Article: Nākoḍā Bhairava

Contributed by Knut Aukland

Nākoḍā Bhairava is a protective male deity worshipped in Nākoḍā, a Śvetāmbara Jain pilgrimage sitetīrtha – in western Rajasthan. He is very popular in the Śvetāmbara community, but also well known among Jains in general. Nākoḍā Bhairava is famous for his miraculous powers, granting boons and possessing his devotees.

Many Jains do not condone Nākoḍā Bhairava's popularity and believe that he has nothing to do with Jainism at all. Even so, both lay and ascetic Jains take part in his cult.

The present statue – mūrti – of Nākoḍā Bhairava was created and ceremoniously installed in the temple dedicated to Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva in 1934. Nākoḍā Bhairava is situated next to the temple's main image, Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha. The statue of the 23rd Jina, Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha, is reported to have been discovered underground in 1455 with the help of Nākoḍā Bhairava.

Nākoḍā Bhairava is particularly popular among Jain shopkeepers, who often keep images of him in their shops. The bhairava appears in various stories connected to the site and is today known for his ability to help devotees achieve various worldly goals such as better health and material gain. The bhairava is also believed to enter the bodies of devotees, effectively possessing them, sometimes communicating auspicious messages through them.

History

The temple to Lord Pārśva in Nākoḍā, Rajasthan, is a well-known pilgrimage site for Śvetāmbara Jains. As well as the black statue of Pārśva that is the main temple idol, a big attraction is a small figure of Nākoḍā Bhairava, a protective deity.

Nākoḍā pilgrimage site
Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland

The story of Nākoḍā Bhairava is connected to the tale of the image of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva in Nākoḍā – Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha. The Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha is the main idol in the temple dedicated to the 23rd Jina. Nākoḍā Bhairava became prominent in the 20th century and is now familiar to most Jains.

According to the site’s own history, Jains have resided in Nākoḍā since the second century following the nirvāṇa of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra, which is 527 BCE in traditional Śvetāmbara dating. From this time onwards various Jain activities are reported, such as temple constructions and visits from famous monks, including the influential philosopher Haribhadra. There are stories of Jain statues that were hidden underground to protect them from attacks by intolerant rulers and chieftains during the first half of the second millennium. Many such statues were forgotten and some are still dug out today. The statue of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva in Nākoḍā – Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha – was rediscovered in this way in 1455.

According to the story, a Jain lay man had a dream in which Nākoḍā Bhairava told him of the long-forgotten statue of Pārśvanātha or Lord Pārśva, the 23rd Jina, and where it was hidden. The statue was then discovered and installed in the Nākoḍā temple by the Kharatara-gaccha monk Kīrtiratna-sūri. As Kīrtiratna-sūri was carrying the rediscovered statue of Pārśva, people spontaneously formed a procession behind him. They saw Nākoḍā Bhairava in the form of a boy dancing and walking with them, eventually causing them to stop in Nākoḍā. Kīrtiratna-sūri decided to keep the Pārśvanātha statue there and installed the aniconic image – piṇḍākar – of Nākoḍā Bhairava by the temple entrance. Similar stories are found in other pilgrimage sites.

The site was later abandoned until the Tapā-gaccha nun Sundarśrī came to the Nākoḍā temple at the beginning of the 20th century and decided to spend the rest of her life working on its restoration. She raised funds and interest in the site, actively propagating the cult of Nākoḍā Bhairava, which gave rise to her nickname of the ‘Saviour of Nākoḍā Tīrtha’ – tīrthoddhārikā. The official trust overseeing the site was established in 1924.

Origins

Picture of Nākoḍā Bhairava on an invitation to a 2009 bhakti – devotion – celebration in Mumbai, Maharashtra. Nākoḍā Bhairava is a guardian god in the Śvetāmbara Pārśvanātha temple in Nākoḍā, Rajasthan. A picture of Nākoḍā Pārśvanātha is on his chest.

Picture of Nākoḍā Bhairava
Image by Knut Aukland © Knut Aukland

The word bhairava is a generic term used all over South Asia to denote some form of deity. It is derived from the Sanskrit verb root bhī, meaning 'terrible', 'frightening'. The name 'Nākoḍā Bhairava' thus means the 'bhairava of Nākoḍā'. Although it is not clear what the nature of Nākoḍā Bhairava and his cult was before he was installed in the Jain temple, it seems reasonable to assume certain points.

Firstly, at some point Nākoḍā Bhairava was a local deity without strong links to Jainism, similar to the many other bhairavas found in Rajasthani villages.

Secondly, it can be assumed that he was incorporated into a more defined sphere of Jain religious activity and infrastructure, much like other protective deities such as the goddess Saciyā Mātā.

The many bhairavas found all over India tend to be associated with the Hindu god Śiva, whose favourite weapon, the trident, is found in one of Nākoḍā Bhairava's hands. Supporting this connection to Śiva are two things. The first is magic formulas – mantras – in some of the hymns to Nākoḍā Bhairava. Secondly, there are popular emblems with an image of Nākoḍā Bhairava next to a sacred diagram – yantra.

Lay status

While often referred to as a guardian deity – rakṣakdev or adhiṣṭāyak deva – Nākoḍā Bhairava is also understood to be a lay follower of Jainism. This greatly affects the financial standing of the Nākoḍā trust since money donated to Nākoḍā Bhairava is interpreted as being donated to a lay man and not a statue in the system of the seven fields of donation. This gives the trust freedom to direct investment to other things than the construction and refinement of statues and temples, such as the research institution Prakrit Bharati Academy in Jaipur.

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