Every time I visit Delhi, I seem to get introduced to some aspect of mythology. Last time I came across a temple of Maharaja Agrasen(http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2011/10/maharaja-agrasen.html ). During my recent visit, I was introduced to another very important deity by the name of Khatu Shyam Baba. Spoke to some and read a bit and the following are the details of the same and the details are quite interesting and intriguing. As they say, let’s start at the very beginning.
The myth is from the epic Mahabharata.
According to this legend, Barbareek was the grandson of Ghatotgacha, who was the son of Bhima. Barbareek was a brave warrior and had learnt the art of warfare from his mother from the childhood. He had impressed Lord Shiva and had earned three never-failing arrows (teen baan) as a boon and a bow from Lord Agni, with the help of which he would never lose in any battle. The war of Kurukshetra was inevitable and Barbareek was keen to see and if possible participate in the war. He sought permission from his mother to go to Kurukshetra. While leaving he asked his mother that if required then which side should he join and his mother is supposed to have told him to join the weaker side.
On his way to Kurukshetra, he is supposed to have met Lord Krishna who recognized him and decided to test his capabilities. Krishna disguised himself as a Brahmin and made fun of him that he was going to a great battle with just three arrows. Barbareek said that for any battle just one arrow was enough which would return to his quiver after achieving the objective. He went on to explain that the first arrow was to mark all that needed to be destroyed, the second was to mark all that needed to be saved and on releasing the third, it would destroy all that had been marked to be destroyed and the same would then return to his quiver. Krishna was keen to see this and so he challenged him to prove it by tying all the leaves of the peepul tree under which they were standing. Barbareek accepted the challenge and shot one arrow with the specific instructions to tie all the leaves of the tree. What he had not seen was that Krishna had plucked one leaf from the tree and hidden it under his foot.
The arrow immediately tied all the leaves of the tree and then hovered around the foot of Krishna to seek out the leaf under his foot. Seeing this Barbareek said that there could be a leaf under his foot and if he did not lift his foot, then the arrow would have to mark his foot itself. The infallible nature of the arrows worries Krishna, since even if the targets were hidden far from human sight, the arrow would still seek out the targets and destroy them. During the war, if he wanted to save the Pandavas, Barbareek’s arrows could still seek them out and kill them, if such scenario did arise.
Krishna then asked him as to who would be support in the war of Kurukshetra. Barbareek mentioned that according to his mother’s instructions he would join the weaker side and in the war of Kurukshetra and since it was well known that the army of the Kauravas was much larger than that of the Pandavas, he would join the Pandavas. Krishna then probes him further and asks him that what would be the consequence of such act. Barbareek mentions that obviously the Pandavas would win.
Krishna then goes on explain him the actual consequence of his word given to him mother. The moment he decided to join the Pandavas, the Kauravas would become the weaker side since he could never be defeated. If he then decided to support the Kauravas, then the Pandavas would become the weaker side and this way, all would be destroyed leaving just him. This leaves Barbareek in a state of dilemma. So he asked the Brahmin to help him. Krishna then said that would he do some charity as required by him as a Brahmin which Barbareek agreed. Krishna then said that a before every battle, they had to sacrifice a brave warrior to Ma Kali and according to him, he was the bravest of all Kshatriyas alive, so he needed his head.
This left Barbareek in a state of shock and he soon realized that the Brahmin was no ordinary Brahmin, so he asked him to disclose who he was. Krishna appeared to him in his form and Barbareek soon understood it all. As a true Kshatriya, he agreed to keep his word and offered himself to be sacrificed, but he did have a condition. The condition was that he had left his home with a singular desire to witness the epic battle, so could Lord Krishna use some of his divinity to grant him that ability. So it is said that after the sacrifice, Barbareek’s head was installed atop a hilltop from where he witnessed the entire battle and thus he is also referred to as ‘Barbareek – the silent witness’.
After the battle of Kurukshetra, it is said that the head was immersed in the nearby river by Lord Krishna and blessed him that in the times of Kaliyuga, he would be referred by his own name – thus Barbareek is referred to as Shyam Baba. Later during the advent of Kaliyuga, the head was found buried in the village of Khatu, in present day Rajasthan. It is said that once a cow reached the spot where the head was buried and soon, her udders started oozing milk all by itself. When the villagers dug the place, they found the head there. Later a temple was build there, and from then onwards he is referred to as Khatu Shyam Baba.
In the present times, there stands a beautiful marble temple in Khatu and many smaller shrines have come up in the entire Northern parts of the country. In the main temple, the idol is just a head and nothing else. People have a lot of faith in his ability to heal or solve problems and the deity has a huge following, something similar to that of Shirdi Sai Baba in the Western parts of country.
This is an interesting aspect of faith. For any aspect of divinity an association with the epics or Puranas is a must. Barbareek is a relatively lesser known character but a hero nevertheless and the whole aspect has been woven very well. A few things that the myth might bring into attention –
1. The myth signifies the prevalence of human sacrifice and the belief in it. Krishna asking for the sacrifice also lends credence to the fact that this was an accepted norm and there was no qualm about it. The myth might have also been added to make a hero of a brave warrior who might have been an unknown soldier who willingly (or even unwillingly) agreed to be sacrificed.
2. Another aspect is the nature of the arrow. The ability to identify the target and return to its source sounds very similar to the modern day missiles which are meant to identify programed targets. I am not implying that the people of the times had the knowhow of such weapons, but this myth is testimony to the fact that such weapons had been thought about then, however fantastic it seems today.
Finally before I conclude, please note that this myth is from the Northern parts of India. A similar myth is available in the South India too. But before we touch on that myth, there are some small bits w.r.t. the myth of Barbareek. We will touch upon them next.