Following on from Bhairava’s decapitation-strike and humbling blow against Brahma, The Terrifying Executioner (‘Headsman’, as we shall soon see) incurred the sin of Brahmanicide – Brahmahatya.
And this is quite important, for while Brahma’s egregious misdeed had themselves both represented and perpetuated a grievous ‘imbalance’ – Bhairava’s forcible correction thereof had also created an ‘imbalance’ within the Universe. Albeit, it can rather strongly be argued, a much lesser sin that that which was being ended through His mighty axe-swing.
But whereas, even when we’re dealing within the realms of mythology, we’re often subconsciously used to treating the concepts of ‘sin’ and ‘transgression’ as being largely symbolic ethical injunctions – the sort of misdeed which, if nobody were around to witness it, “doesn’t really count”, except privately … in reality, and especially in this matter in particular, little could be further from the truth. This is demonstrated within the myth of Bhairava via what happened next:
In a manner considerably presaging Lady MacBeth’s “Out, Damned Spot!”, the severed head held aloft in triumph by the champion Executioner … now refuses to fall from His grasp. Worse, a horrifying [and, interestingly, female] black shape congeals near Him – the personification of the Sin of Brahmahatya, which shall ever dog His steps, never more than a few paces tarrying behind.
Bhairava, in other words, now becomes the Bikshatana , the Kapalika. The mendicant, the skull-bearer. And is effectively driven off on a protracted sojourn of wandering thither and yon in pursuit of the means to expiate His grave crime.
Now, there are several interesting elements to pick up upon in what has just transpired – and in a future piece, I intend to analyze all of this in much more depth and specificity than I’m about to do here. But for the moment … what Bhairava is engaging in is strongly coterminous with the ancient Hindu legal sanctions that would be applied to particular classes of offender who had themselves carried out an act of Brahmanicide. Albeit with the Skull of Brahma here used as a Kapala [‘Skull’, but in this context, a ‘bowl’ .. so ‘Skull-Cup’ – out of which, the Kapalika, the Skull-Man, drinks his nourishment], rather than attached to the end of the long Khatvanga staff such figures customarily carried. In a way, therefore, the Myth of Bhairava provides a prototypical and archetypal course for the manner in which Hindu society should deal with this kind of offending.
And from there, we have the element which is coterminous with that we find in the tale of Odin’s forcible begetting of Vali – wherein the Wandering God is sentenced to a period of Exile for His transgressive action.
Yet why Exile, why Wandering? Why not just put somebody to death and be done with it? Surely that is what would ordinarily happen in many such cases.
And while that is true, the difference between Exile and Execution is an important one. Both accomplish the same objective of getting the offender out of the society, the social context in which the crime has occurred. Which may be protective , but also is a statement of sanction all its own – to quote Grettir’s Saga “Bare is the back of a brotherless man”. As I’ve explored in some of my previous works upon the subject, the notion of a man without a people, a community, is a decidedly anachronistic one; in the old days, it basically meant one was either dead, or may as well be, for the most part. As Aristotle put it – “Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” Which gets rather interesting as a theological maxim when we consider Rudra-Odin-Shiva.
In addition to the punitive value of Exile by itself, there is also the stripping of ‘title’ and ‘respect’ which this should in theory bring – hence why, in the case of the aftermath of Vali’s conception, Odin is stripped of His Lordly Position [although I have my … suspicions about what was going on there, as well] ; and why in the case of Bhairava, He is mandated to adopt the outward appearance of a beggar [which, to be sure, Shiva often does anyway, but this time, more so and without apparent recourse – although it is also noted that in the course of His wanderings in this guise, He kept winding up with women He encountered falling in love with Him. Women do, it seems, even in mythology, often like a b(h)ad(ra) boy.]
But while the above might both sound like similarities between Execution and Exile – they are in fact quite different for two further reasons. One, the state of Exile is often intended to be a temporary one, which the figure in question can return from … should they manage to survive on their own – which is an implicit ‘test’ of the moral worth of the individual all up. And the second, is that as it is temporary, this entails the possibility of a Return. Presumably having learned something, and consequentially having improved themselves to the point that the offence was, from a certain point of view, carried out by a different person.
The Path of Exile, therefore, is one which we should be unsurprised to find often reserved for those who have undeniable’potential’ or strong worth to their people … but who need nevertheless to be sanctioned – and, in the course of so being, hopefully return in the inexorable future, having become better men than when they left. Or, at the very least, having allowed the society which banished them, to have ‘adapted’, and perhaps ‘forgotten’ somewhat (even if it it is only the dulling of the immediate intensity of an act of transgression via the ameliorating mists of memory through consequent passaging of time), just why it was that they were sanctioned in the first place.
The Wanderers, therefore, are those whom it would induce various forms of significant ‘imbalance’ to lethally deal-to; yet who cannot be allowed to remain ‘in situ’ – as both the lack of a response to their transgressions, as well as their direct proximity/presence to the context and the community and rubric-of-laws within which their actions were carried out, would also represent a considerable ‘imbalance’ were it allowed to continue. Yet with their penitential pathway eventually providing the means and the mechanism via which they might ultimately make a more ‘balanced’ return. As a certain NZ politician once sagaciously observed – the point of the Prodigal Son .. is that he comes back!
This is effectively what happens with Bhairava.
And, indeed, it is the veer-y nature of the course trodden by KaalBhairavJi – particularly as Bhikshatana and thence Kankalamurti – which beautifully, blood-stainedly illustrate this tangible principle in most immanentized action. To that, we shall now turn.