Bhairava is a very fierce manifestation of Shiva. He features in ancient Hindu legends and is worshipped by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. He is worshipped in India and Nepal. Bhairava is a wanderer and has 64 forms. They fall under 8 categories. Each category is led by a major Bhairava in that group. The leaders are called Ashtanga Bhairavas, and they guard and control the 8 directions of the Universe.
The one who controls them is Maha Swarna Kala Bhairava or Kala Bhairava. His consort is Bhairavi, the fearsome aspect of Parvati. Kala Bhairava is mainly worshipped by the Aghora sect. Kashmiris, originally from Gorat, worship him during Shivaratri.
Kaala Bhairava has been described by Adi Shankaracharya in the Kalabhairava Ashtakam. In it, he is depicted as black-hued, naked, black, and wearing a garland of skulls. He has three eyes and holds weapons of destruction in his four hands. He is also entwined with snakes. Kaalabhairava’s vehicle is a dog. By feeding or caring for dogs, one can express devotion to Kaala Bhairava. The deity rules death/ time and is the lord of Kashi.
Origin of the name, Bhairava:
The name literally means “terrible” and “fearful”, but it also means that he protects his devotees from external and internal enemies (negative emotions like lust, greed, anger, etc.). According to another interpretation, “Bha” represents creation, “Ra” preservation, and “Va” destruction. Hence, Bhairava is the Ultimate Godhead in whom all these forces come together.
Legends Surrounding Bhairava:
There are many legends about Bhairava. The most popular legend comes from the Shiva Mahapurana. Once, there was a debate between the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, about who was the Supreme Creator of the Universe. Brahma was a little egoistic, as he was the Creator. Also, he thought that as he too had 5 heads like Shiva, he could do anything that Shiva could. So he began meddling with Shiva’s daily duties.
Shiva was patient for a while, but soon, he lost his patience. Removing a small nail from his finger, he threw it down. This nail turned into Kaala Bhairava, who went straight towards Lord Brahma and chopped off one of his 5 heads. Hence, Bhairava is depicted holding the skull of Brahma in his hands. This humbled Brahma, destroying his ego and giving him instant enlightenment. Deeply grateful to Bhairava, he fell at his feet and swore that henceforth, he would work only for the good of the Universe.
The Puranas tell another story of Bhairava’s origin. Once, there occurred a fight between Gods and demons. To kill the demons, Shiva created Kaala Bhairava. The Ashtanga Bhairavas were created from him, and they married the Ashta Matrikas. From the Ashta Bhairava and Ashta Matrikas came the 64 Bhairavas and 64 Yoginis.
Bhairava is a Protector god, as he guards the 8 directions. He is also the protector of women, especially the timid ones. In all Shiva temples, there will be a Bhairava idol. The temple keys are kept before this idol. The belief is that he will protect the temple after the temple is closed at night. Hence, he is also called Kshetrapalaka (Guardian of the Temple).
Bhairava is also the Guardian of Travelers, particularly those who travel at night. Kaala Bhairava is the Guru of Shani (Saturn). In Tamil Nadu, he is seen as a Grama Devata or Village Guardian who protects the village and the villagers from dangers that come from any of the eight directions. Worshipping Bhairava can bring peace, prosperity, progeny, and success, and progeny. He is also believed to grant protection from sadness, premature death, debt, and tragedy.
The Significance of Kalabhairava Ashtakam:
Chanting the Kalabhairava Ashtakam daily bestows knowledge of life and liberation. It can give freedom from grief, attachment, and delusion, which cause misery, greed, poverty, anger, and suffering. Kaalabhairava is the lord of the pancha bhootas or five elements- earth, water, fire, air, and ether. He gives all manner of excellence in life and the knowledge that we seek. By worshipping Kaalabhairava, we can attain the bliss that accompanies the deepest state of Samadhi, where all worries fade into oblivion.