Bagh Bhairav Temple, one of the oldest temples in Kirtipur, is dedicated to God Bhairav in the form of a tiger. Locally called as Ajudeu (a grandfather god), Bagh Bhairav is regarded as the guardian deity. The temple was constructed between 1099 and 1126 AD by Shiva Deva. The temple lies at the height of 1405 m from sea level. It is a sacred temple to Hindus as well as Buddhists.
The temple is rectangular and lies within the area of 1500 sq. m. The main idol is composed of clay with a large silver mask with depiction of Bhairav. The squat 16th century temple has wood-carvings and wall paintings, a rare combination in the Katmandu Valley. The paintings unfortunately are almost unrecognizable. Bagh Bhairav Temple itself has some unique features. Offering weapons of defeated enemies were perceived to be appropriate offerings to the tiger like fierce protector deity. The topmost tier of the temple is decorated with weapons of defeated enemies of Kirtipur. Most of the swords and other weapons up there are of fallen soldiers of Prithivi Narayan Shah’s first and second attacks on Kirtipur, both of which failed.
There are many small temples within the territory of Bagh Bhairav Temple. The small ones each have a deity: Ganesh, Barahi, Kumari, Bhramhayani, Vaishnavi, Shiva & Parbati, and a standing Shiva. Also within the complex is a small temple of Kriti Mata with a statue of her giving birth to an unknown creature. She is widely regarded as the mother of Kirtipur. The temple of Narayan, the medium sized white one of Moughal style (also known as Gumbaz style), along with De Pukhu pond just beside it were also part of Bagh Bhairav complex.
The temples were renovated in the years 1515 AD, 1803 AD, 1850 AD and 1961 AD. Surviving inscriptions found in different assets of the temple like bell, supporting pillars, and golden flag gives irrefutable evidences that the temple was renovated many times, sometimes with additions on to structures built back many years before.
The story of the origin of the Bagh Bhairav, as believed by the people is inordinate and it goes accordingly: The shepherd children were grazing their sheep in the forest that lies on the northern slope of Kirtipur, as usual they used to be engaged in the play of molding the clay in different forms. One day they made a tiger and in search of a leaf that resembles a tongue in shape, they headed inside the jungle. At the same time Lord Shiva, after a long walk with his son Ganesh, stopped near the clay tiger. While Ganesh wandered off into the think forest, Shiva grew hungry and as time passed further he gave into the temptation. Through mystical powers he merged his soul and body into the clay tiger which then came to life and devoured the sheep. Seeing splattered blood and scattered bones upon their return, the shepherds searched for clues. Close inspection of the tiger revealed blood inside its mouth. When the children asked the clay tiger if he had actually devoured all the sheep, it opened its mouth wide. Angered by the loss of their sheep, the tiger was never given a tongue. Hence, all images and statues of Bagh Bhairav are missing tongues. Legend has it that the form of deity still desires a tongue.