Review The protective spirit knife of Kaal Bhairav

Discussion in 'Himalayan Imports' started by Howard Wallace, Aug 1, 2020.

  1. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999

    Yangdu knows my taste for the esoteric, and sent one of these knives over for me to review. Ram Kumar made a few of these for HI, based on the knife carried by the fierce diety Bhairav. The aspect Kaal Bhairav, or Black Bhairav, is revered in the Kathmandu valley and surrounding regions.


    Overall length 14.75”.
    Blade 9.75”
    Handle 5”, of red sandan wood
    Weight 14.5 oz.

    The blade is sharp on both sides. This is not a bushcraft knife or a utility knife. The back edge would do serious damage to a user unwise enough to push on it.


    Bhairav in many of his aspects is a protective deity. Protective of women, of the meek, the innocent, etc. Bhairav is a manifestation of Shiva the destroyer to the Hindus, and a fierce emanation of Manjusri to the Tibetan Buddhists. Yangdu mentioned “According to (a) Lama from Nepal the reason Bhairav carried this knife on right hand is to protect all animals.”

    Below is a photo I took of Bhairav in Durbar square in Kathmandu, back in 2010. Note the female devotees in front.


    This knife is obviously a weapon, but to be true to its spirit, not an indiscriminate one. Like the kirpan, this knife is intended for the sheepdog instead of the wolf.


    The size, weight, and handling of the Bhairav knife will lend an immediate sense of familiarity to the bowie knife practitioner. A few differences that bear familiarization:
    • fully sharpened back edge. Rethink and generalize the back cut.
    • Wasp waist. If this near part cuts pulling back will cut deeper.
    • Limited protection against hand slipping forward. No guard or central ring as on a khukuri. The double edge and wasp waist could make quite a mess should a hand slip forward on a thrust into something hard. Rethinking thrusts with an eye to reinforcement by the other hand, or a thumb, is important with this unusual weapon. Another option would be to reshape the handle, add a central ring, or add a small guard with the objective of minimizing this hazard.

    Yangdu also mentioned:
    “There is temple in Kathmandu valley . When people visits the temple and Bhairav they offer him home made Raxi (moonshine) ...
    When I visited the temple I took small bottle of Khukuri rum and offered to Kal Bhairab.”

    Should a sheepdog on this side of the pond understand and acquire one of these spirit knives, I believe Bhairav would accept a christening of the knife with Johnny Walker or Jim Beam with the same acknowledgement and respect given to rakshi and Khukuri Rum.
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  2. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999
    This one was christened from a bottle of fine Chinese liquor. The knife smells delicious now, something Bhairav may appreciate.

  3. Yangdu

    Yangdu [email protected] Himalayan Imports-Owner Moderator

    Apr 5, 2005
    Great story, pix and suggestions
    Thank you, Howard
  4. George Azar

    George Azar Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 18, 2017
    By looking at it and reading what was written, btw, great article Howard, since both sides are sharpened, I would put a small steel oval guard to prevent the hand from sliding forward since this is a fighting knife. Otherwise beautiful work!
  5. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999
    “Fighting knife” in this case may not have correct connotations.

    Here is a story on the use of the knife from the previously linked Wikipedia article on Bhairav.

    It’s not your ordinary kind of knife fight where the decapitated opponent thanks the blade weilder. This story reminds me of the words of my old Aikido sensei, “If you throw someone, throw them onto the path of the universe.”

    “Protective knife” may have more appropriate connotations. Just as the sword of Manjusri cuts through ignorance and duality, the knife of his fierce emanation Bhairav cuts through greed, lust, and anger on behalf of others. Such protection can happen on the physical plane, or elsewhere.

    Various ritual knives can be found in the Himalayas. The phurba is perhaps the best known, but there are others. Care should be taken with such blades that they are used in alignment with their purposes.
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  6. George Azar

    George Azar Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 18, 2017
    Well stated Howard!
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  7. arbiter

    arbiter Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 4, 2011
    Thank you for these posts. Very interesting things that aren't oft heard in the West.
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  8. EricTheRedBeard

    EricTheRedBeard Basic Member Basic Member

    May 17, 2018
    I echo arbiter. Thanks. Very interesting. You could definitely do some protecting with that knife.
    George Azar likes this.
  9. DaFatKid

    DaFatKid Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 6, 2016
    Awesome cutlery, and education. Excellent! And, thank you Howard et al.
  10. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999
    The Maasai people of Africa carry a distinctive knife. It can range in size from a dagger to a sword, and shares some characteristics of the Bhairav knife. In particular it is double edged, and has limited to no provision to keep the hand from slipping forward. These knives are handmade. Sometimes bumps on the handle address slippage, but this is rare, at least on examples I’ve seen.

    Such knives are generally carried by young men in the Moran or protector/tribal security stage of life. They are weapons as well as utility tools. Bravery is valued in Maasai culture.
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  11. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999
    Red Flower just returned from long work stint and assisted me with some photos that just aren’t possible with my one-handed mirror selfie technique. I can now go into a bit more detail on “rethinking the thrust” for the Bhairav knife.

