Bhairava, Lord Shiva as “The Protector”

Posted on February 11, 2016 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

When you visit any temple dedicated to the god Shiva, you are bound to see the peculiar form of Lord Bhairava. He is a very auspicious form of Shiva, and represents protection and security. The word Bhairava literally means one who shouts the sound “bai.”  “Bai” is an onomatopoeia; it’s basically the Indian equivalent for the “ruff” sound used in common parlance, which we associate with a dog barking.  This is an appropriate name for this form of Shiva, since he is either represented as a dog or as accompanied by a dog. In order to enter a temple dedicated to Shiva, you need to have the permission of Bhairava.

Kala Bhairava at Varanasi
Kala Bhairava at Varanasi

He functions as a protector deity and as a temple guardian. In fact, there is a popular belief that the city of Varanasi (also known as Benares and Kashi) is a temple in and of itself, and Bhairava in his form as Kalabhairava is the gatekeeper. Entering the city of Varanasi is considered to be very difficult, so those pilgrims who do enter the city offer flowers, oil, and food to Lord Kalabhairava as a token of appreciation. Kala means both time as well as the color black. In many popular folktales, Kalabhairava roams the city of Varanasi as a black dog. There are various forms of Bhairava, 64 to be exact. Of these 64 Bhairavas, there are eight distinct forms and eight Bhairava who fall under each of these categories. This Thai Brass statue of Bhairava represents the group of Bhairavas known as Vatuka Bhairava.

Vatuka Bhairava
Vatuka Bhairava

The popular formula for meditation of this form describes this deity as red in complexion with scattered, matted red dreadlocks. He has three eyes and carries a skull cap, trident, drum, and noose. In a temple, this form of Bhairava would be placed in a niche on the outer wall, surrounded by carvings of different forms of Shiva’s attendants. This form of the god is nude and his vehicle is a dog. While many people believe that Bhairava is a violent form of Shiva, he is indeed a benevolent form to the sincere devotee. The noose in his upper left hand signifies the bonds we have in the world. Family, wealth, desires, and material objects are all things that bind a man to the world. As such, men and all other creatures bound to these objects and relationships are known as “pashu” or literally those bound by the noose.

Kala Bhairava
Granite Bhairava with Dog

Being unclad, and having no possessions, Bhairava is known as “Pashupathi” or the Lord of those bound by the noose. Devotees who invoke Bhairava in their lives are blessed by him and receive his protection.In some households across India, a statue of either a dog or of Bhairava is installed in the garden or near the front door. Just as he protects the temple, he also protects the house from evil spirits and bad energy.

 

Vijaya Dasami, the 10th Day of Navarathri

Posted on October 22, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

Today marks the tenth day of the annual Navarathri festival. This tenth day is called Vijaya Dasami, which literally means “triumph on the tenth.”

Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura
Goddess Durga standing on the head of the buffalo demon Mahishasura

It is commonly believed that Goddess Durga vanquished the buffalo demon Mahishasura on this day.  This victorious day also marks the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon king Ravana and made his journey home to Ayodhya.  Some narratives of Rama’s story describe Rama as having invoked Goddess Durga through the powerful Chandi Puja, or worship of Durga in her passionate and furious form.  Since Rama’s triumph over Ravana and Durga’s triumph over Mahishasura were both on this day, Vijaya Dasami has become a day synonymous with good beginnings. Many people around the world begin business ventures, musical study, dance, and other undertakings on this day.  While Navarathri is a festival dedicated to the Goddess in her various forms, the tenth day of the festival is a day on which both Durga and Rama are worshiped.  In North India, re-enactments of Rama’s life are portrayed in vivid theatre performances called Ram-Leela.  At the end of the play, a larger than life effigy of the demon Ravana is burst into flames to signify Rama’s victory.  Another key component of this day is the Ayudha Puja, or worship of weapons and instruments.  Children place their books in front of their home shrine, while others pay respect to the implements that make their livelihoods possible.  Cars, kitchen utensils, knives, hammers, chisels, computers, and other objects are cleaned and venerated by those who use them. In South India, there is a custom of erecting a doll display, which is worshipped for the nine days of Navarathi.  On Vijaya Dasami, the dolls are symbolically put to sleep after last minute visitors come and admire their beauty. These dolls, mainly of gods and goddesses, represent the same gods and goddesses that gave their power, Shakti, to bring Goddess Durga to life.  After the gods and goddesses gave their power to Durga in order for her to vanquish Mahishasura, they became as lifeless as dolls.  On the tenth day, after Durga killed the buffalo demon, she restored the life to the gods and goddesses and become reabsorbed into them.  This idea is seen in action in Eastern India, where large idols of the Goddess Durga and her retinue are immersed on this day after five full days of worship.  Wherever you find yourself in India, or abroad, this day is one of enjoyment and happiness. It marks the triumph of good over evil, and reminds us that we must cultivate the good in our hearts, and have victory over our not-so-good tendencies.

