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The question I have is about the deity Bhairava.

Lord Sri Kala Bhairava is mentioned in The Shiva Maha Purana as one of the incarnations of Lord Shiva.

But there are many different swarupas of Sri Bhairava in the tradition and literature. What is the origin and background of the Lord Bhairava and His manifestations (other than what Shiva Purana says)? In which text / scripture can one find all the information?

The various swarupas of Bhairava include -

Sri Kala Bhairava, V(b)atuka Bhairava, Swarnakarshana Bhairava, and Marthanda Bhairava (the name occurs in Sri Subrahmanya Trisati).

In addition to this, some Sankara Vijayam texts also allude to Samhara Bhairava, Unmattha Bhairava (ferocious / angry manifestations) invoked by Kalamukhas and Kapalikas.

Despite what the name means, Sri Kala Bhairava, and Swarnakarshana Bhairava, Vatuka Bhairava forms can be taken as peaceful forms.

So what is the story behind different forms of Bhairava?

Is there tantric text that goes deep into the details about Lord Bhairava, and His manifestations? If any one has such information, please share.

Thanks in advance.

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  • Basically Bhairava avatar was taken by Shiva to end the ahamkara, ego of brahmadev. Primarily ashta bhairava avatars was taken. Beginning from brahmadev scenario where he plucked off one head of brahma, to kashi and etc.. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 11:28
  • Okay so which scripture talks about Lord Sri Bhairava and all His manifestations, if there is one? I am familiar with the account you are alluding to, but Puranas describe that differently (typical with Puranic literature). For example, Sri Varaha Purana has this incident in great detail, but does not say Lord Bhairava. It says Lord Rudra. So I am interested in understanding the origin and evolution of the deity Bhairava. Guess Tantric texts will have more on this, but which one? I don't believe it is Rudra Yamala, though Sri Vatuka Bhairava is the rishi for some stotras in The Rudra Yamala.
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 0:48
  • Bhairava denotes Kaala. Iam not sure which Puranas, but I have heard 8 bhairava avatars story which took place in tamil nadu which i think skanda Purana would mention. Because Markendaya was blessed with immortality, is recorded in skanda Purana, and it was 8th Bhairava avatar which blessed him with amirta boon. Detailing on nature of Bhairava avatars symbols, it conveys destruction. What destruction? The destruction of 8 binding elements which binds Jivatma to this life. When these 8 states of bondage goes, you get Bhairava siddhi. And thus Bhairava is also deity of ashtama siddhi. Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 2:22
  • well, there are a lot of notions of Sri Kala Bhairava and other manifestations of Bhairava. It is not clear what is hearsay / traditional belief, and what is written down in scriptures that are extant today. That's part of the motivation behind my question And on the story about Sage Markandeya being saved by Lord Shiva, are you sure it is in Skanda Maha Purana? Because that was one of my questions here. Can you answer that with the reference from the Skanda Purana?
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 6:57
  • The story about the sage Markandeya appears differently in the Puranas. Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Nrsimha Purana, et al say the sage was saved by Lord Sriman Narayana. In fact there is a Mrtyunjaya stotram in Nrsimha Purana, recited by the sage Markandeya on Lord Sriman Narayana. But all these puranas, including Brahma Purana, involve Lord Shiva in the same context, though the former two say the sage was protected by Sriman Narayana. Linga Purana & Shiva Purana have no such story, though Sri Linga Purana has a story involving Sweta Muni being saved by Lord Shiva (runs similar to Markandeya story)
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 7:02

3 Answers 3

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In Kashmiri Shaivism, The self realization is termed as Bhairava or Bhairava consciousness. In Svacchanda Tantra, One of the primary text of Trika Philosophy(Kashmiri Shaivism), in one of the verse, it says:

आत्मनो भैरवं रूपं भावयेद्यस्तु पूरुषः ।
तस्य मन्त्राः प्रसिद्धयन्ति नित्ययुक्तस्य सुन्दरि ॥

"Oh beautiful one (i.e. Parvati, consort of Siva), of the man who realizes his Bhairava nature by an apprehension of an inner emergent divine nature and is thus united with the Eternal, all the mantras become effective, being charged with power."

In Shiva Sutra, definition of Bhairava goes like:

Bhairava is an acrostic word. The letter "bha" of this word indicates bharana or maintenance of the world, "ra" indicates ravana or withdrawal of the world, and "va" indicates vamana projection of the world. Thus Bhairava is one who brings about the srsti, sthiti and samhara of the universe.

Shiva Sutras, Section I, Verse 5:

उद्यमो भैरवः॥५॥
"a sudden flash or opening out of transcendental consciousness is Bhairava or Siva. That is, since this sudden flash is the means to Bhairava-consciousness, it may be called Bhairava."

