The Cult of Bhairava in Nepal

Item Code: IDK287
Author: Milan Ratna Shakya
Publisher: Rupa. & Co.
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788129113047
Pages: 300 (45 B/W Illus:, 18 Color Illus:)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.3" X 6.3"
Weight 580 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket

The Cult of Bhairava in Nepal is an account of the Bhairava faith and conventions of Nepal. The adamantine practice of an early Saiva sect with the pragmatic convention of salvation (nivbriti) and accumulating merits pravriti margas as a way of life still persists and has become a part heritage in present day Nepal. Bhairava ensures the safeguarding of inevitable knowledge. He is also the reflection of a fierce aspect of Siva and is the patron sentinel deity in this land of Lord Pasupathinath.

In this book, The Cult of Bhairava in Nepal. Milan Ratna Shakya deals with the spiritual account as well as the cult, which is based on admiration for Bhairava-rife in Nepal under local, intellectual and artistic perspectives. The spiritual realm of Bhairava cult also presents a pleasant merging of Saivism and Buddhism in Nepal. This deity has been worshipped as protector of medieval city-states in Kathmandu valley and is known by various names like Bhailah-aju, Bhairah-dyoh, Tepah-dyoh, Konca-Bhairava or Ajudhyo in local parlance.

The book is not only relevant in Nepal but in all regions where Hinduism is followed. The Cult of Bhairava in Nepal is a complete study of the Bhairava sect.

About the Author

Milan Ratna Shakya was born in 1960 in Kathmandu. He is a Ph. D, an Artist Lecturer at the Central Department of Nepalese History, Culture and Archaeology, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur. He is also member, Subject Committee of Fine Arts Campus, Bhotahity; Member, subject/standing Committee and Visiting Professor at Buddhist Studies Central Department, T.U., Kirtipur and Member of Academic Council at Royal Nepal Academy, Kamaladi, Kathmandu.


Wiser is he who arose from the Nectar Sea
Who comprised of Elongated Ears like
Winnowing Paddy and Rice-Husking pans
With Elongated Thin-skinned Snout
While not reckless with his
Widen Orifice

This conundrum often strikes to reveal a Tantric camp of Bhairava in the Newara cultural tradition. This spiritual sphere continues nearly from the early medieval age (Circa from Thursday 20th October 879 AD to September 1767 AD) in Nepal. I have been engaged for over a decade in attempting to grasp this Tantric corollary. This endeavour had its inspection prior to my work on a Ph. D. research focused on the concept, art form and aestheticity of Ganesa in the Kathmandu Valley from 1200 to 1769 AD. My focus on this task made me temporarily shelf my revision of the cult of Bhairava in Nepal during the cultural progress of Newaraization in Medieval Nepal. However, this work does not merely focus on the academic scope, but probes the enduring spiritual mysticism of Newara culture that blends with the expansion of Buddhist and Hindu Tantricism. The premium endeavour being to delve into this vibrant and esoterically insidious cult in Nepal.

1. Surpakarna or Lambakarna are some popular epithets of the elephant-headed diety of Ganesa in Hinduism.
2. Vakratunda, Ganesa with his long serpentine trunk.
3. Bhairava with widen mouth to identify its origin.

This endeavour is a residue from previous spiritual and philosophic efforts towards creating a leading image of Bhairava. A study of the tantric enrichment of Nepala mandala is in itself a time consuming and hectic task. This work is the second installment on the studies of Hindu and Buddhist spiritualism in Nepal, it includes in its scope a sequence of analysis on the mesmeric stem of our cultural heritage. However, this study can be considered in conjuction with the soothing concoction of Buddha-Saiva practice existing before Tantras. Nevertheless, this awe-inspiring task is a naïve attempt to relate with the obscured manoeuvres of the esoteric Newara cultural sphere in Nepal.

This cult of Bhairava validates the socio-cultural transfusion of the ethnocultural motifs of high-hill and lower land inhabitants. Since the medieval age, the permutations of the Newara homeland enriched this socio-cultural incursion. An assorted concoction of caste, creed and profession in these realms of Hinduism and Buddhism ensured a uniform pliability in different walks of life. This merger was harmonious with the socio-economic and religious behaviour of the Nepala mandala. Since ancient times, the cultural transmission of Newarization continued unabated through socio-political changes in this valley. Through an increase of invasions, the Kathmandu Valley thus became a melting cauldron of artistic diffusions resulting in a socio-economic metamorphosis. This is perceptible in the different religious practices that became part of the formation of the nation of Newaras through the ages. The genesis of the Bhairava cult in Nepal has its roots in these past changes. The Doyas or Duin people formed a new wave that descended with Nanyadeva to settled here as permanent citizens. They intermingled with the aborigines adding their attributes that enabled them too to become guardians of the valley. Their presence is significant in contributing to the cult image of Bhelu-Aju or Sawa-Bhakku. The Halchowk Bhairava tradition in Nepal mandala relates to these changes.

