Bhairab, the most terrifying and awful form of Shiva is the destroyer on one hand and the guardian on the other. Ceremonial rituals in relation to the important events of life such as rice-feeding, puberty, marriage, and even the construction of houses cannot be done without propitiating this deity in most of the towns and cities of Nepal. The images of Bhairabs created by the craft masters in different kinds of metal, wood, stone, and clay are at homes, in the temples and shrines of the deities, and in the workshops. They are in the fields, at the cremation ghats, in the doorways, at the crossroads, and in the holes of the temples and wheels of the chariots. They are painted on the walls of the temples, in the thankas and papers. “The estimated five million Bhairab images in Nepal are seen in sixty-four different manifestations and forms depicting his combined human, demonic and animal characteristics”.
Kirtipur is situated about eight km. south from Kathmandu rests on a stony hillock. It is one of the oldest Newars settlements in Nepal. Previously it was called ‘Gudei’ surrounded by jungles. ‘It was Shiva Dev the third who made modern Kirtipur.’ The people of Kirtipur are skillful and hardworking. Their guardian deity is Bagh Bhairab.
The present three-storeyed temple of Bagh Bhairab probably built in the 16th century stands in the brick-paved rectangular courtyard with the rest houses around it. There are some small shrines and stone images spread over the courtyard. The main gate is on the southern side. There are two other gates on the eastern and western sides. The two roofs of the temple are of tiles while the third one is covered with gilt-copper. There are wooden pillars carved with Hindu gods and goddesses. They have been erected in between windows of the second storey and the names of the carved deities have been finely cut out below them on the pedestals. There are eighteen pinnacles-one on the first roof, six in the middle, and eleven in the top roof. Beneath the eaves of the first roof, there are very old but faded murals depicting the stories of Ramayan. Maha Bharat and the various manifestations of Durga, the mighty mother goddess. These paintings are frescoes in red with white plaster background.
At the right side of the main gate of the temple there is Hifa Dyo, the god of blood sacrifice is allowed directly to Bagh Bhairab, all animal offerings to the deity are made here on behalf of this deity just as the animal sacrifices are made to Kumari, a stone idol, placed at the second gate in the left side of Chandesvari at Banepa and to the Chhetrapal which is at the very beginning of the final series of the steps to the temple of Khadga Jogini at Sankhu. There are two torans over Hifa Dyo. They bear very fine cuttings of Asta-Matriks, Asta-Bhairabs, and other gods and goddesses. In the western wall of the temple, there is a hollow space regarded by the local people as Nasa Dyo, the god of music and dance. Rusted war weapons were snatched away from the Gorkha soldiers during the Gorkhalese attacks upon Kirtipur.
Bagh Bhairab made of clay has been enshrined in the left-side corner of the temple. The three glass-eyed tiger-god is tongue-less and tooth-less but covered with silver and copper plates and heavily ornamented. This deity as mentioned in the stone inscriptions has been called Byagresvar (the tiger god), Bhimsen Bhattarak(Bhimsen, the governing deity), Gudei Sthanadhipati (the lord in the form of the tiger), and Ajudyo(the ancestral god). The local peoples hail this deity as the embodiment of prudence, knowledge, productivity, and strength to resist all evils. Hence, the auspicious ceremonies such as weddings, hair-cuttings, rice-feedings, and other ritual performances in Kirtipur are done only after a puja to this deity.
The manifestation of the Bagh Bhairab dance is held once every twelve years with mask-dancers composed of twelve deities such as Bhairab, Mahadev, Ganesh, Ganga, Vaisnavi, Brahmayani, Indrani, Kumaru, Kalika, Barahi, Sinhini and Byaghini. This dance is performed by the Gathus in several places for the whole year. In the course of the dance, the deities lie dead two times, and they are made alive again with the water chanted with the incantation by the guru who used to perform the dawo-khin. At last, the masks lie dead for the third time, they are carried to the funeral procession accompanied by beatings of naye khins and blowing out of kahas to the cremation ghat. The masks of all deities except the one of Ganesh who does not die in the mask dance are piled upon the pyre, and they are burned with a bundle of lighted reeds. Then the dramatic dance which relates to the tantrism ends.
The people of Kirtipur are very proud of Bagh Bhairab because they believe that the deity guards them. They celebrate the chariot festival of Bagh Bhairab on the first day of Bhadra, i.e. in the second week of August. When the local women and girls in new colorful dresses are ready with the sukunda-lamps in their hands in front of the decorated chariot and the musical bands at its back, the chariot is carried on the shoulders of human bearers. At that time hymns are recited, songs are sung and different kinds of musical instruments are performed. After taking a round, the jatra ends. Then the people have the bhoj. The legend that follows shows how Bhagh Bhairab originated and why the people enshrined this deity.