 

~Svasti~

Kala Samahara – Shiva, Destroyer of Death

Posted on June 16, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ
Shiva emerging from the Linga
Shiva emerging from the Linga

The vast corpus of Vedic literature refers to various sportive forms, or leela murtis, of Lord Shiva. One of the most important of these forms is that of Shiva as the destroyer of death. Kalasamhara Murti or Kalantaka Murti is the form of Shiva in the act of vanquishing the god of death and righteousness, Yama-Dharma Raja.

The Puranas tell the story of Saint Mrikandu and his virtuous wife Niyati who yearned for a child. They performed austere penances to Lord Shiva to bless them with issue. Pleased with their devotion, Shiva appeared to the couple and asked them whether they wanted a wicked son who would live till old age, or a pious son who would live until 16 years of age. They requested the latter, and thus Markandeya was born.

On the eve of his 16th birthday, Markandeya embarked on a vigil to Lord Shiva. Yama – endeavoring to take Markandeya’s life away – entered the altar, as he was deep in meditation to Lord Shiva. Yama took his noose and threw it around Markandeya’s neck. Aghast, Markandeya grabbed the Shiva Lingam and began singing to his protector.

“Oh Shiva, adorning the moon as your crown, protect me! Save me!”

With the noose tight around his neck, Markandeya hugged the Shiva Lingam. Consequently Yama’s noose touched the Lingam, and enraged Parvathi. Immediately the Lingam split and Shiva emerged. Parvathi, who resides in the left side of Shiva, kicked Yama to the ground to protect her devotee. Shiva lifted his trident and pierced Yama’s chest, leaving the God of death for dead.

Afterwards, Shiva picked Markandeya up and placed him in his lap. He asked Markandeya to request a boon. Markandeya, from the kindness of his heart asked Shiva to resuscitate Yama.

Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur
Sculpture of Kala Samhara Shiva from Tanjore Temple, resembling the bronze icon at Thirukkadaiyur

After being revived, Yama – the king of righteousness – innocently asked what he had done wrong to warrant such a gruesome death. Shiva responded that Yama’s only fault was misunderstanding Shiva’s boon to Saint Mrikandu. Markandeya was to live only till age 16, and thereafter remain immortal and ever youthful as a 16 year old.

This event is said to have occurred in Thirukkadaiyur, Tamil Nadu, where the entire story is captured magnificently in bronze. The statue of Kalasamhara Murti in Thirukkadaiyur is the reference for South Indian bronze artists who wish to capture this beautiful form of Shiva.

Since the depiction of death is deemed inauspicious within the Vedic temple, in Thirukkadaiyur the body of Yama is covered with a silk cloth and removed only occasionally. Thus most idols meant for home worship do not actually depict Yama’s death, but rather the moments leading up to it. As is the case with any powerful form of Shiva, a statue of Parvathi is often kept to the left of it to bring peace to his power.

~Svasti~

Surya – The Solar Deity

Posted on January 14, 2015 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

Surya is one of the primary Rig Vedic deities, and his following is widespread. As the central Graha in the Navagraha Mandala, or group of nine planets, Surya is present in most Hindu temples. Surya is also the main deity of the Souram sect, which is one of six main denominations of Hinduism.

Surya with consorts
Surya with consorts

In the Navagraha Stotram of Vyasa, Surya is described as follows:

Japaa Kusuma Sankaasham Kaasya Peyam Mahaa Dyuthim |

Tamorim Sarva Paapagnam Pranatosmi Divaakaram ||

I pray to the creator of days, the destroyer of all sins, the enemy of darkness, the greatly lustered, the descendant of Kashyapa, and the one who shines like a red hibiscus.

