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
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,
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.
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