Michael Baltutis

Sacrificing (to) Bhairav: the apotheosis, death, and resurrection of a local Nepalese king

One of Kathmandu’s primary narratives of origin is tied to the story of Bhairav, the resident of the neighborhood of Indra Chowk. Originally appearing in this story as Yalambar Yalunga, the king of the local Kirati people, he challenges the overtly Hindu deity Krishna, within the setting of the Mahabharata war, who summarily decapitates him. Yalambar then appears to a low-caste Farmer in a dream and commands him to install his severed head at Indra Chowk, the original location of the confluence of the city’s rivers and thus the center of the modern nation’s capital city, where he continues to be worshipped in the form of Akash Bhairav.
Though appearing as a timeless myth, Yalambar-Bhairav’s story of sacrificial decapitation is, I will argue in this paper, a response to the military victory of the Hindu Shah dynasty over the local Newar people in the 18th century: the Kirati people serve as a multiform of the city’s defeated Newar population, Yalambar of the Newar Bhairav, and Krishna of the Hindu Shahs. Bhairav’s story represents a narrative response to this historical situation and its aftermath and re-situates Bhairav’s temple at the
city’s true center.

Michael Baltutis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, where he teaches courses on performances and narratives in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India and Nepal. His research has handled the Indrajatra festival of classical and contemporary South Asia, the god Bhairav, and the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.