As Shiva did not approve this act which amounted to Brahma-hatya – killing Brahma, he decreed Bhairava to go begging around the world with skull-bowl of Brahma’s severed head in his hands. Simultaneously, he personified the sin of Brahma-hatya into a woman with the same name and instructed her to follow Bhairava. As the Shiva-Purana has it, Bhairava travelled from one holy place to other but he was not redeemed of his sin. Finally Shiva told him to visit Varanasi. Here he bathed in Ganga’s holy waters. Soon Brahma’s severed head as also the begging bowl dropped off his hands and he was redeemed of his sin. Texts talk of Bhairava’s eight forms : Ashitanga, Ruru, Chanda, Krodha, Unmatta, Kapali, Bhishana and Sanhara. Agni-Purana talks of his awe-inspiring appearance with any number of faces from one to five, plated hair of head, any of the weapons from sword, arrow and bow, dagger, danda, trident, rope etc. At times he wears elephant skin, has snakes crawling on his person and a dog accompanying him. In his previous birth this manifestation of Shiva was Mahakala, a deity widely worshipped in Tantric Buddhism.
With an awe-inspiring appearance, a robust figure, tough face with fearsome moustaches and head with plated hair this brass statue represents almost exactly the Bhairava’s manifest form as illustrated in various texts. The Tri-punda mark on the forehead, double drum in one of his hands and snake coiling around his neck reveal the figure’s Shaivite links. The deadly danda – rod that the figure holds is an aspect of Bhairava’s own iconography. The severed head, obviously the Brahma’s, and the begging bowl held in the right hands, more powerfully defining the body’s forward thrust, along with the dog’s figure walking beside, and massive strides of wooden sandals-wearing feet measuring many lands, illustrate the myth of Bhairava wandering from one place to other with the sin of Brahma-hatya on his head.
A fearful form but redeeming from all fears, even death, Bhairava is the supreme deity of Tantrism, Hindu, Buddhist or any. Even a tiny image of Bhairava wards off any evil by its mere presence. In granting accomplishment Bhairava is the fastest of Shiva’s all forms and any divinity. A tough uncompromising metal, the statue reveals exceptional plasticity, fluidity and perfect modeling. It portrays Bhairava wandering and the statue appears to be moving, the body’s every part revealing movement. Bhairava was ever the same fully grown and matured as when born and always thereafter. However, considering his initial form as when he wandered from one place to other carrying Brahma’s severed head symbolic of his sin of Brahma-hatya, and bowl for begging, as his form that defined the early part of his being : his childhood, this form of him is revered as Batuk Bhairava – Bhairava, the child.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.