The Kaal Bhairav Mandir located in Bharonath is one of the most mysterious and interesting temples of Varanasi. Popularly known as Kashi ke Kotwal (Kōtavāla) that translates to the guardian or officer of Kashi, this temple is said to have existed since the ancient times.
Legend has it that one time Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma wished to exercise their supremacy over the entire gamut of creation with both claiming to be the true creator of the universe. Suddenly, a dazzling light manifested that engulfed the entire universe. Lord Vishnu took the form of Varaha and went downwards in search of its root while Lord Brahma sat on his vahana, the hamsa and went upwards in search of its end.
Lord Vishnu soon realized the folly of this exercise and sought refuge in the Supreme Being and begged for forgiveness. Lord Brahma, however tried to deceive this infinite Pillar of Light by producing the ketaki flower to bear witness. In a moment, Kala Bhairava with bright fiery eyes emerged from this astounding radiance and chopped off a head of the five-headed Brahma.
The head stuck to the hand of this frightening form who then sought the advice of the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being advised him to do prayaschit (atonement) and absolve himself of the Brahmahatya dosha that he had incurred. Kala Bhairava wandered around till he reached Banaras where he was finally rid of the deadly curse. He took a dip in the Ganges and resolved himself to seek the blessings of the Supreme Being.
He was given the title of Kotwal and the important job to scrutinize each person who wished to enter and reside in Benares. It is said that even Yama Dharmaraja should seek his blessings to bring anyone here who wished to breathe their last. Locals say that anyone visiting Kashi must seek his permission to stay and permission to leave, else misfortune befalls them.
The light from his eyes was so intense and blinding that the Supreme Being asked him to turn towards Manikarnika Ghat (Burning Ghat) where funeral pyres are lit. Locals say that the fire in the crematorium is always burning!
This temple is said to have been built by the Marathas, most likely by Shrimant Peshwa Baji Rao I and successive Peshwas and Maratha Generals who are credited with building many ghats, temples, halls and tanks in the ancient city.
Locals also say that when Aurangzeb had desecrated the sacred shrine of Shree Kashi Vishwanath on 4 September 1669 and issued the construction of a mosque on its site, his soldiers tried to enter the Kaal Bhairav Temple. Suddenly, a pack of dogs emerged from nowhere and bit the soldiers. The soldiers went insane in a matter of minutes and started biting their comrades! The situation became so bad that Aurangzeb ordered his bodyguards to kill the rabid soldiers before they killed more of his men.
The priests say that whenever a catastrophic event is likely to take place, Kotwal Baba leaves only a part of himself or nothing of himself in the sanctum sanctorum signalling that he has borne the burden of some great calamity and been assigned to protect his devotees. This has been observed by the priests when they open the doors in the morning to find a part of him missing and a child in his place! As astounding as this is, priests and locals vouch that this happened even in 1971 during the Indo-Pakistani War! This was observed more recently when the upper part of his embellishment suddenly fell down on its own revealing a child in his place on 24 February 2021. It would appear that Kotwal Baba has left the shrine after 50 years to protect his children.
Devotees come from far-flung places to have darshan of Kotwal Baba and seek his permission to breathe their last in this divine city. Grand celebrations are held on Krishna Paksha Ashtami tithi in the month of Margashirsha (Karthik for some).
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)