from there. The reality, however, was otherwise, as the flower was only falling down from the top when Brahma was flying upwards. Shiva then decided to call Brahma’s bluff, came out of the infinite light, declared that Brahma’s was only an empty boast and pulled up the creator for his dishonest claim. It was then that he created Bhairava from the fire of his third eye, and this ferocious Lord simply plucked out Brahma’s fifth head, which actually made the false assertion. Brahma was thus, well chastised and repenting for his mistake, he bowed to Shiva as atonement for his illusion and wrongdoing.
Thus, the advent of Bhairava itself happened only to challenge and destroy falsehood and uphold truthfulness.
It is also said that the separated skull of Brahma was stuck to Bhairava’s hands inextricably and that he had to go from place to place, trying to get rid of the severed head. As he went around seeking alms in the skull, so that it could become full and 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 detach it from his hands. Bhairava was thus relieved finally of his affliction. It is for this reason that this God is also regarded as a wandering form of Shiva.
Ashta Bhairava – The Features
Ashta Bhairava, the 8 famous forms of Bhairava remain as the widely worshipped Bhairava aspects of Lord Shiva. Though they are normally taken together for worships and rituals, they actually remain as individual Godly entities with distinct characteristics of their own. They are said to represent the 5 fundamental elements of air, water, fire, earth and space, and also the Sun, the Moon and Atma, the soul. These 8 Gods are known in the names — Asitanga Bhairava, Ruru Bhairava, Chanda Bhairava, Krotha Bhairava, Unmatha Bhairava, Kapala Bhairava, Bheeshana Bhairava and Samhara Bhairava.
Kapala Bhairava is the sixth among the Ashta Bhairavas. He is yellow in complexion and is holding things like javelin, shield, and bludgeon and water vessel in his four hands. The elephant is his mount and Goddess Indrani is his consort. This deity is facing north-west.
Kapala Bhairava’s blessings can relieve people of futile pursuits and make their endeavors, fruitful.
The Veerattaneswarar temple of Thiruvirkudi in Thiruvarur district and also the Pushpavananathar temple of Thiruponthuruthi in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu are considered as temples dedicated to Lord Kapala Bhairava. People can offer prayers to the Lord here and get his divine grace.