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Bhīmasena as Bhairava in Nepal

Pages 455 - 476



Bhīmasena, the second of the five Pāṇḍava brothers in the Mahābhārata, is worshipped in Nepal as a form of Śiva or, more precisely, as Bhairava. Referred to as ‘Bhīmsen’, he is especially popular among the Newar trading community, which worships his images on small altars in shops. Inscriptional evidence shows that Bhīmasena has been worshipped in Nepal at least since 1540, but the cult is likely to be older. Bhīmasena's shrines and temples are common in today's Nepal, and various iconographic forms of the divinity are represented independently in paintings and line drawings, and as wood-carvings and brass sculptures. In this paper I examine the rather complex iconography of Bhīmasena which developed in Nepal under the influence of Tantrism. I especially focus on representations of Bhīmasena slaying Duḥśāsana, in which he is accompanied by two small emaciated figures associated with charnel grounds, the habitat of Bhairava, Śiva's wrathful form. I show that Bhīmasena's iconography in Nepal, as perceived from at least the seventeenth century onward, developed from South Indian prototypes. But whereas in South India Bhīma is merely the epic hero and serves as a guardian, in Nepal he is also worshipped as a divinity in his own right. This change of status and his identification with Bhairava added specific features to his more complex iconographic forms.

Madison (Wisconsin)


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