Many Shades of bhakti: A Devoted Second Wife and Self-decapitated Bhairava


  • Ewa Dębicka-Borek Jagiellonian University, Kraków



Ahōbilam, Ahobilamāhātmya, Bhairava, bhakti, double-marriage, selfdecapitation, muṇḍo bhairava, Narasiṃha, Ceñcatā, Vāsantikāpariṇayam, Vijayanagara Empire


Many Shades of bhakti: A Devoted Second Wife and Self-decapitated Bhairava

The aim of this paper is to discuss the usage of two bhakti-related metaphors intended to represent self-surrender: the metaphor of marriage and the metaphor of self-decapitation. The explored narratives—one about Narasiṃha marrying Ceñcatā (a Ceñcū huntress) and the other about Bhairava who cuts off his own head for the sake of Narasiṃha—are connected to the Śrīvaiṣṇava center of Narasiṃha worship in Ahōbilam. As I will try to demonstrate, even though both served to convey the message about Narasiṃha’s final acceptance of strangers who loved him unconditionally, the employment of different symbolism may point to the fact that each of these tales originated in different circles, which, although linked to Ahōbilam, at the outset were occupied with different matters and interested in different targets: Vijayanagara rulers who supported the site to extend the kingdom’s boundaries and local temple priests eager to increase the number of pilgrims.


Primary Sources:

AM = Ahobilamāhātmya: Sri Ahobila Mahatmyam (Brahmanda Puranam): Slokas—Sanskrit and Kannada Meanings in English. M. V. Ananthapadmanabhachariyar (ed.). Bangalore (s.d.).

VP = Vāsantikāpariṇayam: Vāsantikā Pariṇayam. A Play in Sanskrit and Prākrutam by Sri Saṭhakopa Yatīndra Mahadesikan. P. Desikan (transl.).

Secondary Sources:

Anuradha, V. 2002. Temples of Śrīśailam. A Study of Art, Architecture, Iconography and Inscriptions. Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan.

Appadurai, A. 1977. Kings, Sects and Temples in South India. 1350–1700 A.D. In: The Indian Economic and Social History Review 14(1): 47–74. DOI:

Bezbaruah, M. P. (ed.). 2003. Fairs and Festivals of India. Vol II. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Biardeau, M. 1975. Narasimha et ses sanctuaries. In: Puruṣārtha. Recherches de sciences sociales sur l`Asie du Sud: 49–66.

Chalier-Vasuvalingam, E. 1989. Bhairava’s Royal Brahmanicide: The Problem of the Mahabrahmana. In: A. Hiltebeitel (ed.). Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press: 157–230.

—. 1996. Bhairava and the Goddess. Tradition, Gender and Transgression. In: A. Michaels, C. Vogelsanger and A. Wilke (eds.). Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal. Bern: Peter Lang: 253–301.

Chandrasekhara Reddy, R. 1994. Heroes, Cults and Memorials. Andhra Pradesh, 300 A.D.–1600 A.D. Madras: New Era Publication.

Davis, R. H. 2004. A Muslim Princess in the Temples of Viṣṇu. In: International Journal of Hindu Studies 8(1): 137–156. DOI:

Dębicka-Borek, E. 2016. When the God Meets a Tribal Girl: Narasiṃha’s Second Marriage in the Light of the Vāsantikāpariṇaya. In: Cracow Indological Studies 18: 301–339. DOI:

Dutta, R. 2010. Pilgrimage as a Religious Process: Some Reflections on the Identities of the Srivaisnavas of South India. In: Indian Historical Review 37(1): 17–38. DOI:

Eck, D. 2012. India: A Sacred Geography. New York: Harmony Books.

Erndl, K. M. 1989. Rapist or Bodyguard, Demon or Devotee? Images of Bhairo in the Mythology and Cult of Vaisno Devi. In: A. Hiltebeitel (ed.). Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular

Hinduism. Albany: Sate University of New York Press: 239–250.

Feldhaus, A. 1995. Water and Womanhood. Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra. New York–Oxford: Oxford University Press.

—. 2003. Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fuller, C. J. 1996. The Camphor Flame. Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gonda, J. 1977. Medieval Religious Literature in Sanskrit. Wiesbaden: Harrasowitz.

Hardy, F. 1977. Ideology and Cultural Context of the Śrīvaiṣṇava Temple. In: The Indian Economic and Social History Review 14(1): 119–151.

Heesterman, J. C. 1985. The Inner Conflict of Tradition. Essays in Indian Ritual,

Kingship, and Society. Chicago–London: The University of Chicago Press.

Jacobsen, K. (ed.). 2016. Routledge Handbook of Contemporary India. London–New York: Routledge. DOI:

Kinsley, D. 1988. Hindu Goddesses. Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. DOI:

Lochtefield, J. G. 2010. God’s Gateway: Identity and Meaning in a Hindu Pilgrimage Place. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lorenzen, D. N. 1991. The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas. Two Lost Śaivite Sects. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Murty, M. L. K. 1997. The God Narasimha in the Folk Religion of Andhra Pradesh, South India. In: South Asian Studies 13(1): 179–188. DOI:

Narasimhacharya, M. 1989. History of the Cult of Narasimha in Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad: Sri Malola Grantha Mala, Ahobalamath.

Orr, L. 2005. Identity and Divinity: Boundary-crossing Goddesses in Medieval South India. In: Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73(1): 9–43. DOI:

Pachner, R. 1985. Paintings in the Temple of Vīrabhadra at Lepakshi. In: A. L. Dallapiccola and S. Zingel-Avé Lallemant (eds.). Vijayanagara—City and Empire. New Currents of Research. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden Gmbh: 326–343.

