Bagh Bhairab, the guardian deity of Kirtipur

Bhairab is considered as the most terrifying form of Lord Shiva.  There are several images of Bhairab erected around the nooks and crannies of the Kathmandu valley, from temple premises to cremation sites to wheels of chariots. There are about sixty four different forms of Bhairab, seen in the images of him in Nepal, depicting him in his combined human form, demonic and animal characteristics.

One of the forms of Bhairab is Bagh Bhairab, also known as the guardian deity of Kirtipur, one of the oldest Newari settlements in Nepal. The three storied temple of Bagh Bhairab standly proudly in the brick-paved rectangular courtyard is believed to be built in 16th century. With the main gate at the southern side, there are other two gates at the eastern and the western sides. The courtyard also houses some small shrines and stone images around it. The third roof o the temple is covered with gilt-copper while the other two are made up of tiles. The wooden pillars are carved with the images of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. These pillars are erected between the windows of the second storey and the names of the carved deities have been finely engraved on the pedestals below the images. With one in the first roof, six in the middle and eleven in the top roof, there are altogether eighteen pinnacles. There are old and faded wall paintings depicting the stories of Ramayan, Mahabharat and various other manifestations of Durga beneath the eaves of the first roof.

An idol of god of blood sacrifice, Hifa Dyo, is situated at the right side of the temple and any sacrifice made to Bhairab is directly offered to him here. On the second gate, there is a stone idol of goddess Kumari. Two torans which bear the fine cutting of AstaMatriks, Asta-Bhairab and other gods and goddesses are situated over Hifa Dyo. A small space on the western wall of the temple is dedicated to Nasa Dyo, the god of music and dance. There are also some of the rusted weapons that were snatched away from the Gorkha-soldiers during the Gorkhalese attack on Kirtipur.

The temple houses a clay image of Bagh Bhairab which is in the left corner of the temple. The three glass-eyed tiger-god is tongue and toothless but is covered with silver and copper plates and is heavily ornamented. This god is called Byagresvar, the tiger god, Bhimsen Bhattarak (Bhimsen, the guardian deity), Gudei Sthanadhipati (the lord in the form of tiger) and Ajudyo (the ancestral god). The lord is regarded as the lord of knowledge, productivity and strength who could resist all the evils because of which all the auspicious ceremonies in Kirtipur are done only after worshipping the god.

Once in every twelve years, Bagh Bhairab dance is performed where the mask-dancers compose twelve deities like Bhairab, Mahadev, Ganesh, Ganga, Vaisnavi, Brahmayani, Indrani, Kumaru , Kalika, Barahi, Sinhini and Byaghini. The Gathus performs this dance in several places throughout the year. The deities are laid dead twice and brought to life again with the water chanted with the incantation by the guru who used to perform the dawokhin. Finally, the masks die for the third time and then, they are carried to funeral procession which is accompanied by beating of naye khins and blowing of kahas to the cremation site. Then the masks of all the deities, except Ganesh who does not die in the dance, are piled on the pyre and they are burned with a bundle of lighted reeds marking the end of the dramatic tantric dance.

The rath jatra (chariot festival) of Bagh Bhairab is celebrated on the first day of Bhadra that falls around the second week of English month of August. The local women and girls wearing new colorful clothes and carrying the sukunda lamps stands in front of the decorated chariot and behind it is the musical band. The chariot is carried on the human shoulders and pulled throughout the place accompanied by hymns, songs and musical instruments. The jatra ends after the round and people enjoy the bhoj followed by shows that presents the legend of origin and presence of this god as a guardian deity of Kirtipur.