Fear and Fruition: Bhairava in Text, Art, and Practice
The following dissertation addresses the origins, development, and contemporary living religious world of the Hindu deity Bhairava. An ambivalent deity associated both with antinomian and orthoprax Hinduism, his example is unusual, even unique. Particularly important in the sacred Hindu city of Vārāṇasī, Uttar Pradesh, India, he fulfills a range of roles and appears in a spectrum of forms that is difficult to reconcile or analyze. This dissertation looks at who Bhairava is and where he comes from; how he functions both centrally and at peripheries; and how his ongoing, polythetic body of living religious practice can be understood as constructively potent and relevant.
By addressing Purāṇic textual materials, contemporary iconography, and ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Vārāṇasī, this dissertation presents a vibrant image of Bhairava, his identity, his interpretation, and his roles. The result of this investigation is a view of Bhairava as a specialized figure, connected to and maintaining tension between disparate Hindu constructs. It is this ability to eke out a position in a middle, while remaining present at and relevant to conceptual and physical peripheries, that makes Bhairava so compelling, and so important.
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