The temple is situated close to the Town Hall in Visheshvarganj, the northern part of Varanasi (house, K-32/22 Bhaironath; Fig. 7.6). The Maratha king Bajirao Peshva II built the present structure in 1817; this is inscribed in the stone inscription on the backside wall of the inner courtyard. Kala Bhairava is popularly perceived as the “divine police chief” (Kotawal) of Kashi and represents the “frightful form” of Lord Shiva. Kala means both Death and Fate, in addition to meaning Black. He is the Black One, who has also assumed the duties of the God of Death in Kashi. Death, it is said, is afraid of Kala Bhairava. He bears a garland of skulls and carries a club of peacock feathers. Shiva appointed Bhairava to be the chief officer of justice within the sacred city. Only the silver face of Kala Bhairava, garlanded with flowers, is visible through the doorways of the inner sanctum. Making a circumambulation of the temple compound, you find an array of subsidiary shrines — to Devi, to Hanuman, to Krishna and Radha, to Parvati and Ganesha. Most interesting is a large slab of the “Nine Planets” (navagrahas) upon which each of the planetary houses of the zodiac has its individual representation and altar. Bhairava is honoured for protection, health, and wellbeing — but not for liberation.
Eck (1982: p. 193-194) has described elaborately the temple:
“Entering from the street, through a door guarded by Bhairava’s mount, the dog, one finds a fine courtyard, in the center of which is the main shrine of Bhairava—a small temple, with a pillared and diamond-tiled porch on which to stand for darshana. Only the silver face of Kala Bhairava, garlanded with flowers, is visible through the doorway of the inner sanctum. The rest of Bhairava’s image—said to be pot-bellied, seated upon a dog, holding a trident—is hidden behind a cloth drapery. Bhairava’s lieutenants, the priests of the temple, act on his behalf to bestow Bhairava’s protection upon worshippers. The club of peacock feathers, carried by Bhairava in his sculptural representations, is wielded by one of these priests. For the worshipper, being struck or dusted off with this club is considered a blessing (ashirvada) which is said to keep away bodily sickness and pain. The same is said to be true of the ash (bhabhut) which is applied to the forehead and pitched into the open mouth of the worshipper, who might also take a small envelope of this ash home again to apply daily until returning to the temple. Finally, the worshipper is girded with a necklace (mala) of twisted and braided black threads, which have been blessed by Bhairava before being tied around the neck or wrist as an amulet against illness or evil spirits.
Making a circumambulatory round (pradakshina) of the temple compound, one finds an array of subsidiary shrines—to Devi, to Hanuman, to Krishna and Radha, to Parvati and Ganesha. Most interesting is a large slab of the “Nine Planets” (navagraha) upon which each of the planetary houses of the zodiac has its individual representation and altar. The worship of the times and seasons of the zodiac is a reminder that Bhairava, like all his yaksha cousins, is a divinity of “this shore” not the “far shore.” He is honored for protection, health, and well-being—not for liberation”.
Gutschow (2006: p. 401) has added: “A rectangle of 17.4 by 13.4 metres creates an arcaded courtyard with a small temple in the centre, oriented almost exactly to the north. The basic structure survives but the northeastern corner of the arcade has been appropriated by a neighbour and the southwestern and southeastern corners have been transformed into store-rooms (see Fig. 7.6). The walls of the temple itself were covered with marble slabs in 1968 and in 1995 the space between the columns of the arcade was provided with elevated seats for members of all those twenty families who hold rights in the management of the temple. Here they sell strips of cloth (preferably black) to be lased as garlands, and other devotional items. Many marble slabs have been added to the pavement and the plinths in memory of deceased persons.
The main entrance to the sanctum is framed by Batuka Bhairava, Shmashana Bhairava, and a form of Vishnu, Kalamadhava, which is visited along the Shodash Vishnu yatra, the pilgrimage to sixteen forms of Vishnu”. Within the inner sanctum there appears a large fragment of an undefinable sculpture, a slab measuring c. 90 by 60 centimetres. The central figure has been chiseled off the slab, while two attendant figures remain vaguely recognizable under a heavy coat of vermilion.
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