Belur Chennakeshava Temple: Bhairava – An Incarnation of Shiva

Bhairava carved on the south exterior wall of the Belur Chennakeshava Temple in Karnataka, India

Bhairava carved on the south exterior wall of the Belur Chennakeshava Temple

Bhairava
In Hindu mythology, Bhairava is a fierce form of Shiva created by himself to destroy both the internal and external enemies. His sculptural depictions indicate the fierceness of his physical presence.

As you can see from the image, Bhairava is standing with a fearsome stance. Although he is a digambara (i.e., wearing no clothes), he is wearing a variety of jewelry, including necklaces, anklets, armbands and udiyana (waistband). He is also wearing the yajnopavita, a looped thread sacred to Hindus worn across the chest from the left shoulder to the waist.

He is wearing a crown made of a garland of kapālas (skull cups), and another set of kapālas is hanging from one of his necklaces. Surrounding his legs are two coiled nāgas (serpents) with one visible head.

As you can see from the image, Bhairava is carrying a severed-head with one of his left hands. According to a legend, it belonged to Brahma, who used to have five heads, four of which faced the cardinal directions and the fifth gazed upwards. Shiva cut-off the fifth head when he found out that Brahma became infatuated with a female goddess created by Brahma himself. Bhairava’s other hands are holding a variety of objects that include a trishula (trident), Shula (a pointed weapon), damaru (drum-like instrument), and pāsha (noose). Dancing at the bottom are ganās, spirits that accompany Shiva. All in all, the depiction of Shiva here is a fearsome sight.

This relief is carved on a pillar on the south side of the exterior wall surrounding the garbhagriha of the Belur Chennakeshava Temple in Karnataka, India.

Related Images
Bhairava inside a mini shrine at the main entrance
Shiva slaying Gajasura

Shilābālikes – Bracket figures mounted below the eaves
Darpana Sundari, Sukha Bhashini, Nātya Sundari, Gāna Sundari, Kesha Sundari, Tribhangi, Nagna Sundari, Kapāla Durga, Koravanji, Nātya Mohini, Betegārthi

Male Bracket Figures
Flute playing male musician
Narthaka – Davane playing male dancer
Davane playing male musician

Related Pages
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Bracket Figures
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Navaranga
Belur Chennakeshava Temple – Garbhagriha Outer Wall
Somanathapura Keshava Temple – A Masterpiece of Hoysala Temple Art

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