This asana is called Bhairavasana - meaning the "position of Bhairava." It is Halloween tonight, and as children wander around the streets dressed up in costume, I am reminded of one of the most terrifying forms of Rudra or Shiva in his manifestation as Bhairava.
Halloween originated as an ancient Celtic festival, which marked the end of the year, the summer, and the harvest. It was the last night before and the beginning of the cold, dark winter, the first day of the new year being November 1st, and the winter brought with it a time of death. The Celts believed that on this final day of each year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes obscure, and the ghosts of the dead can easily returned to earth. In addition to causing mischief, the presence of otherworldly spirits made it easier for the priests to make predictions about the coming year.
As I was walking around trick-or-treating with my son tonight, I saw little baby ghouls and skeletons wandering the street and I was reminded of this ancient story of Shiva walking around with the corpse of his wife.
Bhairava is the 'wandering form' of Lord Shiva. The name "Bhairava" itself means "frightful" or "terrible" and this is one of the eight ghora forms of Rudra. Rudra is the Vedic god of the tempest, whose characteristics are thunder and lightning, but he becomes completely absorbed into Shiva in later literature.
Bhairava is often depicted riding a dog, or accompanied with a dog by his side, giving him the nickname "Shvaashva" which means "whose horse is a dog." You can see his image depicted at the door of many Hindu temples, as he serves as a gatekeeper and protector of the temple. Bhairava that is worshiped primarily by 'outcast' groups. He is also thought to be the protector of women and all people who are timid or in subservient positions.
In ancient India, the laws of Manu states that only those who are caste-less should be allowed to keep dogs or donkeys. So many 'outcasts' in Indian society started to worship Bhairava because of his association with dogs, and also their submissive and downtrodden rank in society.
He is said to be the guardian of women, because after the death of his wife Sati at Daksha's sacrifice, Shiva was completely inconsolable. He took the form of Bhairava wandering aimlessly all over the universe, carrying her corpse in his arms, wrapped over his shoulders.
The gods become increasingly concerned about Shiva's inconsolable grief, and plead with Vishnu to help cure him of this unhealthy obsession. In response, Vishnu takes out his Chakra and cuts Sati's body into 52 pieces. As Shiva wanders around trying to hold onto her pieces, each piece falls to a different spot in India.
All of the places where a piece of Sati's corpse fell are known as holy "Shakti Pithas" in the Hindu religion, and there is a Kali or Shakti temple marking each of these sacred spots. After the loss of her final body-part, Lord Shiva returns to Mount Kailash to meditate and mourn his wife’s death. Eventually, the goddess Sati is reborn as Parvati, and returns to her one true love, Lord Shiva, and awakens him out of his meditative trance.
It is said that Fridays at midnight are the best time to pray to Bhairava. This is the day dedicated to the Mother goddess, and the worship of Shakti, Durga, Kali and all other forms of the Divine Feminine.
I hope this New year brings everyone much joy, love and adventure, as we cross over into the dark cold months ahead. Halloween and Bhairava both remind us to hold our loved ones close... as "Winter is Coming!"