Nepal in the Mahabharata Period, Part 12


Barbarika (King Yalamber) worshipped as Khatushyamji in Kota, Rajasthan

Feb 21, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of Sri Krsna's liberation of Banasura, the Yadava dynasty's presence in Nepal, and the events that preceded and followed.

In the story of the demon Narakasura of Assam we mentioned his son Bhagadatta, who became king after his father was dispatched by Sri Krsna. Bhagadatta fought in the Kurukshetra war, and was killed by Arjuna's arrow. One of Bhagadatta's peers, the Kirat king Jitedasti, was also fighting for the Kauravas and was killed, his soldiers then taken over by Bhima. While Bhagadatta is associated with Assam and Jitedasti was a king in Nepal, these two Kirat kings give us a good timeline marker as we turn our focus back to the region of Nepal.

During the Mahabharata Period, the prevalence of asuras in the northern realm, stretching from Uttrakhand to Assam, is evidenced by the pastimes of Lord Krsna as He battled with them. Likewise, the concentration of yavanas and mlecchas in the region is tied to the presence of the Kirat peoples, and as we have said, many of the asuric kings Krsna fought with were themselves Kiratas.

The lineage of Kirat leaders in Nepal sets a continuing timeline and context in which we can better understand the historical importance of the many Vedic temples, shrines and tirthas found in Nepal.

King Yalamber of Nepal

The Kirat dynasty in Nepal includes a succession of 29 kings, and the first of these is King Yalamber. Yalamber took power by defeating Bhuvan Singh, the last king of the Ahir dynasty, thus establishing a period of Kirat rule in Nepal. The Kirats remained in power until Lord Krsna's defeat of Banasura, and subsequent establishment of the Yadava dynasty, which ruled Nepal for eight generations. But in fact, this was a re-establishment of the Yadavas. The Ahirs are identified as being the early Yadavas, the indigenous cowherding community in northern India later associated with Krsna's Vrindavan-lila. So the establishment of Kirat rule marks an interruption of the Yadava presence, which Krsna re-established by defeating Banasura, Narakasura and the Mura demon, and returning the Yadavas to power.

Although there is a seemingly large gap between the reign of the first Kirat king of Nepal, Yalamber and the rule of the 7th king, Jitedasti, in fact, both Jitedasti and Yalamber are closely associated with the Kurukshetra war. This gives us another good indication of the timeline, and how concentrated it is in context of the Mahabharata Period.

Yalamber gives his head to Krsna
Reengus Temple, Rajasthan

At the start of the Kurukshetra war, King Yalamber was preparing to leave Nepal and go to Kurukshetra to witness the battle firsthand, with a view to taking the side of the losing party. Knowing the intentions and strength of Yalamber, Sri Krsna thought the war would be unnecessarily prolonged if Yalamber sided with the Kauravas. Krsna cleverly intercepted Yalamber along the way. He suggested that if the king would give him his head, He would situate the head in a high place, allowing the king to be witness to the war from a good vantage point overlooking the plains of Kurukshetra. The king would be spared the hardship of having to travel the great distance to Kurukshetra. In this way, Krsna kept the Nepali king from interfering in the war.

At the end of the battle, as the victorious Pandava brothers debated amongst themselves as to who was responsible for their victory, Krsna suggested that Yalamber's head, which had watched the whole battle, should be allowed to judge. Yalamber's head suggested that it was Lord Krsna alone who was responsible for the victory, as His presence, His advice and His game plan had all been crucial.

The story of Yalamber is found in Mahabharata, but under a different name. In the great epic, Yalamber is referred to as Barbarika, one of several names he is known by. Barbarika/Yalamber was the son of Ghatotkacha, who was the son of Bhima; his mother was Maurvi (Ahilawati/ Kamkantkata Ma Morwi), daughter of the Yadava king, Muru. Originally a yaksha, Barbarika was reborn as a man. He was bound by principle to always fight on the losing side, which led him to standing witness to the battle without taking part.

In Rajasthan, Yalamber/Barbarika is known as Khatushyamji. Local legend there has it that he was sacrificed before the Mahabharata war to ensure the victory of his grandfather and the Pandavas. In return for his sacrifice, he was deified by a boon given by Krsna. This boon is presumably the reason Yalamber is offered worship numerous places in North India.

Yalamber is known by several other names, including Belarsen and Shyam. In Himachal Pradesh he is known as the god Kamrunaag, and is offered worship there in a temple at Kamru Hill in Sundernagar, Mandi district.

In Nepal there is a temple dedicated to Yalamber, and his head is the presiding deity. In Part Four of this series we mentioned the Kirat prince Ekalabya, also known as Akash Bhairav, and pictured the head of this personality, worshipped in Nepal as a 'god of the sky'. Not surprisingly, given the many different names of King Yalamber, this disembodied Ekalabya is one and the same as Yalamber/Barbarika.

Aakash Bhairav - Kathmandu, Nepal

The Aakash Bhairav temple at Indrachowk in Kathmandu is the abode of none other than King Yalamber. Local legend has it that he is a manifestation of Lord Shiva on earth, but like Banasura, he may have been a devotee of Shiva's. There are many such embellishments in Nepali lore of the story of Aakash Bhairav's participation in the Kurukshetra war.

Aakash Bhairav is often depicted in Buddhist iconography by a large blue head with fierce face, huge silver eyes and a crown of skulls and serpents. The deity head resides on a silver throne that is carried by lions, accompanied by Bhimsen (Bhima) and Bhadrakali on either side. The idol face is understood to represent the mask that King Yalamber wore on his way to the Kuruktsetra. The Indrachowk idol is somewhat milder in demeanor than many of the Buddhist idols.

Lord Aakash Bhairav, the 'god of the sky', is also regarded by Nepalis as a progenitor of the Maharjan caste, especially the peasant groups. Pictured on Aakash Bhairav's head is an image that the Buddhists identify as Buddha, and the Hindus identify as Brahma, thus making the idol of Yalamber/Barbarika/Aakash Bhairav worshipable by all.

Aakash Bhairav, Indra Jatra, Kathmandu


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