Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Representing Bhairava

jayati vyomakesho .asau yaH sargAya bibharti tAM
aindavI shirasA lekhAM jagad bIjA~NkurAkR^itim ||
Victorious is he whose hair fills the space (vyomakesha), who for the emitted worlds (sarga) bears with his head the lunar crescent which is like the embryo in the seed which is the universe.

Shiva is beyond all forms and at the same time, he reflects an infinite number of them, dreadful and benevolent. The terrifying forms are  associated with his role as a destroyer. So, Bhairava, the fierce form of Shiva, has a terrible and often contradictory iconography. As the Shiva's form of terror and transcendency, his image is an integral part of an attempt to reflect, at least partially, the highest reality. Bhairava's physical description is controversial because neither of image can personify the mystery of Shiva.
The dichotomy of goodness and terrible form of Shiva is also reflected in Bhairava. He is Kshetrapala and Vatuka at the same time. Every of these two principal forms can be similarly divided into three forms each: sattvika, rajasa and tamasika. The Lingapurana and the Skandapurana tell us how Shiva took the form of a child to suckle from Kala's breasts her anger that was frightening the gods.
In the Lingapurana, the boy then takes eight different forms to protect the holy places. In the Skandapurana, the boy creates from his mouth sixty-four more children, sixty-four kshetrapalas, to pacify the fear of the gods. In their protective function, twenty-five of them will remain in the skies, twenty-five others in the infernal regions and the remaining fourteen on the earth.These sixty-four Kырetrapфlas can be equated with the sixty-four Bhairavas who, when brought to their eight main forms, have a protective function. The names of these sixty-four Bhairavas led by eight leaders (described here).
They are Asithanga, Ruru, Chanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Kapala, Bhishana and Samhara Bhairava. Eight Bhairava ashtakam  describes in detail their iconography.
These Ashtabhairavas are very similar and we understand that they are only the eight-fold manifestation of Bhairava, and with the Ashtamatrikas, the main thing is their function as protecting guardians. In the Skandapurana, these eight Bhairavas, who protect dharma and people, live in the eight regions and have to be honoured with zeal in order to remove the great obstacles. They protect particularly the town of Kashi, their weapons brandished in all four directions.
So we see that the different images are a reflection of functions of one force. And they are purely symbolic and functional. In general, the Bhairava myth gave birth to some principal iconographic forms: Bhairava cutting the head of Brahma, Bhairava as beggar wandering from place to place in the course of his penance and Bhairav as skeleton incarnating Time and Death.
In most parts of India, Bhairava is generally represented as standing, naked, very often accompanied by a dog, his vahana, who jumps to his left when the god carries the severed head in addition to the kapàla in his lower left hand.
Bhairava often has four arms, with the trident and sword in the right hands, and damaru and kapala plus a severed head in his left hands. But he can also have six, eight or more arms, though rarely.
He is adorned with bells and snakes; he wears a garland made of skulls or with ornamental pattern; a naga is generally coiled around his thighs. Details may be varied. But every detail has a deep symbolic meaning and each can be the subject of a separate investigation. These images, however, does not depict the extremely complex nature of this divinity but it can reveal to us some of the faces of this multifaceted divine figure.
For example, Bhairava's image at the Durbar Square in Kathmandu depicts him as standing upon a corpse with flaming hair what symbolizes his fiery nature.
Or the most symbolic image, the yantra, can provide a focus on the inner vision of the deity, illustrating the esoteric point of view of the union of the opposites, of the principle of non-duality.
One could ask oneself why this particular form of Shiva has generated so many varied representations. What is it that characterizes this figure and gives it such an importance in comparison with other terrible forms of the god?
It is clear that such a number of forms tries to describe the universal nature of Bhairava. This attempt  can be extended from our personal to universal space. Bhairava can be the destroyer of our ignorance, of illusion when we have our personal "decapitation". Interpretation in the yogic sense can grow with your experience, For example, the skull with nectar can be associated with bhairavAchara ( khechari mudra) etc...
At the same time, the hair of Bhairava (in the title quote of this post) would evoke the imagery of the lines of force fields filling the Universe and remind of the approach of Pralaya. Despite the seemingly catastrophic sense, the destruction is also a divine grace. The annihilation of the world is a necessary prelude to its recreation. Bhairava as destructor is terrible, but he fulfills the divine work, and he finds his place in the cosmic sacrifice. Bhairava does the work of purification for the creatures with his fire and this sacrifice is necessary for those who are waiting the new beginning.

 OM Bhairavaya Namah

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