Samrakshyan as Upasamhar: The Akash Bhairav Temple in Kathmandu
Research material: Sri Akash Bhairavnath By Dr. Safalya Amatya
In Hindu deistic traditions, a supernal force that guides or moulds and to which we turn for respite and understanding is often defined as a manifest God. In simpler terms, the idol of worship or the deity is a visible form of an invisible force.
The life element thus enshrined is a belief, a traditional faith and a form of worship for appeasement and thanksgiving all at once. The Akash Bhairav is said to have been brought during the founding of Kantipur City, now modern-day Kathmandu. The city is famed for its temples as well as the colourful cultural ambience that complements its historical significance in Nepal.
The Akash Bhairav is famed to be a part of the Kirati tradition of divine 'institutionalisation'. Interesting to note, other famous manifestations or forms of the Bhairav are exhibited in recognizably important places. The Nritya Bhairav is housed in the National Museum in Kathmandu. A prachin murti of the Bhairav is also exhibited in the Doris Wainer Gallery in New York.
The traditional Akash Bhairav Puja is accompanied by Upasana and Anusthan. Sacred water, sandalwood, flowers, fruits, incense and naibedya are some of the offerings for this puja. Legend has it that worship of the Bhairav is usually a mark of safety and strength. In the Nepali imagination, the Akash Bhairav symbolizes protection and goodwill for the nation and its people.
Religion, nation, people, belief, faith and traditional thanksgiving are all interwoven in this manifestation of Bhairav worship. The Akash Bhairav is also believed to be the jeevan tatwa. Culturalism and culturality are integrally bound in Bhairav worship and the temple itself. It stands as a grand testament to a cultural personification of Upasamhar.
The toran, dhalaut singha, shilapatra kakshya, mukut, tamako khasi, ghanta and twadeva are each built into the temple facade and the inner sanctum. The restoration of the temple has been supported by key international organizations. However, much of the restorative work was undertaken and completed by the community in charge of its upkeep. Community-based heritage preservation is fast becoming imperative in Nepal as it provides much of the backdrop and resources for restorative undertakings.
For eight days during the Indra Jatra, celebrations in the temple comprise of adorning the temple and the deity. This is followed by the Tantrik Puja, the Sagun Puja and the Kal Puja. The worshipper and the deity are held together in a uniquely 'reciprocal' dynamic.
Indra Chowk, home of the Akash Bhairav, was one of the principle trade centers and town squares of ancient Kantipur City. The Sri Akash Bhairav Guthi Sanchalak Samithi is a community organisation that manages the temple activities and upkeep.