Bhairava

The large statue of Bhairava in Leiden is certainly one of Singosari’s main curiosities and mysteries. Its original location is unknown and this has led to considerable discussion. The Bhairava is an amazing and, almost, unique sculpture. Very few images of Bhairava have been found in Indonesia and, of these, only two are monumental statues: the Bhairava of Sungai Langsat (West Sumatra) and the Bhairava of Singosari.

Statue of Bhairava, Sungai LangsatStatue of Bhairava (RMV, Leiden)

The Bhairava of Singosari is represented sitting on his dog. In his four hands, he holds a trident, a knife, a skull cup and a drum. His wild, curly hair is floating behind his head. He is depicted naked, with the exception of some jewels. His bulging eyes and his fangs denote his demonic character, as do the skulls and severed heads adorning his crown, earrings and necklace. Like Ganesha, Bhairava stands on a row of skulls.

In Hindu mythology, Bhairava represents the destructive manifestation of Shiva. This is probably the most violent representation of Shiva, since it is linked to the myth of the decapitation of Brahma, the creator of the Hindu triad.

The story is told in the Puranas. Brahma, wanting to be recognized as the supreme deity, asked Vishnu to worship him, since he was the creator of the universe. Brahma’s pretence angered Shiva, who considered himself as the creator of all. Shiva’s anger was incarnated in the form of Bhairava. Bhairava beheaded one of Brahma’s heads, but his deed made him guilty of slaying a brahmin. To expiate his crime, Bhairava was condemned to wander as a hermit and survive by begging until he was cleared of his sin in the holy city of Varanasi (Benares).

The image at Singosari most probably features Bhairava during his wandering period. He is depicted as a naked man. The skull cup may represent Brahma’s skull which, according to the myth, no sacrifice could fill. The knife in his hand is a sacrificial knife for blood offerings and the skulls on which he stands are reminiscent of his meditation on cremation grounds.

Bhairava is the annihilator of the worlds, but destruction is also salvation: the destruction of a world preludes its re-creation. This aspect of Shiva is also manifest in the microcosm. Bhairava, then, embodies the destruction of ignorance and illusion, freeing men from the material world. The worship of Bhairava will grant his devotees triumph over rivals and worldly success.

Even though the early documentation by Engelhard seems to suggest that the image comes from Candi Singosari (Candi A), it is not exactly clear how accurate this information is. The statue could also have come from the direct surroundings of Candi Singosari, or even from slightly further away, from one of the other temples.