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Story of Kankalamurti – Kankala Bhairava Form Of Shiva

Kankala Bhairava, also known as Kankalamurti, is a formidable form of the Hindu god Shiva, particularly venerated in South India. This fierce aspect of Shiva is intricately associated with themes of destruction, penance, and transcendence. The stories surrounding Kankalamurti are rich with symbolism and reflect the complex nature of divine retribution and redemption.

Encounter with Vishvakasena

One of the most prominent legends of Kankalamurti involves an encounter with Vishvakasena, a gatekeeper of Vishnu's abode, Vaikunta. According to this tale, Shiva, in the form of Bhairava, sought entry into Vaikunta. However, Vishvakasena refused him access. In his wrath, Bhairava killed Vishvakasena and carried his skeleton (kankala) on his trishula (trident). This act of carrying the skeleton earned him the name Kankalamurti.

The Journey to Vaikunta

Following the slaying of Vishvakasena, Bhairava, now known as Kankalamurti, entered Vaikunta and approached Vishnu. Hungry and penitent, he begged Vishnu for food. There are two versions of what happened next:

Blood Offering: In one version, Vishnu compassionately offered his own blood to Kankalamurti as sustenance. This gesture highlights Vishnu's role as a preserver and nurturer, even in the face of such a grim visitor.

Forehead Artery: Another version narrates that Vishnu cut an artery on Bhairava’s forehead, causing a stream of blood to flow into his begging bowl, thus satiating his hunger. This act signifies a profound act of self-sacrifice and divine grace.

Redemption at Kashi

Vishnu, recognizing the need for Bhairava to atone for his actions, directed him to the sacred city of Kashi (Varanasi). It is believed that Kashi, being a city of liberation and purification, would expiate the sin of killing Vishvakasena. Upon reaching Kashi, the corpse of Vishvakasena vanished, symbolizing the cleansing of Bhairava’s sin. Subsequently, Vishvakasena was resurrected, and Bhairava, having been sanctified, shed the form of Kankalamurti and returned to his divine abode.

Depiction and Symbolism

Kankalamurti is typically depicted as a fierce, four-armed figure. He holds a kankala-danda (skeleton-staff) and is often accompanied by bhuta ganas (ghostly attendants) and love-sick women. This imagery reflects his association with death, the afterlife, and the potent energy that transcends ordinary existence.

The Vamana Legend

Another intriguing legend about Kankalamurti involves the slaying of Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu. In this story, Vishnu incarnated as Vamana, a dwarf who later assumed a gigantic form to humble the demon king Mahabali. However, Vamana’s colossal form became a burden to the universe. Responding to their pleas, Shiva, in the form of Kankalamurti, destroyed Vamana and used his backbone as a weapon. This act is symbolic of Shiva's role as the destroyer within the Hindu trinity, necessary for the cyclical process of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Philosophical Interpretations

Kankalamurti embodies the concept of Shiva as the dissolver of the universe. The skeleton he carries represents the ultimate reality of destruction and the transient nature of life. The tales of Kankalamurti, filled with acts of violence followed by acts of redemption, underscore the dual aspects of Shiva – both terrifying and benevolent. These narratives emphasize that destruction is not merely an end but a necessary precursor to renewal and liberation.

In essence, the stories of Kankalamurti serve to illustrate profound truths about the nature of divinity, the cycle of life and death, and the path to spiritual purification and ultimate liberation.