Bhairava is an aggressive form of Lord Shiva, the supreme God of destruction. He has the power to destroy evil, clear negative energies and spread auspicious vibrations all around. There are said to be as many as 64 Bhairavas and they are regarded as the guardians of the cardinal points and the directions. Kala Bhairava is considered the chief of the Bhairavas and is also regarded as the supreme ruler of universal time. Bhairava’s vehicle is the dog, who also remains his companion.
Of the many Bhairavas, 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. Samhara Bhairava is regarded as the eighth and the last of the Ashta Bhairava aspects.
Legend of Bhairava
There are interesting legends about the advent of Bhairava and Shiva Purana presents one of them.
Once, Gods Brahma and Vishnu entered into an argument, as to who was bigger of the two. The matter went to Lord Shiva, who stepped in for mediation, but seemingly with a different purpose. He simply transformed himself into a huge pillar of light that stretched beyond all boundaries and stood there, towering between them. He then declared that whoever manages to find its ends, will naturally be the winner. Vishnu took the form of a wild boar and went digging down, searching for the bottom end, but didn’t succeed. Brahma, meanwhile, assumed the form of a swan and began flying upwards with a view of finding the top end. But he too could not reach anywhere near his destination. However, while Vishnu accepted his inability, Brahma started boasting that he did indeed get to the top of that amazing column of light. In order to support his claim, he also showed the Ketaki flower as a proof of having reached the upper end and picking that up from there. But the reality was otherwise, as the flower was just falling down from the top and Brahma had only found that en route. Shiva then decided to come out with the truth, appeared from the infinite light, declared that Brahma’s claim was absolutely false and pulled up the creator for his dishonest assertion. He then created the fearful Bhairava form from his third eye. The ferocious Bhairava punished the God of creation by simply plucking out his fifth head, which actually uttered the falsehood. Brahma was thus well chastised. He then repented for his mistake and bowed to Shiva in remorse for his illusion and wrongdoing.
Thus, the appearance of Bhairava itself happened only for destroying falsehood and upholding truth.
It is also said that the separated skull of Brahma however, got stuck firmly to Bhairava’s hands and that he had to go from place to place, trying to get rid of the embarrassing load. As he went around seeking alms in the severed 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 in the end, which could fill the skull and detach it from his hands, at last. Bhairava was thus relieved finally of his affliction. It is for this reason that this Lord is also regarded as a wandering form of Shiva.
Ashta Bhairava – The Features
Ashta Bhairava, the 8 famous forms of Bhiarava 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 divinities 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, 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.
Samhara Bhairava is the eighth, last Ashta Bhairava. He looks brilliant like a lightning. Though he is depicted variously, it is in his ten-armed form that he looks awe-inspiring. He carries in his hands various weapons and things that usually adorn other Gods, like the trident, elephant-goad, conch, discus, mace, mini-drum etc. The dog is his mount and north-east is the direction he is facing. His consort is Goddess Chandi.
It is believed that Samhara Bhairava can keep the evil forces in check, dissolve the effects of the past sins and help to relieve people of their karmic bondage.
The Swetharanyeswarar temple at Thiruvenkadu, in the Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu and the Vairavan Swamy temple at Vairavanpatti in the Sivaganga district of the same state are considered as temples that are specially dedicated for Samhara Bhairava. People can offer worship to the Lord here and earn his blessings for their welfare.