Śiva, the last deity of the Hindu Trinity, is invariably worshipped as the liṅga. (See LIṄGA.) However, several anthropomorphic forms too have been attributed to him. One such form belonging to his ugra or raudra (terrific) aspect is the Bhikṣāṭana-mūrti or the ‘begging-form’.
The story goes that he cut off the fifth head of Brahmā, the Creator, with his fingernail, since the latter was irreve-rent. The severed head or skull, however, stuck to his finger; and the sin of brahma-hatyā (See BRAHMAHATYĀ.) incurred thus had to be expiated. So, he had to roam about the earth for 12 years, begging his food in the skull-cup. It is this form that is known as the ‘Bhikṣāṭana-mūrti.’ As soon as he entered Vārāṇasī (Kāśī or Banaras) he was freed from this sin.
In iconographical works the Bhikṣā-ṭana-mūrti is shown as a naked person with matted hair, wearing a white yajñopavīta or sacred thread, the skull-cup sticking in his hand and pādukās (wooden sandals) on his feet. Sometimes a snake as a waist-band, an upper cloth of deer-skin and some ornaments may also be shown.
Images of this Bhikṣāṭana-mūrti are quite popular and are found in all the major temples in South India. Bronze icons too are sometimes seen kept in some temples.