Kalashtami is observed every month during Ashtami Tithi of Krishna Paksha and the day is observed by fasting and worshipping Lord Bhairav. The most significant Kalashtami is known as Kalabhairav Jayanti and it falls in the Hindu month of Kartik or Margashirsha, which corresponds to the months of November or December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as Kala Bhairav Ashtami, Bhairav Ashtami, and Bhairav Jayanti. The day is believed to be the birth anniversary of Lord Bhairava, the fierce manifestation of Lord Shiva associated with annihilation. There are many temples in Varanasi dedicated to Lord Bhairava. In 2017, Kala Bhairava Jayanti falls on November 10.
According to a legend, the Trimurti gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva – were once discussing ‘Who was superior to them all’? In all the debate, Shiva felt neglected by remarks made by Brahma. He asked Bhairava to cut off one of Brahma’s five heads. Bhairava followed Shiva’s order and thus Brahma became four headed.
Another version of the story says that when Brahma offended Shiva, Bhairava came out of Shiva’s forehead and cut off Brahma’s one of the five heads. The head of Brahma stuck to the palm of Bhairava due to the sin of killing a Brahmin. To get rid of the sin Bhairava had to perform the vow of Kapali, meaning wandering the world as a naked beggar with the skull of the slain as his begging bowl. After reaching Varanasi, Bhairava got rid of his sin. There is a temple dedicated to Bhairava in Varanasi.
Worshipping Lord Shiva in the form of Kalbhairava helps to get rid of all the misfortune. Along with Bhairav, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are worshipped with fruits, flowers, and sweets. Devotees fast throughout the day, recite Kalbhairav Katha and stay vigil at night. There is also a tradition of feeding milk and food to dogs, the vehicle of Bhairava. In Varanasi, several prayers and events are organised.