Who is Bhairava, The Hindu God?

Who is Bhairava, The Hindu God?
Posted on 25-06-2023

Who is Bhairava, The Hindu God?

Bhairava, also known as Bhairon or Bhairavar, is a fierce and formidable deity in Hinduism. He is considered to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva, the supreme deity in the Hindu pantheon. Bhairava is often depicted as a terrifying form of Shiva, embodying aspects of destruction, time, and annihilation. His name, "Bhairava," is derived from the Sanskrit word "bhīru," which means "frightful" or "terrifying." In this extensive essay, we will explore the various aspects, symbolism, mythology, and worship associated with Bhairava.


I. Origins and Mythology of Bhairava

Bhairava's origins can be traced back to ancient Hindu texts and legends. One of the earliest references to Bhairava can be found in the Shiva Purana, a sacred scripture that narrates the stories and legends surrounding Lord Shiva. According to the Shiva Purana, the ferocious form of Bhairava was manifested by Lord Shiva to punish and eradicate the ego and ignorance of Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe.

The story goes that Lord Brahma became filled with pride and considered himself to be the ultimate creator. In order to humble Brahma, Lord Shiva created Bhairava from his third eye. Bhairava appeared as a fierce and terrifying being, with a dark complexion, multiple arms holding weapons, matted hair, and a garland of skulls around his neck. Bhairava chased Brahma, who tried to flee, but Bhairava eventually caught up with him and severed one of Brahma's heads. This act of decapitation symbolized the destruction of Brahma's ego and arrogance. As a result, Bhairava became known as Kapala Bhairava, the one who carries the skull.

In another version of the story, it is said that Brahma lied about discovering the origin of Shiva's lingam (symbolic representation of Shiva) to establish his superiority over Shiva. Enraged by Brahma's deception, Shiva manifested as Bhairava and beheaded Brahma's fifth head, which is often depicted as hanging from Bhairava's hand or tied to his waist. This incident signifies the transcendence of ego and the supremacy of Shiva's divine knowledge.


II. Iconography and Symbolism of Bhairava

Bhairava is usually depicted as a fearsome deity with a variety of striking attributes. His physical appearance represents the power and intensity associated with his divine nature. Some of the common features and symbolism associated with Bhairava are:

  1. Fierce Form: Bhairava is depicted with a ferocious expression, bulging eyes, and wide-open mouth, portraying his intimidating presence. His large fangs and protruding tongue add to his fearsome appearance.

  2. Dark Complexion: Bhairava is often portrayed with a dark or blue-black complexion, representing his association with dissolution, the darkness of ignorance, and the transformative power of time.

  3. Matted Hair: His unkempt, matted hair symbolizes his detachment from worldly affairs and his closeness to the forces of nature.

  4. Crescent Moon: Bhairava is adorned with a crescent moon on his forehead, similar to Lord Shiva. The moon represents the coolness of his divine nature, while the crescent shape signifies his transcendence of time and the eternal cycle of creation and destruction.

  5. Third Eye: Like Shiva, Bhairava is often depicted with a third eye on his forehead, which represents his omniscience and spiritual insight. The third eye is associated with divine knowledge, inner vision, and the ability to see beyond the material world.

  6. Multiple Arms and Weapons: Bhairava is typically depicted with multiple arms, each holding a weapon such as a trident, sword, drum, skull, or noose. These weapons symbolize his power to destroy ignorance, attachments, and negative forces.

  7. Skull Garland: One of the distinctive features of Bhairava is the garland of skulls adorning his neck. The skulls represent the transient nature of life, mortality, and the detachment from worldly attachments.

  8. Serpent: Bhairava is often depicted with a snake wrapped around his waist or neck, representing his control over primal energy, Kundalini Shakti, and the transformative power of spiritual awakening.

  9. Dog Companion: Another common representation of Bhairava is his association with a dog, which is depicted standing beside him. The dog symbolizes loyalty, vigilance, and guardianship. It is believed that Bhairava travels with a dog as a protector and guide through the spiritual realms.


III. Forms and Manifestations of Bhairava

Bhairava is believed to have many forms and manifestations, each representing different aspects of his divine nature and role. Some of the prominent forms of Bhairava are:

  1. Ashta Bhairava: Ashta Bhairava refers to the eight primary forms of Bhairava, each associated with a specific direction. These forms include Kala Bhairava (the protector of time), Asitanga Bhairava, Samhara Bhairava (the destroyer), Ruru Bhairava, Krodha Bhairava (the angry one), Kapala Bhairava (the one who carries the skull), Rudra Bhairava, and Unmatta Bhairava.

  2. Batuk Bhairava: Batuk Bhairava is the child form of Bhairava, symbolizing innocence, purity, and playfulness. He is often depicted as a young boy, naked, and adorned with jewelry. Batuk Bhairava is worshiped for protection, dispelling negative energies, and fulfilling desires.

  3. Swarna Akarshana Bhairava: Swarna Akarshana Bhairava is the form of Bhairava associated with attracting wealth and abundance. He is depicted with a golden complexion, four arms holding a noose, goad, and a pot of gold. Devotees worship this form to seek financial prosperity and material well-being.

