The 64 Bhairavas

Perusing the names of the Ashta Bhairavas and their emanations in the list below, it’s clear that each name represents either a physical feature of, an adornment of, an action performed by or a general attribute of Shiva. Some of them also coincide with the descriptions found in the Sahasranamas, or ‘Thousand Names of Shiva.’

General physical attributes include: ‘Black-Limbed,’ ‘Large-Eyed,’ ‘Red-Eyed,’ ‘Deformed or Unusual number of Eyes’ (Shiva has three), ‘Having Excessive Limbs’ and ‘Large-bodied.’ ‘An Ascetic with Matted Hair,’ ‘ugly or deformed’ and ‘crooked’ refer to Shiva in his form as Bhikshatana – ‘the Supreme Mendicant’ – in which he carried a human skull (Kapala) as a begging bowl  and was followed by demonic attendants (bhuta) and love-sick women. ‘Blue-throated’ references his drinking of the poison Halahala, which rose up from the primordial waters, and threatened to suffocate the gods and devas with its noxious fume. Shiva absorbed the poison into his body, but his throat was left blue as a result.

Of his adornments, the ‘Moon Ornament’ describes the Crescent Moon upon Shiva’s brow which, being but an ornament, symbolises him as the Lord of Time. The ‘Skin of an Elephant,’ refers to Shiva in his form Gajasurasamhara, in which he slew the Elephant-demon Gajasura then danced vigourously in his skin.

Gajasurasamhara
Gajasurasamhara

The Conch Shell is carried by several of the Bhairavas and is an important ritual musical instrument in Hinduism. In myth it was created by Shiva after he destroyed the asuras with his trident, with the ashes of their burnt bodies blowing into the sea and solidifying into conch shells on their passing. ‘The Tusk of a Hog’ refers to the necklace Shiva made from the tusks of the ferocious boar that emanated from Vishnu’s right nostril (that associated with the Solar, masculine, Pingala Nadi) and almost destroyed the Three Worlds. This symbolises Shiva’s ability to balance the Nadis.

Many of the other aspects named are descriptives of Shiva’s terrible form, Bhairava, such as ‘Fierce,’ ‘Wrathful,’ ‘Mad,’ ‘Dreadful’ and ‘Terrible,’ while others describe the spiritual states Shiva leads towards, such as ‘Annihilation’ and ‘Stilling the mind.’ His divine nature is revealed in names such as ‘Lord of Union’ (through Yoga), ‘Moving in the Ether’ (describes the invisible realm of thought) and ‘fulfller of desires. Other characteristics are apparent in names such as ‘Dog/deer’ (Bhairava rides a dog, but Ruru Bhairava is depicted holding a deer), ‘Mountain Dweller (he lives at the peak of the impenetrable Mount Kailash in the Himalayas), ‘Vampire/Ghoul’ (he is the leader of various demonic spirits) and ‘the Sun’ (he is occasionally depicted as a solar deity).

Bhairava Meaning of Name
Asitanga Black-limbed
Visalaksa Large-Eyed
Martanda The Sun
Modakapriya Lover of Pleasure
Vighnasantusta Satisfactory Remover of Obstacles
Svacchanda One’s own Will
Khecara Moving in the Ether
Sacaracara Comprehending Everything
Ruru A Dog or Deer
Krodadamstra The Tusk of a Hog
Jatadhara An Ascetic with Matted Hair
Visvarupa Exists in All Forms
Virupaksa Deformed or unusual number of Eyes
Nanarupadhara In the form of Gnosis
Vajrahastra Impenetrable Hand
Mahakaya Large-bodied
Chanda Fierce
Pralayantaka Cataclysm, Deluge
Bhumikampa Earthquake
Nilakantha Blue-throated
Visnu All-Prevailing Lord
Kulapalaka Clan Guardian
Mundapala Tribe Protector
Kamapala Fulfiller of Desires
Krodha Wrathful
Pingaleksana Red-eyed
Abharupa Ugly, deformed
Dharapala Guardian of the Earth
Kutila Crooked
Mantranayaka Lord of Mantras
Rudra Dreadful
Pitamaha Grandfather
Unmattha Mad, intoxicated
Vatukanayaka Lord of Celibates
Sankara Fearful
Bhutavetala Ghoul, Vampire
Trinetra Having Three Eyes
Tripurantaka Destroyer of the Three Demon Cities
Varada Propitious
Parvatavasa Mountain Dweller
Kapala Skull
Sasibhusana Moon Ornament
Hasticarmambaradhara Wearing an Elephant Skin
Yogisa Lord of Union
Brahmaraksasa Ghost of a Brahman
Sarvajna Omniscient
Sarvadevesa God of All Devas
Sarvabhutahdrishitha He who sees All Spirits
Bheeshana Dreadful, Horrible
Bhayahara Terrible
Sarvajna Omniscient
Kalagni The Fire that Destroys Time
Maharaudra Very Dreadful
Daksina The Sacred Fire, An Offering
Mukhara A Conch Shell
Asthira Fickle
Samhara Annihilation
Atiriktanga Having Excessive Limbs
Kalagni The Fire that Destroys Time
Priyankara Attracting Love or Regard
Ghoranada Bellowing
Visalaksa Large-Eyed
Yogisa Lord of Union
Daksasamsthita Stilling the Mind

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