After taking this photo I found out about Bhairava, a Hindu God whom I hadn’t previously heard about. I write about him today because it’s Bhairava Ashtami, a Hindu holy day commemorating Bhairava’s birthday.
Bhairava is a terrible and fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva, the creator and protector of the universe. He destroys fear and is himself beyond fear. He’s also the protector of women and people who are timid. Sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, he’s worshipped in Sri Lanka and Nepal as well as India.
I’ve read several versions of how Bhairava came to be but one of the most popular is that one day Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma were talking and comparing their powers. Brahma, who had 5 heads, became a little too boastful and egotistical for Shiva’s liking. Shiva threw away one of his fingernails which turned into Bhairava, who promptly cut off one of Brahma’s heads and with it his inflated sense of ego.
There are actually 64 Bhairavas – 8 groups of 8 – which control the 8 directions of the universe. Overseeing them all is Kala Bhairava, the supreme ruler of time. Kal means time in Hindi.
In this image you can see that Bhairava, with Brahma’s severed and bloody head in one of his four hands, is accompanied by a black dog, his vahana (mount). On Bhairava Ashtami dogs get worshipped too, and are given milk and sweets which any dog, particularly the millions of hungry dogs that live on the streets, is sure to appreciate!
As you can see, as well as a dog in this image, there’s a tiger. I asked my friend why a tiger is represented and he told me that Bhairava and the Goddess Durga often appear together, and, if you’ve read my post from October about Durga (read it here: Navratri – nine nights of the Goddess) you’ll know that her mount is a tiger.
Are you interested in the red swastika that you can also see in my image? You may want to read my post from 7 months ago: The swastika – as it was intended