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Kalashtami, or Mahakaal Bhairavashtami, is the most auspicious day dedicated to Lord Kaala Bhairava - a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Kal Bhairava is the God of Time - Kal means ‘time' and ‘Bhairava' the manifestation of Shiva. Ashtami after Purnima, the eighth day after full moon, is considered the ideal day to propitiate Kala Bhairav.
Legend has it that it Lord Shiva in the form of Mahakaleshwar chopped off the fifth head of Brahma and performed penance on this day. There are several legends regarding the reason for chopping of the fifth head of Brahma. Once legend has it that the Trimurti - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva once had an argument over who is the most powerful. During the argument, Brahma uttered a remark which enraged Shiva. Suddenly, he produced Bhairava from his body and ordered to chop the head of Brahma.
This terrified the demigods (Devas) and humans and this form of Shiva is believed to punish sinners and he carries a ‘Danda' - a rod to punish.
The most popular Bhairava Ashtami is observed on the eighth day during the waning phase of moon in Margashirsha month in traditional Hindi calendar.
Kal Bhairava's vehicle is a black dog and in some places dogs are fed on the day.
Shiva devotees take morning bath and perform pujas. Special pujas are also offered to dead ancestors in the morning. Staunch devotees keep vigil at night and narrate stories of Mahakaleshwar.