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Author: K. Abhishankar
Place: Hampi, Savanadurga, Gavipura, Shivagange, Lepakshi, Rachoti, Halebidu, Banavasi, Chitradurga, BaleHonnuru, Godachi, Belagavi
In many Shaiva temples of the country, Veerabhadra is worshipped as a secondary deity. In Skanda, Kurma, Mathsya and other Puranas and Shaivagamas, Veerabhadragama the legends relating to him are narrated, according to which Veerabhadra was created by Shiva to punish insolent sacrificer, Daksha. Veerabhadra beheads Daksha and destroys his hoards. However, he revives Daksha by fixing a goat’s head to his torso. Some have inferred that this episode is symbolic of a conflict of two cultures in pre-historic times. In fierceness, Veerabhadra is comparable to Narasimha of the Vaishnava tradition. He is sometimes described as having a thousand heads, a thousand arms, a thousand eyes, etc. Curiously, in some panels of Sapta Matrukas (seven mothers), whom he and Ganesha protect, he is shown as playing the musical instrument Veena.
It is noticed that the cult of Veerabhadra gained considerable momentum and popularity especially in Karnataka in the medieval period. In the last phase of the Hoysala rule, it seems that there was beginning of more encouragement to worship of this fierce deity, a Warrior-God. In an epigraph of this time he is mentioned as Veeresha and Veeranna. The epoch-making Veerashaiva reform movement of the Sharanas of the 12th century, propagated worship of Ishtalinga and discouraged image-worship. But many of the numerous followers of various Shaiva sects and others, who continued to join in course of time the Veerashaiva mainstream, did not give up image-worship. In some Veerashiva monasteries, Veerabhadra is worshipped as ‘Gotrapurusha’. The popularity of Veerabhadra increased during the Vijayanagara times in Karnataka and in some areas of Andhra which are adjacent to Karnataka. The cult received further impetus during the post-Vijayanagara period. Separate, independent temples of Veerabhadra were constructed. In Hampi (Vijayanagara capital), several images of Veerabhadra have survived. In many images, Veerabhadra is shown with four arms with weapons and three eyes. He wears a garland of skulls (rundra mala). A tiny figure of goat headed Daksha with folded hands is seen on a side of Veerabhadra, Sometimes, there is Bhadrakali, on another side.
At Godachi of Belgaum district, thc temple of Veerbhadra of the Vijayanagara times, attracts a large number of devotees even today. There is also a notable temple of Veerabhadra at Keladi in Shimoga district, of the same period. The Veerabhadrapura Agrahara copper plate grant dated 1632 AD of Keladi Veerabhadra Nayaka donates lands to brahmins to worship Veerabhadra and two other deities. At Savanaduga of Bangalore Rural district and in Gavipura of Bangalore Urban, there are quite large images of the post-Vijayangara period.
During the time of Kempe Gowda III of Magadi in Bangalore district (17th century), “Veerabhadra Vijaya”, a Champu poetical work was composed. The great Vijayanagara kingdom and its small successor chiefdoms, especially in Karnataka, had to be always prepared to face invasions and to wage wars. In such a perilous situation, widespread worship of the fierce, Warrior-God Veerabhadra (Veereshvara) seems to have been felt as the need of the times for bringing about an atmosphere and attitude of resistance and militant spirit. Further, the venturesome Veerabananju traders of the older tradition, who prospered, were maintaining their own units of armed guards for security of transport and protection of their goods. They also could have found the cult of Veerabhadra useful and patronised it. Notably, ths custom of walking on glowing charcoal (kendarchane) in fulfilment of vows (as Veerabhadra is also believed to ward off evils and diseases), thrilling Veeragase folk-dance, names of persons, ‘ containing ‘Veera’ or ‘bhadra’, have also their source in the cult of Veerabhadra.