    I will use a hami melon to illustrate some of these ideas. I first ran into these delicious melons in the oasis town of Turpan in the Gobi desert. At that time they were not well known outside China. Recently hami gua grown in California have hit the US markets, and they are every bit as delicious as those grown in their ancestral home in the Gobi. How fortunate is this generation! I had to cross wide oceans and vast deserts to taste one in years gone by.

    The dirk is optimized for thrusting. Interesting that the highland dirk most often is without a guard, like the Bhairav knife. Here is a dirk point presenting to a melon.

    Note the tiny surface area of contact, and how the narrow blade widens only slowly. This results in an incredible pressure at the tip of the blade, although only a light force may be applied to the knife. The dirk will enter the melon easily, without pushing the melon backwards significantly.

    Now let’s consider the Bhairav knife. If the point presents as in example 1 below,
    a relatively large surface contacts the target, and the blade widens rapidly. It will not thrust into the melon easily without pushing it backwards.

    If a snap cut is delivered with a standard belly-down grip, it will have this point presentation. This will result in a cutting/cleaving action, given additional authority by the Bhairav knife’s weight-forward balance. The snap cut is delivered in a similar manner as a chop with the khukuri, thrusting the blade forward and snapping the wrist just prior to contact.

    If the knife is rotated in the grip so the point presents as in example 1 for a backcut, then the backcut becomes a cutting/cleaving action also.

    If the point of the Bhairav knife presents as in example 2,
    the initial surface area of the contact point is much smaller. However, the blade still widens rapidly providing more resistance to a deep thrust than would be encountered with a dirk.

    The normal belly-down grip will result in this point presentation for a backcut. This will result in a puncture/cutting/ripping action similar to that of a claw. If the knife is held in the belly-up grip then the snap cut results in this same claw like effect.

    Regardless of the point presentation, the rapidly widening blade will present resistance to deep thrusts, exacerbated by confounding factors such as leather clothing or ribs.

    If a deep thrust is attempted with this sort of knife, reinforcement with the other hand provides both protection against slippage, and additional power to overcome resistance.



    The design as it exists is effective and safe if the user understands and respects the knife.

    Bawanna and I batted around some ideas and he came up with some embellishments that are both good looking and utilitarian. Stay tuned for further developments.
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  12. George Azar

    George Azar Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 18, 2017
    Believe me I’m very intrigued and am sure one will end up in my collection! Looks like a great blade to thrust down the clavicle area or stomach or between ribs. Definitely a different weapon
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  13. Bawanna

    Bawanna Moderator Moderator

    Dec 19, 2012
    For my small part. Yangdu had safety concerns about these knives and asked me to seek a solution. The handle isn't large enough to reshape to create a ring which was one idea. I felt they needed a guard of some sort and was racking my brain trying to figure out how to accomplish that after the handle is already in place.
    Howard suggested the brilliant solution that I think will work splendidly.
    I always try not to take away from the kami's original intent, kind of like messing with mother nature. Taking their creation and completely changing it is something I avoid if possible. The western knives and bowies don't really bother me to hang stag or change handles etc but khuks and some of these knives with history are to be left alone.

    I think using Howard's ideas we were able to remedy the issue without really changing the original intent. However I do emphasize the be careful thrusting or stabbing with these things. I'm a lover, not a fighter and don't stab, if stabbing is necessary I'll mostly likely just shoot, ok I'm a lover that loves guns. Enough about that.

    Some photo's although I didn't have Red Flower here to help so had to go solo.

    As you can see by my crude arrows, these areas top and bottom were sharp all the way to the handle and even on the vertical plane going down to the handle. Gripping the handle especially with a larger hand and squeezing just invited getting cut. The top knife is as they arrived, the bottom one I rounded off the top and reshaped the bottom and created a little notch for the pointy finger.
    Very minimal but truly effective. I flattened those areas and knocked off the sharp edge for an inch or so on the blade, a little safety margin.
    Then checkering the handles greatly improved the grip in itself, so I think kumar would be pleased, Bharaiv would not be offended and hopefully nobody gets cut.
    After modification.
    Before modification.
    With this type of wood, the checkering is hardly noticeable to look at but quite obvious when you pick it up.

    Anyhow thanks to Howard for the idea's, guess the little notch on the bottom was something he employed on a kitchen knife for much the same reasons we have here.

    Yangdu sent me several of these so I'll get to work and get these back to her so everybody can get one.
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  14. Howard Wallace

    Howard Wallace . Moderator

    Feb 23, 1999
    Here is the kitchen knife Bawanna mentioned.


    The semicircle at the blade/handle juncture was ground out with a dremmel tool. This is a subtractive approach to the slippage issue. This knife with the modification has seen kitchen food prep and utility use for many years.

    Depth of the depression can be varied per the end user’s taste.
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  15. Bawanna

    Bawanna Moderator Moderator

    Dec 19, 2012
    I could probably increase the size of the depression some. It's still very attractive yet gives just that much more protection against forward slippage.
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  16. Yangdu

    Yangdu [email protected] Himalayan Imports-Owner Moderator

    Apr 5, 2005
    Thanks, Bawanna and Howard
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  17. EricTheRedBeard

    EricTheRedBeard Basic Member Basic Member

    May 17, 2018
    Wow! Well done Bawanna! You made a lot of functional changes without altering the aesthetics much at all. Looks great and I bet it feels great. I will try to resist the urge but I have a feeling I will end up with one of these.

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