The Hindu festival of Kal Bhairava Ashtami is being celebrated in many parts of India today. It falls on the ashtami tithi of Krishna paksha of the month of Kartik (as per the South Indian Amavasyant calendar) or Margshirsha (as per the North Indian Purnimant calendar). This year it is falling on 19 November, Tuesday (it is considered more paavan – holier – if it falls on a Tuesday or a Sunday).
Bhairava is a manifestation (swaroop) of Lord Shiva and there are many temples in India dedicated to this wrathful and fearful form of Shiva. The legend goes thus: the three lords of the universe Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were in a heated debate over who is more superior of them all, with Brahma slighting Shiva in assuming he could do everything the latter could with his five heads. On being insulted thus, Lord Shiva invoked Kal Bhairava from his nail (and some say from his forehead) who chopped off one of Brahma’s five heads, leaving him with four.
The upasaka (worshippers) of Kal Bhairava pray and fast on this day in appeasing this terrifying form of Shiva who, it is believed, can help destroy one’s enemies. He is also known as the Lord of Kashi (Varanasi) where a temple is dedicated to him. The Vaishno Devi Shrine has a Bhairava temple where this ashtami is celebrated with great enthusiasm.
On this day, the Bhairava Ashtakam chanting is considered auspicious and devotees pray and offer oblations to Lord Shiva, Ma Parvati and Kal Bhairava. He is also the Lord of Time as kaal literally means time.
His vahana is a black dog so devotees believe in feeding black dogs on this day. All night vigils and prayers are kept to appease the Lord and his consort Bhairavi and devotees popularly believe they both give darshan at midnight.