Surya is also known as Aditya, as he is the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. When Surya married one of his consorts, Samjna, she could not bear his extraordinary radiance. Thus her father, Tvashtr, who was the artisan of the Gods, divided Surya into 12 parts of which Samjna spent one month of the year with each. Thus the 12 Adityas were born and represent a month each.

Surya’s chariot is balanced on a singular wheel, which represents time. Each revolution of the wheel marks the passing of one year. The chariot is driven by Aruna, the red one, and is drawn by seven horses. Each of these horses represents a day of the week as well as a Vedic meter, and is restrained by a rein that represents a season.

Surya with his chariot and charioteer Aruna
Surya with his chariot and charioteer Aruna

Iconographically, Surya is red in complexion, youthful, and golden haired. He faces east with two, four, or eight arms and one or three heads respectively. His three faces represent the three Sandhyas – dawn, noon, and dusk. When Surya is depicted with two hands, he holds two fully blossomed, red lotuses.

There is a close connection between Surya and lotuses. The Lotus is one flower that blooms upon the morning’s first rays of sunlight. Similarly the Hindu concept expounded through the symbolism of Surya is that God is the sun that triggers man, a lotus, to blossom.

~Svasti~

Hari-Hara, The Unity of Shiva and Vishnu

Posted on September 10, 2014 by śrīcaraṇāravindaṁ

In the early centuries of the Common Era, sectarian strife was a major issue between the followers of Shiva and the followers of Vishnu. With the advent of Advaita or non-dualistic philosophy, the differences between these two sects and many others have been partially reconciled. The unity of the major gods Shiva and Vishnu has become increasingly popular, and many temples now house the image of Hari-Hara.

Hari-Hara
South Indian Bronze Hari-Hara Statue

The iconographical depiction of Hari-Hara or Shankara-Narayana combines the two deities, Shiva and Vishnu, into a single body. The icon itself is aesthetically pleasing; however, the underlying philosophy is even more beautiful.

The Hindu trinity is comprised of Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the dissolver. Brahma represents the creation of the universe, this world, and everything within it. There is no way to refuse that the creation of all that surrounds us, as well as ourselves is astonishing. Therefore Brahma does not find himself to be the subject of sectarian division. The argument instead revolves around the relative greatness of Vishnu, the guardian of Brahma’s creation versus Shiva, the one capable of destroying the entire creation and providing a blank canvas for Brahma to begin again.

Sayana Vishnu
Vishnu reclining on Adi Sesha

When looking at the descriptions of Shiva and Vishnu according to various texts, it is interesting to see the juxtaposition between them. Vishnu, who represents the Sattvic Guna is depicted as cloudy black in color, while Shiva who represents the Tamasic Guna is depicted as crystalline white. If that is not confusing enough, Vishnu who is responsible for the protection of the world is depicted as lounging on the back of a snake in the depths of the ocean while Shiva who is responsible for various culminations, one of which being sleep, is depicted as ever-awake and deep in contemplation.

Shiva in deep meditation
Shiva in deep meditation

 

While perplexing at first, the hidden symbolism is very significant. Vishnu is described to be the color of a dark rain cloud. In this context he is associated with water, which is appropriate because water is the basic necessity of survival. Only with water can plants grow to be later used for food, lumber, and clothing. Shiva is described to be the color of ash. From his third-eye emanates a ferocious fire. Fire is the basic element that causes destruction and stimulates renewal. After burning anything, the result is white ash, which represents the transient nature of life. The cycle of life can also be understood in the context of this symbolism. Vishnu resides in the bottom of the ocean while Shiva resides at the top of the Himalayas. This shows how man starts at the very bottom and is nurtured by Vishnu, then as he gains knowledge, prosperity, and energy (think Saraswathi, Lakshmi, and Parvathi!) he soars to the heights of this world and will eventually receive Moksha, another culmination granted by Shiva.

While this is only a drop in the vast ocean of symbolism and philosophy regarding these two major deities, it is an introduction to understanding the profound beauty behind the sculpture of Hari Hara. On the right stands Shiva, clad in tiger skins and yielding the axe that cuts our ties to this universe. On the left stands Vishnu clad in silk garments and yielding the conch that signals the victory of good and the mace that represents the power of the mind and body. Together on a single pedestal they stand and reassure us that our good qualities will be preserved and our bad qualities destroyed.

śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ

Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu

~Svasti~