This beautiful sculpture depicts Kaal Bhairav, the Lord of Destruction and an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva. According to one legend Brahma and Vishnu were disputing who had the right to be worshipped as supreme creator of the universe. When Brahma claimed this title for himself, Shiva became angry and created Bhairav to punish Brahma for his arrogance. Having cut off one of Brahma’s five heads, Bhairav was forced to carry it around as a reminder of his sin. Despite the damage to the left side of the piece it is still possible to make out some of Bhairav’s attributes, including the skull cap that he holds in front of his chest.
Kaal Bhairav is especially popular in Nepal and his image is placed before temples and paraded through the streets during the festival of Indra Jahra. It is believed that his statue acts as a lie detector and people suspected of committing a crime were often brought before him to elicit a confession. It was thought that if they lied they would immediately bleed to death. The large garland draped around his neck and beneath his belly is adorned with skulls, a common attribute that sometimes also appears in his headdress. Writhing snakes, or nagas, adorn his earlobes and add to the ferocity of his appearance. Traces of red and orange powder, which was added to the sculpture by pious devotees remind us of the awe and respect that this deity once inspired.