In same Shiva Sutras, there is mentioning of Bhairava Shastras:

Saiva Philosophy has been expounded from three standpoints viz. (l) from the predominantly abheda or non-difference point of view. The sastras of this stand-point are known as Bhairava sastras. These are also called mahamnayas (great scriptures). These are 4 in number; (2) from the predominantly bhedabheda point of view (from the standpoint of identity in difference). The sastras of this standpoint are known as Rudra Sastras. They are 18 in number; (3) from the predominantly bheda (difference) point of view. The sastras of this standpoint are known as Siva Sastras. They are 10 in number.

So to conclude, Bhairava is not an incarnation as mentioned in other texts, but is highest realization as per Kashmiri Shaivism.

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The most ancient prototype of the Hindu Kalabhairava was undoubtedly the Vedic God Kala. In the Atharvaveda, two personal spells are dedicated to him.

http://vedicheritage.gov.in/samhitas/atharvaveda-samhitas/shaunaka-samhita/kanda-19-sukta-053/

http://vedicheritage.gov.in/samhitas/atharvaveda-samhitas/shaunaka-samhita/kanda-19-sukta-054/

In other three Vedas, there may simply be references to this mighty God.

As for astrology. The SRI SRINGERI SHARADA PEETHAM official website states that Kalabhairava corresponds to Rahu in astrology. Also in the Grihya Sutras it is written that Kala corresponds to Rahu, and not Saturn.

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  • First of all, welcome to the forum @Lee. Thanks for responding to my query. That said, why do you say the source of Sri KalaBhairava was "undoubtedly The Vedic God Kala"? What is this conclusion based on, if I may ask? Just to be clear, I don't disagree or agree, and I also have a similar view that many Vedic Gods were depicted differently in The Puranas. However on Sri Kala Bhairava, I want to understand your connections to The Vedic Deity Kala a little better. Thanks in advance. Instead of responding by comment like this, expand your answer above as you will have more room there for notes.
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 0:49
  • This is a conclusion based also on the analysis of their spiritual images, the gayatri mantras, Mahabharata, Ashtotrasatanamastotram, etc. In Shruti, there is simply no other analogue of the medieval Kalabhairava.
    – Lee
    Commented Sep 6, 2020 at 7:54
  • Thanks again. I agree with your latter part of the statement, as I have not found either a direct reference, or an easy analogue for Sri Kalabhairava in The Vedas. That's the challenge here. So can you elaborate on the images, gayatri mantras, etc that point to this conclusion? Also what in The Mahabharata do you quote as reference that supports this conclusion? If you could elaborate that will be helpful
    – Vidyarthi
    Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 9:17
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Here is the detailed story of the Kalabhairava. Unfortunately, I do not know much about other Bhairavas.

Kalabhairava was created from Siva's forehead to punish Brahma. Once Siva manifested himself as a column of fire. Brahma and Vishu could not see the ends of the column. They became curious. Brahma went upwards and Vishu downwards to check. Both of them could not see the ends. However, Brahma lied, and he later told Vishnu that he had seen the top of the column. Siva was enraged, and he came out of that fiery column. (to know more, see Siva Purana, Vidyeshvara Samhita, Ch 7).

"Mahadeva then created a wonderful person, Bhairava, from the middle of his brows to quell the pride of Brahma. - Siva Purana, Vidyesvara Samhita 8.1

Also,

"O sage, on hearing the haughty words of the lotus-born Brahma, Siva became angry as if out for destruction.

"Angrily, he created a Purusa Bhairava blazing in great brilliance. Then he spoke lovingly."

"O Kalabhairava, at the outset, this Lotus-born Brahma shall be chastised by you. You shine like the god of death, hence you are Kalaraja."

"You are called Bhairava because you are of terrifying features, and you are capable of supporting the universe. Since even Kala is afraid of you, you are called Kalabhairava."

-Siva Purana, Satarudrasamhita, 8.44-47

Later, Kalabhairava chopped off Brahma's fifth head.

"After receiving all these boons, Kala-Bhairava, in a trice, cut off Brahma's head with the tip of the nails of the fingers of his left hand." - Siva Purana, Satarudrasamhita, 8.52

However, he had to roam in many places with the skull in his hand due to this sin. To cut a long story short, finally, when Kalabhairava entered the city of Kasi (Varanasi), then and there, the skull of Brahma fell on the ground. This tirtha is known as the Kapalamocana.

"The skull of Brahma fell on the ground suddenly from the lotus-like hand of Bhairava. The holy centre then became Kapalamocana." - Siva Purana, Satarudrasamhita, Ch 9.56

Since then, Kalabhairava has governed the city of Kasi.

"O Kalaraja, you will have the suzerainty forever over my city Kasi, the city of liberation, which is greater than all other cities." - Siva Purana, Satarudrasamhita, 8.50

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