Parabrahma Sastri, P. V. 2014. Hinduism. In: R. Soma Reddy (ed.). Late Medieval Andhra Pradesh. AD 1324–AD 1724. Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh. Vol. V. New Delhi: Tulika Books: 377–382.

Rajagopalan, T. A. 2005. The Origin and Growth of Ahobila Mutt (a study based on inscriptions). Srirangam–Trichi: Divya Desa Parampariya Padhukappu Peravai.

Raman, K. V. 1975. Srī Varadarāraswāmi Temple—Kāñchi: A Study of its History, Art and Architecture. New Delhi: Shakti Malik Abhinav Publication.

Ramaswamy Ayyangar, D. 1916. A Descriptive History of the Forgotten Shrines of Ahobilam (in the Kurnool District). Walajabad: Victoria Royal Press.

Rao, R. 1988. Siva-Mahesa (Sadasiva) Murti of Bhairavakona—an Iconographical Study. Nellore: Manasa Publications.

Reddy, P. C. 2014. Hindu Pilgrimage. Shifting Patterns of Worldview of Shrī Shailam in South India. London–New York: Routledge. DOI:

Shulman, D. D. 1980. Tamil Temple Myths: Sacrifice and Divine Marriage in the South Indian Saiva Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. DOI:

Sitapati, P. 1982. Sri Ahobila Narasimha Swamy Temple: Temple Monograph. Hyderabad: Director, Archaeology & Museums, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh.

Somasekhara Sarma, M. 1948. History of the Reḍḍi Kingdoms (circa 1325 AD-to circa 1448 AD). Waltair: Andhra University.

Sontheimer, G.-D. 1985. Folk Deities in the Vijayanagara Empire: Narasimha and Mallanna /Mailār. In: A. L. Dallapicolla and S. Zingel-Avé Lallemant (eds.). Vijayanagara—City and Empire. New Currents on Research. Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden: 144–158.

—. 1987. The vana and the kṣetra: The Tribal Background of Some Famous Cults. In: G. C. Tripathi and H. Kulke (eds.). Eschmann Memorial Lectures. Bhubaneswar: 117–164.

—. 1997. King Khaṇḍobā’s Hunt and his Encounter with Bāṇāī, the Shepherdess. In: A. Feldhaus, A. Malik and H. Brückner (eds.). King of Hunters, Warriors, and Shepherds: Essays on Khaṇḍobā by Günther-Dietz Sontheimer. New Delhi: Manohar: 278–322.

Stein, B. 1980. Peasant, State and Society in Medieval South India. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stietencron, D. 2010. Ganga and Yamuna. River Goddesses and Their Symbolism in Indian Temples. New Delhi: Permanent Black.

Stoker, V. 2016. Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory: Vyāsatīrtha, Hindu Sectarianism, and the Sixteenth-century Vijayanagara Court. Oakland: University of California Press. DOI:

Storm, M. 2013. Head and Heart. Valour and Self-Sacrifice in the Art of India. London–New York: Routledge.

Subba Reddy, V. V. 2009. Temples of South India. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.

Sudyka, L. 2015. Generosity at the Limits. The King Śibi Story and Its Versions in the Historical and Cultural Context of Andhra and Tamil Nadu. In: T. Pontillo, C. Bignami, M. Dore and E. Mucciarelli (eds.). The Volatile

World of Sovereignty. The Vrātya Problem and Kingship in South Asia. New Delhi: DK Printworld: 426–440.

Talbot, C. 2001. Precolonial India in Practice: Society, Region, and Identity in Medieval Andhra. New York: Oxford University Press.

Tieken, H. 1993. Text and Performance in Sanskrit Drama. In: C. C. Barfoot and C. Bordewijk (eds.). Theatre Intercontinental. Forms, Functions, Correspondences. Amsterdam–Atlanta: Rodopi: 101–114.

Vasantha, R. 2001. Ahobilam. Sri Narasimha Swamy Temple. Tirupati: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

Wagoner, P. B. 1996. From “Paṃpā’s crossing” to the Place of Lord Virupāksha”: Architecture, Cult, and Patronage at Hampi before the Founding of Vijayanagara. In: D. V. Devaraj and C. S. Patil (eds.). Vijayanagara Progress of Research, 1988–1991. Mysore: Directorate of Archeology and Museums: 141–174.

Young, K. 2014. Śrīvaiṣṇava Topoi: Constructing a South Indian Sect through Place. In: V. Gillet (ed.). Mapping the Chronology of bhakti: Milestones, Stepping Stones, and Stumbling Stones. Pondichery: EFEO, Institut français de Pondichéry: 335–364.

Zin, M. 2008. Śabaras, the Vile Hunters in Heavenly Spheres. The Inhabitants of the Jungle in Indian Art, Especially in the Ajanta Paintings. In: E. M. Raven (ed.). South Asian Archeology 1999. Proceedings of the Fifteenth International Conference of the European Association of South Asian Archeologists, held at the University of Leiden, 5–9 July, 1999. Groningen: Egbert Forsten: 375–394.




How to Cite

Ewa Dębicka-Borek. 2019. “Many Shades of Bhakti: A Devoted Second Wife and Self-Decapitated Bhairava”. Cracow Indological Studies 21 (1):69-106.

Funding data