Jalandhara, although born from the potent fire of Rudra’s third eye was known as the one who contained and controlled the water. He was a striking mirror image of Lord Siva and a formidable warrior.
Suras and Asuras worshipped the Divine Trinity with fervent devotion and penance but ultimately sought only the boon of power and authority instead of wisdom or enlightenment, so in same fashion, Jalandhara too had secured a boon from Brahma on his invincibility.
With the arrogance of his power into his head, he harboured the ambition of making the Goddess of Kailas, the Shakti of the universe, his wife and establish his dominion on all three realms. He sends forth his messenger, Rahu who had no torso. He was a dark, fearsome head which whirled around sun and moon for eons eclipsing them whenever he had his chance.
Rahu reached Kailas paying his respects to the master of Universe, the great ascetic-householder, Lord Siva and fearlessly but somewhat hesitantly laid down the proposal of Jalandhara as he had heard it from him. The moment Rahu tendered Jalandhara’s demand that the Goddess Parvati should be delivered to him to become his principal queen, Siva countered the challenge with his enormous fury. There opened his third eye in between his brows and he unleashed again the fire of his fierce tapas from which emerged a terrific lion-headed demon who howled in such a way that the entire planet quivered.
The horrendous body of demon gave the indication of his insatiable hunger. Rahu was aghast. When the incarnate of Siva’s wrath lunged towards Rahu, the cunning head immediately devised a scheme to protect himself. He appealed forgiveness to the all-protecting and benevolent almighty Siva. Rahu’s petition calmed down Siva known for his innocent spirit and Siva immediately ordered the monster to hold back. This disturbed the monster greatly and he too raised his request to Siva asking for the food to satisfy his tormenting hunger. After all, the aim of his creation was to devour.
Siva smiled and suggested to the demon to feed on its own flesh. On hearing this, the demon in his blind voraciousness started feeding on his own feet and hands, but he was still hungry so he kept eating until only his face remained.
This bloodcurdling spectacle Siva watched silently with a pleasant smile, he spoke in an impressed voice and blessed the demon with a boon “You are my beloved son and I am well pleased with you. Henceforth you will be known as Kiritmukha, the face of glory and you will abide forever at my door. Whoever neglects to worship you shall never win my grace”.
Thus came the face used randomly but frequently in the various parts of Hindu shrines as an auspicious device to ward off evil. It also started getting included into decorative pillars and columns of the temples and even spotted sometimes as crown to the matted hair of Siva in certain sculptures. It developed into an ornament which perplexed the devotees when they saw the existence of a demon’s face on the walls of their sanctums deducing various meanings from it.
This monster is “Kirtimukha”, The Face of Glory, a protection to the holy but a threat to impious. When the teeth of the monster, an embodiment of Siva’s cosmic fire, went on through his own belly, chest and neck until only face remained, it was a dear sight to God as it was a vivid manifestation of the self-consuming power of Universe with the ability to destroy and re-create itself. Also, the characteristic of Siva as the destroyer in the Divine trinity who periodically annihilates the universe which he has created and reduces everything to ash is represented symbolically in the tale of Kirtimukha.
The Face of Glory thus greets the devotees with confidence and faith in the Supreme being. It’s a sign of the eternal truth of the impermanent nature of human life contained in this terrifying at the same time glorious face.
Story source : Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilizations – Heinrich Zimmer.