Kalabhairava, the ughra form of Lord Shiva
Puja brings peace to the mind, and as one observes the Lord in the lamp light, there is certain brilliance to his being as he appears to reside at his seat, within a humble puja room, enhancing this throne, this space to a higher spiritual level with his presence.
Fire has divine light, and as it glows, it brings alive the invisible presence of the Lord to us. This silent conversation brings deep thought as the Lord plays with the thoughts in the mind. Here is one such conversation.
Be it the chilling presence of the Lord on the river side in the cold wintry morning or be it the warmth of the Lord in the darkness of the Garbha griha, his form rings with enigma as one wonders about the various avatars he has taken in different mythologies. We are very accepting when it comes to his soumya forms, where he is depicted with Parvati as a gentle husband, as the divine Lord, but we can scarcely accept his presence as Kalabhairava, the fierce self.
As the conversation proceeds, the mind dwells on the fact that it’s not just material detachment that one is expected to do away with for higher spiritual satisfaction. That is probably the beginning of it. Detachment from the material world brings additional concentration and more time and mind space that can be spent on the Lord. It brings peace of mind and creates the ambience for higher thoughts to take shape. And then the subtle universe awakens in the mind.
Kala Bhairava rules the land of Ujjain and also the Ghats of Varanasi. And the bhaktas follow the rule when they life and experience the presence of the Lord here. Be it the aghoris of today’s world or be it the ancient world of Karraikkal Ammaiyar, the gore of the cremation ground and the fearful aspect of death is what echoes in these places. Kalabhairava creates fear, with well documented spells that state that blood and flesh needs to be sacrificed to win the trust and blessings of this form of Lord Shiva. This is enough to make us take a step back, us as in the so called civilized world.
Mahakala, Kalabhairava, Rudra are all fierce expressions of Lord Shiva, dressed in a garland of skulls, smeared with red kumkum on the forehead, free flowing matted hair and shown in a posture that spells destruction. Rudra on the other hand is red eyed and signifies tears with a fiery halo that makes him appear even more dynamic. These forms of the Lord do not look half as scary but the reality of these forms bring fear when the normal aghoris try to ape them, for they have not reached that level of divinity that calls for the warmth that is felt even in these wild forms when the Lord takes them.
This is the subtle world, a world of no bias towards preconceived ideas. This is the second level of renunciation that is expected of us. The first was material, the second is attitude. Did Lord Shiva take on these forms to teach us that there is no room for fear even if he appears fearsome? This appearance can make us squirm or this appearance can intrigue us that there is warmth and protection even when he appears to hold the kabala of a human in his hand and demands blood in his bowl!
Multi handed, the all powerful form of Mahakala is seated on his throne at Ujjain, in front of whom Bali is offered, it has been a blood bath of animals or people. This blood of sacrifice was religiously offered to the deity by pouring it into the cup he held in his left hand. In all his forms, with the variations in the number of hands he is depicted with, he is depicted holding a bowl in his left hand in which is offered blood or grain depending on where he is and the form he takes. Bhikshatana, or Nataraja, Kalabhairava or Mahakala, he walks with matted hair and little cloth roaming the forests or the cremation grounds. This is also Shiva.
In the holy city of Ujjain, Mahalaka here is offered liquor, liquor that is visibly consumed. This liquor represents the blood that used to be offered in ancient days. Mahakala’s association with liquor, may appear to be for the wrong reasons, be it an offering into his cup in the ancient temple at Ujjain or be it into the funeral pyre by the aghoris at Varanasi. This liquor is a lot more than an alcoholic offering for consumption by the deity. What could possibly be the association of liquor to blood that is considered so sacred, be it any form…
In this awry image of the Lord I am forced to make a distinct parallel. In the Bible, Jesus Christ held up his wine glass during the Last Supper and said “This is my blood” and then he held up a piece of bread and said “This is my flesh”. The Last Supper was recorded as a turning point in the life of Christ where he headed towards sacrificing his life for the rest of mankind, to be crucified at the cross. His last words "forgive them Lord for they know not what they are doing".
Disconnected though it may seem, I am unable to ignore this rare co-incidence of commonality between two very different faiths. What then is the significance of blood to wine/liquor? As one of the interpretations in the bible says, blood that flows as an offering to the Lord is the river of everlasting life, liquor or wine is the world of illusion, and the bread was the body of Christ in this case. And the forgiveness is towards mass ignorance, not towards crucifying him.
This description brings alive the presence of Mahakala Shiva, to whom human and animal sacrifices were once made, the flesh or the body of the deceased represented the corpse, the end of time, the end of life similar to that on which Ma Kali walks. This is the obvious description that hits the eye and that which has been documented. What is missing is the subtle thought of renunciation, where the blood flowing is the life that is within me, where the liquor is this illusion, this bias or attitude to differentiate that I wish to give up as I present it in the bowl that the Lord holds towards me. I give up my fear, I give up my colored thoughts, I give up the self that is so disillusioned. I am pure and I have lost every sense of attachment, to the world and to my thoughts, to my bias and to my attitude. And then I can join Karraikkal Ammaiyar in her unending bhakti towards Lord Shiva, who dances the tandava among the flames of the cremation ground, and all I see is pure love, pure bhakti, and pure thought.