The mythological cultural origin of Bhairava which originated, from the infuriated expression of Siva against his rivals in Hindu myth, is reflected in these historical episodes. These myths also expose the hostility of social discrimination between the early Saivism and Vedic sects. Thus the original Vedic form of Rudra was progressively replaced by a non-Vedic form of a ferocious Bhairava the mythological status of the principal god of creation of Prajapati-Brahma. Bhairava obtained this title because of his subduing of the Vedic god of creation. In later, altered home-grown literacy and social images, a leading male ancestor appears to this serious appearance of Siva. These subtle changes reflect the socio-religious conflicts of the time that led to reconciliation with modified Hindu Model of Brahma as a four-faced lord of creation, and a member of the Trinity. Subsequently, Bhairava came to be envisioned as a Tantric deity of creation. To his adversary class of devotees he then became a sole source of misery. A story in the Skanda-Purana of Savasthani-Vratacorroborates this image. It is further reflected in the ritual of fasting offered to Siva by young women praying for husbands and a smooth happy conjugal life. The fast is performed at the Sali river of Sankhu in this valley during the month of Magha (Jan-Feb) every year.

By then, this image of Bhairava in the Tantric mode of religion was adopted as the defender of the realm of the Newara nation. The main female entities of the mother goddesses of Dwien-maju are paired with the male counterpart of Bhairava to emerge as the safeguarding deity of Nepal. The principal deity of Sawa-Bhakku (Bhairava) is installed to shield this valley from the western passes of Halchow hill. The worship of Sava-Bhakku, a form of Bhairava, is held in high esteem with his pair of attendants having faces of a tiger and a lion known as Simba-dyoh and Dhumba-dyoh. Bhairava is endowed with blue mask, the attendants wear orange coloured tiger and lion masks. There masked deities are visible during the countrywide festival of Indrajatra (Yehrya) of Newaras in the Kathmandu valley, when masked dancers perform for the public. The masked dance of Halchowk Bhairava is a regular feature of the Indrajatra festival every year. The consistent regularity of this performance gives an indication of the assimilation of Duins as caste members in the Newara ethno-cultural sphere. The deity of Halchow-Bhairava exists as a protector of the western zone, in Nepala mandala as is indicated in the event of handing over a sword (the khadga-siddhi) a sacred symbol of the triumph of the nation.

The mystic spirit of this inimitable cultural heritage of the Nepal valley is proto-historic in tradition. This area was a cultural shelter for many immigrants, including Buddhists of Shakyas from Kapilavastu who escaped the genocidal massacre and pillage by Bidudava during the Buddhist age. The Buddhist pastors and beliefs were altering to reform, comprehend and include aetheistic and devotional spiritual culture. The householder's sect of Triratna (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha) gradually replaced this innovative form of Buddha's religion. This merged with the essence of tantra. The sacredness of these practices were prevented to include an adamantine system of Panca-Makaras (the consumption of wine, women, flesh, fish and sex) in isoteric initiations. Bhairava worship is observed in Tantric Buddhism to represent a guardian as well as a manifestation of Aksobhya Buddha to signify four noble Vajras viz., Kaya, Vaka, Citta and Guhya.

The concept of Bhairava become a basis for an equal worship of both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs as evident in Ganesa at that time the principle deity of the tantra. His depiction with a waned mouth is to symbolize a pouring out of sacred spells and mantras. Therefore, this idol is worshipped by pouring rice bear. This represents the bucketing of sacred yogic spells of Kumbhaka through this pot-headed deity of Hathwon-dyon in the cultural practice of Newaras. The bear-spewing deity is also esoterically famed as Janesvara Bhairava, a sacred embodiment of wisdom.

These connected events indicate the love of the Bhairava tradition in Nepal.


Chapter 11
Chapter 242
Chapter 4125
Chapter 5200
Chapter 6252
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