Who is Kala Bhairava?
Kala Bhairava is a fierce form of Shiva who is associated with annihilation. Since Kaal Bhairava’s vehicle is a dog, devotees also feed stray dogs to please him.
This form of Lord Shiva can vanquish fear. He protects his devotees from greed, anger, and lust. He can transcend ‘time’ and ‘death’. The Puranas say that Shiva created Kala Bhairava to destroy demons when a war erupted between devas and asuras.
Kala Bhairava temples exist across the Indian subcontinent. He is often depicted in an aggressive form with blazing hair, angry eyes, and a tiger’s teeth. A snake is coiled around his neck or crown, and he wears a macabre garland of human skulls. He also carries a trident, a drum, and the fifth head of Brahma, which according to legend, had been severed by Kala Bhairava. His throat is blue as Shiva consumed the halahala poison to save the world. Hence, he is regarded as one who vanquished even death. His third eye symbolizes eternal wisdom.
Legends of Kala Bhairava
There are several legends about Kala Bhairava, who is one of the 8 avatars of Shiva. The Shiva Mahapurana says that once Brahma commanded Vishnu to worship him, as he was the one who created the universe. This annoyed Shiva, who assumed the form of Kala Bhairava to punish Brahma. Brahma originally had 5 heads, and he beheaded one of them. So now, Brahma has only four heads, and Bhairava carries the fifth head. But by chopping off Brahma’s head, Shiva committed Brahmahatya, or the act of killing a Brahman. So Bhairava had to carry the head with him for 12 long years. He also roamed about like a vagabond until he was freed of his sin.
The name Bhairava itself has a deep meaning. ‘Bhai’ means fear as well as lustrous light. Supposedly, it endows one with material wealth. ‘Rava ’ denotes ‘echo’. While ‘Ra’ removes negativity and restricted consciousness, ‘Va’ creates opportunities. Thus, ‘Bhairava’ denotes that fear can be used to achieve ‘aseem anand’ or extreme delight.
Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains worship Bhairava. Praying to Bhairava can help one to achieve success, vanquish enemies and attain materialistic comforts. He helps one to utilize one’s time to achieve goals. This is why he is the Lord of Time. People waste a lot of time on trivial pursuits, and this distracts them from their goals, hindering success. But if they worship Bhairava and chant his name, they will be able to avoid this. His power can purify souls and create a favorable environment for believers. Thus, as if by miracle, one will find oneself at the right place at the right time.
Bhairava as Kshetrapalaka
Another name for Kala Bhairava is ‘Kotwal’ or ‘Kshetrapalaka’, meaning ‘guardian of the temple’. When Shiva and Shakti temples close in the evening, the keys are ceremonially submitted to Bhairava and received from him when they reopen in the morning. Usually, he has his own shrine within the temple premises. He is also the guardian deity of travelers. According to the Siddhas, before embarking on a journey, especially at night, we should light lamps or diyas and garland Bhairava with cashew nut wreaths for protection and safety.
Though Bhairava is one of the most feared deities, he is also known to reward and protect his devotees. He is worshipped as Batuk Bharav in tantric practices. As he is a Rudra, Bhairava is well-versed in tantra-mantra.
Kala Bhairava’s vahan or vehicle is the dog. In popular representations, the dog sits on one side as if it is ready to taste the blood dripping from Brahma’s head. Taking care of dogs and feeding them is one way to show your devotion to Kala Bhairava. He bestows many blessings and the boon of auspicious time to his loyal devotees. Supposedly, if you feed hungry dogs with ‘halwa puri’ (sweet bread), especially on Saturdays, all your problems will disappear.
8 Forms of Bhairava
Kala Bhairava has 8 forms – Asithaanga Bhairava, Ruru Bhairava, Chanda Bhairava, Krodha Bhairava, Unmattha Bhairava, Kapaala Bhairava, Bheeshana Bhairava, and Samhaara Bhairava. He is also the guardian of the 52 Shaktipeethas. So, it is said that there are 52 forms of Bhairava across these sacred spots.
The Aghoris, members of the Kapalika sect, Gorat Kashmiris, Assamese tantric practitioners, the Gowdas of Karnataka, people in Sri Lanka and Kathmandu are among the many communities who worship Kala Bhairava. Adi Sankara wrote a beautiful hymn, ‘Kala Bhairav Ashtakam’ in honor of him. In the villages of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc., he enjoys the status of village guardian. One can see statues of Bhairava as ‘grama devata’ at the village entrance.
The word Bhairava has a lot of prominence in invocations. Chanting the three syllables ‘bhai’, ‘ra’, and ‘va’ can bring many benefits. The sacred sound reminds us that each second is valuable and that one should not disrespect time.
Kallukurikkai Bhairava Temple
Tamilnadu has many temples for the worship of Kala Bhairava. In fact, it probably has the most number of temples among all the Indian states. The Kala Bhairava temple in Kallukurikkai is in the Krishnagiri district, Tamilnadu. The temple lies in an idyllic environment on the banks of Patethalavu lake, between the Anjaneya hills and Bhairava hills. It has 2 idols of the deity. A statue of Shiva’s vehicle, Nandi, the bull, stands at the entrance. Many people come here seeking freedom from addictions, relief from diseases, poverty, enemies, and also for marriage and child boons. Once their wishes come true, they perform Poojas for Kala Bhairava.
Kala Bhairava was the guru or teacher of Saturn (Shani). Scriptures say that Saturn worshipped Shiva in Kasi (Varanasi) and performed penance to attain wisdom. In the ancient period, rishis and munis would chant the Moola Mantra of Kala Bhairavar to rid themselves of fear. According to epigraphs, the temple was built by the Krishnagiri royals. Kala Bhairava is the family deity of many villagers from more than 100 villages in the region, like Mammampalli, Pachikkanapalli, Nellur, Alapatti, Kallupatti, Kollapatti, etc. People from Karnataka and AP, too, come to worship at this temple.