  4. Chanda Bhairava: Chanda Bhairava is the fierce and wrathful form of Bhairava, associated with divine anger and destruction of negative forces. He is depicted with a terrifying appearance, multiple arms, and weapons. Worshipers seek his blessings to overcome obstacles, enemies, and fear.

  5. Bhishana Bhairava: Bhishana Bhairava is the terrifying form of Bhairava that inspires awe and fear. His appearance is intended to instill a sense of discipline, detachment, and self-control. Bhishana Bhairava is believed to protect devotees from evil spirits and negative influences.

  6. Veerabhadra: Veerabhadra is a fierce and powerful warrior form of Shiva, created by Bhairava in response to a grave insult against Shiva's wife, Sati. Veerabhadra is portrayed with multiple arms, weapons, and a menacing stance. He is known for his role in annihilating Daksha, the father of Sati, and disrupting a yajna (sacred fire ritual).


IV. Worship and Festivals of Bhairava

Bhairava is worshiped by devotees across various regions of India, particularly in South India, where he is considered a significant deity. His worship is associated with several rituals, festivals, and sacred sites. Some of the popular practices and festivals dedicated to Bhairava are:

  1. Kalabhairav Jayanti: Kalabhairav Jayanti, also known as Bhairav Ashtami or Kalabhairav Ashtami, is an auspicious day dedicated to Bhairava. It falls on the eighth day (ashtami) of the waning phase of the moon in the Hindu month of Margashirsha (November-December). Devotees observe fasting, offer prayers, and visit Bhairava temples to seek his blessings for protection, liberation, and spiritual growth.

  2. Bhairava Ashtami: Bhairava Ashtami is another important festival celebrated in honor of Bhairava. It is observed on the eighth day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Kartik (October-November). Devotees offer special prayers, conduct homas (fire rituals), and perform abhishekam (ritual bathing) of Bhairava idols. The festival is believed to invoke Bhairava's divine protection and blessings.

  3. Kala Bhairava Jayanti: Kala Bhairava Jayanti is the birth anniversary of Kala Bhairava, the form of Bhairava associated with time and cosmic order. It is observed on the eighth day (ashtami) of the waning phase of the moon in the Hindu month of Margashirsha (November-December). Devotees fast, offer prayers, chant mantras, and visit Kala Bhairava temples to seek his grace for overcoming obstacles and attaining spiritual progress.

  4. Bhairava Temples: There are numerous temples dedicated to Bhairava across India, with the most famous ones being the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, and the Kalabhairaveshwara Temple in Adichunchanagiri, Karnataka. These temples attract devotees who seek Bhairava's blessings for protection, liberation, and spiritual guidance.

  5. Worship Practices: Devotees of Bhairava engage in various practices to worship and seek his blessings. These practices include chanting Bhairava mantras, performing abhishekam (ritual bathing) of Bhairava idols, offering flowers, incense, and sacred ash (vibhuti), and reciting sacred texts or stotras dedicated to Bhairava.


V. Significance of Bhairava's Worship

The worship of Bhairava holds significant spiritual and philosophical significance in Hinduism. Some of the key aspects and benefits associated with Bhairava's worship are:

  1. Protection and Fearlessness: Bhairava is revered as a protective deity who safeguards his devotees from negative energies, evil influences, and spiritual obstacles. His fierce form instills fearlessness, courage, and strength to face challenges and overcome adversity.

  2. Dissolution of Ego and Attachments: Bhairava's form represents the destruction of ego, ignorance, and attachments. By worshiping Bhairava, devotees aspire to transcend their limited sense of self, surrender their ego, and cultivate detachment from worldly desires and illusions.

  3. Time and Transformation: Bhairava's association with time symbolizes the cyclical nature of creation, preservation, and dissolution. By meditating upon Bhairava, devotees gain an understanding of the impermanence of life and the transformative power of time in the cosmic order.

  4. Spiritual Awakening: Bhairava is considered a powerful force in awakening Kundalini Shakti, the dormant spiritual energy within individuals. His worship is believed to activate the dormant spiritual potential, leading to self-realization, spiritual growth, and inner transformation.

  5. Overcoming Obstacles: Devotees seek Bhairava's blessings to overcome obstacles, challenges, and negative forces that hinder their spiritual progress and worldly pursuits. Bhairava's fierce energy empowers individuals to face difficulties with determination, resilience, and inner strength.

  6. Liberation and Moksha: Bhairava's worship is also associated with the pursuit of liberation (moksha) and the ultimate union with the divine. By surrendering to Bhairava's fierce and transformative energy, devotees seek liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and the attainment of spiritual enlightenment.


Bhairava is a powerful and awe-inspiring deity in Hinduism, revered for his fierce form, protective nature, and transformative power. His worship offers devotees spiritual guidance, protection, liberation, and the opportunity to transcend ego and attachments. Through the rituals, festivals, and practices associated with Bhairava, devotees seek to awaken their spiritual potential, overcome obstacles, and attain spiritual enlightenment. Bhairava's significance in Hinduism extends beyond fear and destruction, embodying the profound aspects of time, transformation, and liberation.

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