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Shiva manifests cosmic energy, and Bhairava, its ultimate, in which all forms dissolve and perish, and hence Bhairava defines Shiva’s primary role in the Great Trinity. As dissolution is the Creation’s awful but essential aspect, Bhairava is Shiva’s. Bhairava commands, determines the tenure and terminates, and hence his monarchical bearing and supremacy over all other forms. The gems’ studded gold crown conceived in a turban’s style, large halo, broad neck-ornament enriched with precious stones and rich costume covering his figure in full afford to the image of Bhairava a king’s bearing that his no other form is endowed with. Even when representing a Raga, a mode of Indian classical music, Raga Bhairava is considered as the king of Ragas.
Representing the ultimate reality, Bhairava is the culmination of Shiva’s ‘raudra-rupa’ – ferocious form, his essential and initial manifestation that enshrines the Rig-Veda, and later, Brahmins, Samhitas, Upanishads and Puranas. Even the contemporary encyclopaedic texts prefer mentioning him as ‘Rudra Shiva’ or as ‘Shiva, the Rudra’. ‘Raudra’ is not anti-creation bur pro-creative. It overwhelms with energy which destroys when not contained but creates when contained or united with matter. The artist has wondrously revealed this Shaivite creative principle in the two body colours, red, the colour of fire and thereby energy, and green, the colour of nature and thereby the entire matter. It is the two-conjoint that Bhairava manifests. Close to the region of heart a phallus-like projection of the right half : the male aspect, has been painted as inserted into a vagina-like looking parting of the left part : the female aspect, as if portraying coition and charging thereby the dead mass with energy which a half-blown lotus-like form above it symbolises.
The painting is essentially a Tantric manifestation of Bhairava, the principal divinity of Tantra. Apart the marked prevalence of male and female principles as engaged in coition and otherwise the deity image affords to the Tantric an ideal model. It represents three major steps – attainment of ‘chakras’, which are almost conclusive in kindling ‘kundalini’ – rousing dormant energies lying inactive in the body. It begins with ‘muladhara’ – the basis from which the Tantric takes off, situated around the groins often contended to be located in generic organs and hence ‘yoni-sadhana’ – coition, being considered its most potent instrument. Besides male and female body parts symbolising coition and the phallus motifs on the forehead pricking the mind, the inner ring of the halo consisting of inverted and upright triangles is the symbolic representation of the union of male and female principles. Close to heart is ‘anahatha-chakra’ – the budding lotus inclining to bloom, where the colours begin fading and prepare the Tantric for final leap, the ‘sahasrara-chakra’ which the outer ring of the halo consisting of lotus-petals define.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.