Sunday, April 14, 2002

Bhairav Temple: The house of Kashi Bishwonath

Heritage tour

By Razen Manandhar

The royal palace in Bhaktapur is the most beautiful place. At the end of the market street, a rather small stone-paved courtyard of Taumadhi welcomes you. You can’t stop holding your breath when you see 300 year-old two giant temples, which reflect the fabulous art, architecture and love of art of the people living there.

A giant Bhairava temple stands at Taumadhi, Bhaktapur, next to the famous Nyatapola temple. The temple, known commonly as Bhailaa Dyo, is considered the temple of Kashi Bishwonath, a wrathful image of Shiva from Baranasi. Though it looks dwarf in front of towering Nyatapola, it has its own significance.

People remember this temple during the Bisket Festival, which falls in mid April. The deity of Bhairava is taken around the city in a wooden chariot to show how happy local people are and that he is the source of their happiness.

Though the exact date of the temple’s construction is not known yet, it is believed that it existed even during the Lichchivi period, from 4th to 7th century, perhaps in a simpler form. Chroniclogical order states that Lichchivi King Ananda Dev of Bhaktrapur had renovated it in 1150. Bhairava of this temple later became so angry that he started bringing calamities in the city to disapprove the people’s worshipping. The priests later decided to erect Nyatapola temple of Siddhilaxmi to calm him down. She is considered as Bhairava’s consort and both of them together admired the work city-dwellers did tirelessly and got good harvest.

Like all religious monuments of this country, the origin of this temple is also based on a legend. One day, Bishwonath of Kashi or Baranasi, came to enjoy the festival of Bisket in Bhaktapur in the guise of a simple man. A Tantric, identified as Muni Achaju, recognised him with his sixth sense. Thinking that Bhaktapur would win fortunes if he could force Bishwonath to reside in the city he tried to capture him with the help of his mystic power. But he failed and he was forced to behead Bishwonath and keep him in the temple. People still believe that the real head, cut thousands of years ago, is still there.

This is not the only temple where Bhairava’s head is worshipped. Shweta Bhairava of Hanumandhoka and Akash Bhairava of Indrochowk are also worshipped.

King Ananda Dev earlier constructed the temple of Bhairava that had been there before he had ruled the country in the 10th century. A stone inscription found nearby indicates that there was a temple as early as 1005 AD. And a series of renovations and addition of new and new decorations took place in course of time. And then King Bhupatindra Mall again turned it into a giant temple of seven stories in 1722 AD. The great earthquake of 1934 destroyed that temple extensively. It was renovated later but obviously, its original splendour was lost. The Bhaktapur municipality renovated the temple using local technology and craftsmen last year that cost 7.3 million rupees.

It is in rectangular shape and has three major doors in the front. There is one small cast image of Bhairava but no one is allowed to go inside. There are two stone reliefs of Kalash and small windows on both sides. Now, there are no Taranas, hanging over the doors. On the first floor, there are five gilded windows which are too small to peep through. On the right hand side, there is a beautiful golden window and on the left, a painting of Bhairava is hung. Other floors are either filled with struts or latticed windows. It has windows in either side as well. The top floor is covered with metal roof whereas other ones are made of tiles. Seven gold-plated pinnacles decorate the temple, which also have umbrellas over them. It is flanked by pairs of guarding lions, bells and pillars. In each floor, series of wind-bells supported by struts are hung. They add sonorous environment to the whole area as they stir when the gentle breeze blows in the temple.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, April 14, 2002 Baishakh 01, 2059.]