Śiva as Bhairava

Shiva in his fierce form of Bhairava; Karnataka, c. 1300–1500, clorite schist; The reddish soil in the recesses would seem to suggest that the sculpture was once buried.

From the Śiva Purāṇa:

Śiva said: —
“O Kālabhairava, at the outset this lotus-born Brahmā shall be chastised by you. You shine like god of death, hence you are Kālarāja.
You are called Bhairava because you are of terrifying features and you are capable of supporting the universe. Since even Kāla is afraid of you, you are called Kālabhairava.
When you are angry you will be suppressing wicked souls. Hence you will be known everywhere as the suppressor of the wicked.
Since you will be devouring the sins of devotees in a trice your name will be famous as sin-eater.
O Kālarāja, you will have forever the suzerainty over my city Kāśī, the city of liberation, which is greater than all other cities.”

The two great gods Śiva and Brahma had a bitter dispute, and Shiva cut off one of Brahma’s five heads. In penance for this frightful sin of harming a Brahmaṇa, Śiva was cursed to wander the world as a naked beggar with the head of Brahma stuck to his hand “to destroy evil and benefit creation.” The skull did not disappear from his hand until Śiva reached Varanasi.

Bhairava, the fearsome manifestation of Śiva, with his consort Bhairavī; 18th century Nepal; made of gilded copper alloy, lapis lazuli, opal, coral, turquoise. In Nepal, he is popular among both Hindus and Buddhists and is also known as Mahakala. Here, His posture is somewhere in between the militant “pratyalidha” posture of Bhairava and the bent-kneed posture of Mahakala. His stretched left leg is sufficiently bent to balance his spouse on the thigh, while the right presses down on his mount, who is the man (“nara”). Nine of his ten arms radiate symmetrically on either side, except one that holds the skull cup against his chest. The others hold various weapons and emblems. By contrast, his spouse only has two arms and sits in the graceful “lalitasana” posture, with her left leg resting on her lion mount.

Texts describing Shiva in this form emphasize both his horrifying qualities and his elegance and seductiveness. Here he is shown with traditional characteristics of ferocious beings: flame-like hair standing on end, bulging eyes, and fangs, along with a cobra and garland of skulls twining around his body. He is accompanied by a dog. Bhairava’s face, despite his fangs, appears rather gentle.

“As terrible Bhairava of the end of Time
bearing the flashing trident
and the drum with the deafening roar,
he flayed the elephant
and laughed aloud, terrifying Umā.
He is our treasure in Cerai*,
shrine of the good path.”

Appar, translated by Indira Viswanathan Peterson, Poems to Śiva

*cerai refers to the Saraparameswara temple in Tirucherai, Thanjavur district, situated on the banks of the Kaveri in Tamil Nadu

Bhairava or Aghora Bhairava is considered as a ferocious manifestation of Shiva. This 17th century Kerala
bronze is an eight handed standing Bhairava in Ugra form. His fanged teeth are visible, and an elaborate Prabha surrounds the image. Bhairava is depicted as being ornamented with a range of twisted serpents, which serve as earrings, bracelets and anklets. Napier Museum.

According to the Rudrayāmala, Bhairava is a manifestion of Śiva, who himself has eight forms who control the eight directions of the universe.
The eight forms of Bhairava are: Asitāṅga, Ruru, Caṇḍa, Krodha, Unmatta, Kāpāla, Bhīṣaṇa, Saṃhāra.

The iconography is described in the Śilparatna as follows:

In the aspect of Bhairava, Śiva has eighteen arms; the additional hands hold the ḍamaru and the śaṅkha. In the instance of sixteen arms, the following six objects should be carried in addition to those mentioned in connection with the image of Siva with ten arms; namely, the bāṇa, the cakra and the gadā in the right hands and the bow, a bell and the śaṅkha in the left hands. When Śiva has ten arms, the right hands should carry an akṣamālā, a sword, the śaktyayudha, the daṇḍa and the śūla; whereas the left hands should carry the khaṭvāṅga, a snake, a skull, the kheṭaka and the deer.

Bhairava seated on a leopard skin; Pahari style 18th century Possibly Basohli, Punjab Hills, Northern India MFA Boston
Bhairava, with his vāhana, the dog (Sanskrit:Shvan) 18th-19th century Tamil Nadu Bronze
Śiva as Kala Bhairava, accompanied by his dog ‘vahana’, is depicted as an elegant, youthful figure. As befits a wandering ascetic, he is nude but for a loincloth, has flowing dreadlocks, wears a garland of skulls and carries a triśūla. Company school, Thanjavur 1830; British Museum


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curating Hindu art and knowledge - a testament to the glorious culture and heritage of a resilient civilisation. patreon.com/hinduaesthetic

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