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From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Mythological Significance of Kālabhairava[edit]

Kālabhairava is an aspect of Śiva. He is the guardian deity of Kāśī or Vārāṇasī. He nipped the fifth head of Brahmā, the creator, because of his arrogant behavior. Hence he is also known as ‘Brahmaśiraścchetṛmurti’. This head or skull, stuck to Śiva’s hand. As a penance he had to wander about for 12 years as a mendicant. When he took bath at a particular pool in Vārāṇasī, the skull fell off. Since then, the pool has become known as ‘Kapālamocanatīrtha’.

Meaning of the word Kālabhairava[edit]

The word ‘Kālabhairava’ can be split into two different words kāla and bhairava. Kāla denotes the god of death, Yama. Bhairava means one who is terrific. Hence the word gives a combined meaning as one who is terrific even to Yama, the god of death.

Image of Kālabhairava[edit]

In iconographical works he is described as white in complexion with three eyes and hair dressed as a crown atop the head.[1] He wears patra or tātaṇka leaf and makarakuṇḍala, mythical crocodile, in his ears. His four hands carries:

  1. Paraśu - battle-axe
  2. Vajra - thunderbolt
  3. Śula - spear
  4. Triśula - trident
  5. Brahmakaroṭikā - Brahmā’s skull

As per other descriptions, he is shown with sword, trident, kettle-drum[2] and skull. He wears a garland of beads made of bones. He is accompanied by a dog. It signifies that he is the guardian deity[3] of the sacred sites.


  1. This kind of hairdo is known as jaṭāmukuṭa.
  2. Kettle-drum means ḍamaru.
  3. Guardian deity is known as Kṣetrapāla.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore