Bagh Bhairab, the guardian deity of Kirtipur
Every place has its own significance and if the settlement is old, it definitely holds some historical and cultural significance. Kirtipur, one of the oldest cities with majority Newar population, is one such place. The temple of Lord Bagh Bhairab is an important aspect of Kirtipur. Bhairab is considered as the most terrifying form of Lord Shiva. There are several images of Bhairab erected around the nooks and crannies of the Kathmandu valley, from temple premises to cremation sites to wheels of chariots. There are about sixty four different forms of Bhairab, seen in the images of him in Nepal, depicting him in his combined human form, demonic and animal characteristics. There are different avatars of Lord Bhairab and one can see him in the form of a tiger only at the Bagh Bhairab temple.
Legend behind Bagh Bhairab
“There was a shepherd who was grazing his herd of sheep. As his sheep were grazing, he started to build a sculpture of a tiger using soil and water. He went in search for a leaf to use it as its tongue. He asked the tiger’s sculpture to look after his sheep until he returns. However, when the shepherd returned, all of his sheep were gone. Upon inquiring, the tiger just opened his mouth indicating he feasted on them.” The shepherd then cursed the tiger to never be able to close his mouth again, hence, the reason why the statue of Lord Bagh Bhairab in the temple has an open mouth and without a tongue.
Bagh Bhairab Jatra
Once in every twelve years, Bagh Bhairab dance is performed where the mask-dancers compose twelve deities like Bhairab, Mahadev, Ganesh, Ganga, Vaisnavi, Brahmayani, Indrani, Kumaru , Kalika, Barahi, Sinhini and Byaghini. The Gathus performs this dance in several places throughout the year. The deities are laid dead twice and brought to life again with the water chanted with the incantation by the guru who used to perform the dawo–khin. Finally, the masks die for the third time and then, they are carried to funeral procession which is accompanied by beating of naye khins and blowing of kahas to the cremation site. Then the masks of all the deities, except Ganesh who does not die in the dance, are piled on the pyre and they are burned with a bundle of lighted reeds marking the end of the dramatic tantric dance.
The rath jatra (chariot festival) of Bagh Bhairab is celebrated on the first day of Bhadra that falls around the second week of English month of August. The local women and girls wearing new colorful clothes and carrying the sukunda lamps stands in front of the decorated chariot and behind it is the musical band. The chariot is carried on the human shoulders and pulled throughout the place accompanied by hymns, songs and musical instruments. The jatra ends after the round and people enjoy the bhoj followed by shows that presents the legend of origin and presence of this god as a guardian deity of Kirtipur.
There is a myth has that one is blessed with success and good health if he/she makes round of the Bagh BhairavÂ temple for 108 times on this very day.