Kalashtami aka Kala Ashtami is a festival dedicated to Lord Bhairava, a fierce form of Lord Shiva associated with destruction. He punishes the sinners appropriately and protects the surrendered devotees. There are 64 Bhairavas headed by 8 Bhairavas and all of them are ruled by Lord Kala Bhairava. Kala Ashtami is observed every month during Ashtami Tithi of Krishna Paksha as per the Hindu calendar.On this day, people observe fast and offer prayers to Lord Bhairava. Interestingly, the most significant Kalashtami, Kalabhairav Jayanti, is celebrated in North India in the month of Margashirsha (Dec-Jan) whereas the South Indians celebrate it in the month of Kartik (Nov-Dec). However, it is to be noted that both calendars celebrate Kaal Bhairav Jayanti on the same day. Devotees of Shiva maintain that Lord Shiva appeared in the form of Bhairava on this very day.
‘Ashta’ means ‘eight’ and ‘Ashtami’ means ‘eighth’. Thus Ashtami, the eighth day after the Full Moon day is highly auspicious to worship Lord Kaal Bhairava. There are in total twelve Kalashtami in a year. Of these, the one falling on a Sunday or Tuesday is best for the worship of Lord Kal Bhairav.
Origin of the Name Bhairava
Bhairava is derived from the word ‘Bhr’ which means one who bears(holds) the universe by sustaining and nourishing it while the word ‘rava’ means self-awareness. Another meaning implies that He is the patron of those who fear the cycle of suffering, where ‘rava’ stands for intensified awareness which arises within Bhiru' which means dread or fear of cycle of suffering.
Legends Surrounding Bhairava
It is said that Lord Shiva took the form of Kaal Bhairava to behead one of the five heads of Lord Brahma. The fifth head was full of arrogance that did not let Brahma focus on His tapasya or austerity. It is the mercy of Shiva who in the form of Kalbhairav liberated Brahma from the clutches of His fifth head. Since then, Lord Brahma has been singing the glories of the Four Vedas through His four mouths.
The worship of Kaal Bhairav during Bhairav Ashtami in various temples includes observance of all-night vigil (Jagaran), where prayers are offered to Him along with His story being told and an Arti performed at the midnight since it is the best time to worship Him. In the morning bath is taken by the devotees and oblations (Tarpan) are offered to deceased ancestors.
A long fast is also observed by devotees for His divine grace and to absolve all sins. Kaal Bhairav along with Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are worshipped with sweet offerings and flowers. His Vahana is the Dog, thus Dogs are also offered respect and food offerings including sweets, milk and curd are served to them.
In the Kal Bhairav Mandir (temple) in Ujjain, liquor and other offerings in symbolic form known as panchakarma are offered to Kaal Bhairav God as five tantric ritual offerings.
The Kaal Bhairav Mandir in Varanasi is the oldest known temple in the holy place. Throughout the year, the body of the Deity idol is covered by a cloth and only the face is revealed. On Bhairav Jayanti, the whole idol is revealed and decorated with garlands.
The renowned Kaal Bhairav Mandir in Kashi, where Kaal Bhairav is revered as the ‘Kotwal of Kashi’ celebrates Bhairav Ashtami with great fervour. The Deity idol is elaborately decorated with garlands and flowers and many devotees visit the temple to participate in the grand celebration. The Kaal Bhairav Astami and Kaal Bhairav Jayanti are also celebrated across the various Jyotirlinga temples in India.
What to do on Kalashtami? How to celebrate Kalashtami?
Devotees on this day take early bath in the morning and offer prayers to Lord Shiva. They perform a special puja dedicated to Kaal Bhairav for His blessings and protection.
In the evening, people also visit the temple of Lord Kala Bhairava and ask for forgiveness.
On this day, Kalashtami special puja and rituals are also performed for the divine grace of Lord Shiva in His fierce Kaal Bhairava form.
They also observe fast throughout the day. Some also stay awake the whole night (jagran or night vigil), reading scriptures and listening to the mantras and stories of Lord Shiva.
It is the best time to recite the Kaal Bhairav Katha and chant mantras dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Devotees also feed dogs because Lord Bhairava has a black dog as His divine carrier.
It is the most auspicious day to feed Brahmins at places like Kashi and Nasik.
Benefits of Worshiping Lord Bhairava:
Kalabhairava Pooja vidhi includes Kalash Sthapana, Panchang Sthapana, 64 yogini Pujan, Shetrapal Pujan, Swasti Vachan, Sankalpa, Ganesh Pujan and Abhishek, Navgraha Pujan and 108 Japa of each planetary mantra, Invocation of major Gods and Goddesses in Kalash, Abhishek and Pujan of Bhairav Idol and Yantra, Bhairav Mantra Japa, Homa, Aarti and Pushpanjali.
Kalabhairava pooja benefits are:
Grace and blessings of Lord Bhairava
Protection against the negative energies, illness and diseases
The Bhairav Ashtakam is eight stanza hymns dedicated to Lord Kaal Bhairav and is composed by Adi Shankaracharya. In the stanzas, salutations are offered to Lord Kaal Bhairav and His iconography and qualities are described.
The first two stanzas describe His ecstatic appearance and Him being venerated by Sage and Yogis. It describes that He supports the Universe and rescues His devotees. The third and fourth stanzas describe Kaal Bhairava as the One Who punishes the evil and relieves His devotees from sins and sufferings and bestows prosperity.
The other two stanzas describe Him as the eternal One and the guardian of righteousness. He is described as a reliever from fear of death and cycle of karma and rebirth. The 7th stanza describes Kalbhairav God as bestower of eight Siddhis and destroyer of sin while the last stanza describes Him as ruler of spirits and ghosts and bestower of peace, glory, happiness and prosperity. He as protector of Kashi is described as the protector, absolver of sin and guiding them ever along the path of Dharma.
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