Bhairava

(‘one with a frightening cry’)

Bhairava is regarded as one of the terrible aspects of Rudra-Śiva, associated with his fights against the asuras or demons. During his fight with Andhakā-sura, eight emanations came out of him, called Aṣṭa-bhairavas. They are: Vidyā-rāja, Kāmarāja, Nāgarāja, Svacchandarāja, Lambitarāja, Devarāja, Ugrarāja and Vighnarāja. Other lists give the names as: Mahābhairava, Saṁhārabhairava, Asitāṅgabhairava, Rurubhairava, Kāla-bhairava, Krodhabhairava, Tāmracūḍa (or Kapālabhairava) and Candracūḍa (or Rudra-bhairava).

Bhairava is sometimes mentioned as one of the five leaders of Śiva’s troops.

The Rudra-yāmala-tantra provides a list of 64 bhairavas in 8 groups. The groups are distinguished by the colour of their bodies, their ornaments and weapons.

Iconographical works generally des-cribe the Bhairava as of a dark or reddish complexion and having four arms in which he carries mace, lotus, spear and discus. The number of arms may be increased to eight and the other objects carried in the hands may include sword, axe, small drum (ḍamaru), bell, fire and so on. Other texts describe him as having a flabby belly, round yellow eyes, sidetusks and wide nostrils, and, wearing a garland of skulls. Snakes are his ornaments. A dog is often shown as his companion.

It is quite likely that the Bhairava was the deity of the people of the outcaste groups. In some parts of India he is the protecting deity of the farmers.

Bhairava is also the deity of some obscure religious cults like the Nātha Cult and the Kāpālika Cult. The Kāpālikas are sometimes referred to as ‘Bhairava-yogīs.’