Legends of the beheaded king

Festival Issue 117 Jul, 2011
Text by Abhas D. Rajopadhyaya / Photo: ECS Media

Kathmandu’s fables are as varied as its people and their cultures.

Colonel Kirkpatrick, believed to be the first Englishman to visit Kathmandu valley in the 18th century had written that, “There are nearly as many temples as houses and as many idols as inhabitants, there not being a fountain, a river, or a hill within its limits, that is not consecrated to one or another of the Hindu deities.” A noted folk-story collector and poet, Kesar Lal commented thus, “If he had been allowed to stay longer than a week in February 1793 and had witnessed the festivals, pilgrimages and pageants, he would have perhaps, and rightly, added that every temple, idol, fountain, river or hill has a tale to tell.”

Varying and interesting tales of the Kathmandu valley link the valley people with gods and goddesses via tantric practices and rituals. In such an ocean of lore, stories of normal people being worshipped as divine beings are abundant. This is evident in the manifestation of the Thakuri king of Pharping, Pachali Singh being worshipped as the deity Pachali Bhairav or in worship of the daughter of Rajopadhyaya (the royal guru clan) of Makhan as goddess Vijayeshwori.

Every Bhairav or Bhairavi among the five million Bhairavs (according to mythological belief) spread over Nepal has a unique story to tell. The Aakash Bhairav of Indrachowk at the heart of ancient Kathmandu city is no exception to this.

Local legend
Yet another variation of the legend is locally famous. According to this, King Yalamber, a manifestation of Lord Shiva on earth, went to Kurukshetra long before the war and met a gwala (shepherd) on the way, who was Lord Krishna himself in human form. The king asked why the Mahabharat war had not commenced. Krishna, surprised to hear a human ask about the future war of which only the Gods knew, saw Lord Shiva in him. In order to avoid him in the great war of Mahabharat, Lord Krishna called him for a bout putting his soul (life) aside, atop a huge tree. Yalamber targeted the tree upon which Lord Krishna took his soul on the tip of his thumb. The king then aimed towards Lord Krishna’s thumb. Nearing defeat, Lord Krishna allowed him a boon to which Yalamber boastfully replied, “I am mightier. You ask me for one.” Yalamber, before being beheaded by Lord Krishna’s Sudarshan Chakra asked to see the entire Mahabharat war from the sky.

After some time, when the war commenced, the beheaded king only saw Lord Krishna wandering about. This was because it is believed that the lord resides in every human. Disappointed at this and about not being able to participate in the war, the beheaded king headed northward beyond the Himalayas and landed at the Indrachowk in Kathmandu.

Lord Aakash Bhairav
Lord Aakash Bhairav is depicted by a large, blue, fierce face, huge silver eyes and a crown made of skulls and adorned with serpents. The deity resides on a silver throne carried by ferocious lions and is accompanied by Bhimsen and Bhadrakali on either sides. The idol is placed on the first floor of the temple. The idol is also believed to be the mask that King Yalamber wore on his way to the Kuruktsetra. Idols of Ganesh and Kumar are placed on either sides of the throne as auspicious signs.

Lord Aakash Bhairav - the god of the sky, is also regarded as the ancestor of the Maharjan caste, especially the peasant groups. An image of the Buddha (the Hindus call it Brahma, the creator) is seen on the forehead of Aakash Bhairav and so Aakash Bhairav is equally revered by Buddhists as well.