The Fierce Bhairava form of Shiva
The fierce Bhairava form of Shiva, personifies the darker aspect of the lord, connected with the engendering and removal of fear in the hearts of mortals and immortals alike.
Noteworthy, in the imagery, that depicts him, is that his vehicle is a dog. In some socio-cultural Hindu contexts, the dog is considered inauspicious. The traits most commonly related to the animal are its loyalty to the master; when fed a bone it is pleased and wags its tail to express satisfaction but when ignored it whines to exhibit resentment. This behavior closely represents the Human ego or Ahamkara which thrives & revels in attachment & acknowledgement & consequently lives in a state of fear of loss of that which is “me” & “mine”.
So the dog is reminiscent of our animal instincts which thrive on our clinging to that which we believe belongs to us & gives us our identity & purpose of existence. This attachment can take on various deadly forms which we unconsciously guard with all our thoughts & actions. Just as dogs mark their territory, human beings act to defend their property & image including their wealth, assets, status & kin. Inherent in the idea of “defense” is the idea of ownership or a perceived notion of protecting oneself against something or someone that is undesirable. This gives wings to fear & anxiety over perceived loss of that which is desirable. Bhairava, by sitting on the dog, encourages us, to free our selves of the dog-like, ego & break the bonds of attachment to ephemeral worldly pleasures & experience true freedom & joy bereft of fear.
Thus, he urges the devotee, to free him/herself of the shackles of the mind which creates thoughts of separateness from the universe & embrace that which is abominable & distasteful to transgress the fear that limits the individual from widening his range of acceptance & tolerance & growing into a liberated soul.
In some imagery, he is depicted carrying the fifth head of Brahma, which he decapitated in a legend where Shiva, incarnated as Kaal Bhairava, to cut of Brahma’s head for his arrogant claim of being the supreme Lord. The fifth head here, represents the three worlds of “I” (mind & body), “that which I own” & “that which others own”. This is what Shiva, in the guise of Bhairava, destroys, to expand human awareness beyond the material to higher dimensions of self realisation.
In a lighter context, the fierce Bhairava form of Shiva is worshipped as Datta, with three heads of the holy Indian trinity, of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) & Mahesh (Destroyer). In this portrayal, he is followed by a cow, who walks behind him, representing faith. He is also surrounded by four dogs, who walk ahead of him and keep turning back to see if he is there, They represent the faithless nature of man, fraught with its fears which needs support & reassurance. Datta, himself walks at leisure, self assured and one with nature that surrounds him. Devoid of any attachment or limiting desire, he epitomizes that self realised soul who is liberated and has conquered fear which binds the soul to the body-mind cage & the veil of Samsara or the material world.