How Barbareek became Khatu Shyamji

Thousands of years ago, Barbareek, the mystical child of Ghatotkacha, was born with curly hair and reached adolescence shortly after birth. In order to gain guidance towards dharma, he turned to Lord Krishna, who named him suhridaya (“beautiful hearted”), instructed him on the duties of a warrior, and told him to worship Shakti to obtain power. Barbareek was successful in his devotion and was blessed by Shakti with more physical strength than anyone else. At some point, he even defeated Bhima in a tussle and had to be stopped by Lord Shiva to protect Bhima from being thrown into the ocean. When Barbareek learned that Bhima was his grandfather, he reached the depth of despair and thought of ending his own life. But a form of Shakti saved him and predicted, “Your body will soon be destroyed by Krishna.”

When the Pandavas (Barbareek’s paternal family) were preparing for the Mahabharata war, Barbareek visited them and showed the divine weapons that he possessed. He said, “I can finish the war in a moment. I’ll just pull the bow once, and my unfailing arrow will annihilate all the opponents and return back to me.” Immediately after Barbareek displayed his invincibility, Krishna did something unexpected; he beheaded Barbareek with his chakra.1 When the Pandavas asked Krishna about the reason behind this action, the Lord explained that he had simply redeemed Barbareek from a curse given by Brahma in Barbareek’s previous life. Besides, Krishna probably found it necessary to eliminate all rakshasas from earth to protect human beings. Nor could he let dharma be overpowered.2

Though Barbareek’s body lived no more, his devotion for Krishna showed its radiance. Krishna asked Goddess Chandika to dip his devotee’s head in nectar and immortalize it “like Rahu’s head.” Krishna blessed Barbareek, “You will be remembered on earth forever, and your head will be worshipped by human beings in my name.” Today, he is worshipped at a famous temple in Rajasthan as Khatu Shyamji.3

[1] This detail is from the Skanda Purana; another version says that Krishna asked for his head in charity.

[2] It is said that Barbareek had already vowed to support whoever was the “weaker side” in the war, not the righteous side.

[3] Shyam is another name for Krishna.

Shiva as Somnath

The temple of Somnath, a Hindu pilgrimage site, is situated in Gujarat and is considered one of the twelve foremost temples of Lord Shiva on the planet. The mythological story behind the emergence of this Jyotirlinga, which symbolizes Shiva as a column of light, revolves around the moon (personified as a god) and the nakshatras (constellations). According to the Shiva Purana, Moon married Daksha Prajapati’s twenty seven daughters (the 27 constellations), but he could not treat his wives equally and loved Rohini* more than her sisters. Consequently, his other wives felt distressed and lodged a complaint with their father. Daksha discussed this matter with Moon and asked him to respect all his wives. But when his request was rejected, Daksha became furious and cursed the moon with an incurable disease.

With the moon falling ill, all the gods panicked and reached Lord Brahma’s abode for help. Brahma advised Moon to go to the Prabhas region and worship Shiva with the Mahamrityunjaya mantra. Moon followed the recommendation and after six months of continual remembrance, Shiva appeared before him. When Moon requested him to cure his illness, Shiva said, “From now on, your rays will diminish over a fortnight, but then they will intensify again over the next fortnight.” To grace the moon god and the area where he had worshipped Shiva, the Lord of all gods decided to stay there as Somnath, the “Lord of the moon.”

*Rohini falls in the sign of Taurus in Vedic astrology.

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