Bir Kuar or Birkuar (IAST: Bir-kuār), also known as Birnath, is a Hindu cattle-god worshipped by the herder-class of Ahirs of western Bihar in India. He is considered to be a form of god Krishna. He is worshipped in form of wooden posts that depict him standing arms-akimbo. Bir Kuar is honoured as the protector of cattle and the god who infuses fertility in cattle.
Bir Kuar's legend deals with the opposition between the cattle and the tiger and also impalement themes. He is attended by a Muslim attendant and a dog. Bir Kuar is also called to as "Lord of the Forest".
The legend of Bir Kuar says that he was an Ahir youth, who used to go deep in the forest to graze his cattle, even at night. Once, he was killed by a tiger or a tigress and became a "tiger-ghost" or "tiger-god" (Bagh-bhut or Baghaut) himself. As a tiger-ghost or tiger-god, Bir Kuar protects the Ahir cattle, grazing in the forests. Bir Kuar is believed to have the power to fertilize a she-buffalo and against his wishes, no bull can copulate with a she-buffalo. Other folk-tale narrate different versions of his death. In some, Bir Kuar is killed by 7 witches directly, in others, a tigress kills him on the orders of the witches. In still other tales, he is killed by his own sister, who is a witch. Other tales record his death at the hands of the Mughal Empires.
Ballads narrate the story of Bir Kuar or Birnath, who rescued the princess Madhumati from Mughal Empire soldiers. Madhumati was on her way to a pilgrimage to the Hindu holy city of Benaras, when she saw Mughal soldiers and cried. She requested a female-kite to inform her father that she was in danger, through a letter she wrote. When kite delivered the letter to the king - father of Madhumati, the king sent Madhumati's husband Birnath with his soldiers. Birnath rode a tiger and saved the princess. Ballads also narrate that Bir Kuar was born in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya and reared in Palamau.
A folk-tale about Bir Kuar tells that he was so attached to a she-buffalo called Pararia that on her wedding-night, instead of sleeping with his bride, he went to the forest with the buffalo and impregnated her. This tale defines Bir Kuar's role as a god of fertility and protector of cattle, who fertilizes female cattle. Once, Bir Kuar was given a choice between his wife and his herd. His wife accuses him of treating the she-buffalo as her co-wife. Bir Kuar answers that he would rather sell his wife than pair his buffalo. He further says, he has to nod when his wife talks, but the buffalo nods when he talks. If the buffalo would not nod, then he will sell the buffalo too and become an ascetic and go to a strange land.
Bir Kuar is often worshipped in form of wooden posts, made by carpenters from the mixed Ahir-Brahmin class. This wooden post is erected in open field to "fertilize she-buffaloes". In these posts, he is depicted in standing arms-akimbo. Bir Kuar is offered goat sacrifices. He is also offered clay horses, on the fulfilment of a vow. Bir Kuar is also worshipped in times of distress.
The Ahirs' main livelihood is cattle-breeding and thus, Bir Kuar has become a culture-hero and a village god of the Ahirs. He is worshipped in 16-day festival called Sohorai (in October), which corresponds to festival of Diwali, celebrated in honour of the Hindu goddess of prosperity - Lakshmi. Ballads describing his exploits are sung during the festival. Bir Kuar is worshipped by offering of milk and erecting his icons in open fields. On the new moon day in the festival, first goddess Lakshmi is worshipped. Following worship of Lakshmi, Bir Kuar is worshipped in a nearby field. The cows are milked by the Ahirs and a sweet called Kshir is prepared and offered to the deity. The Ahirs then pray to Bir Kuar to impregnate their female cattle.
Bir Kuar is often associated with Krishna. Bir Kuar is depicted as flute-playing cowherd like Krishna. He acts like a ferryman like Krishna, helping milkmaids cross the river and having dalliance with them.
Bir Kuar is sometimes associated with the god Vithoba of Maharashtra - who is believed to be a form of Krishna too and depicted in an arms-akimbo posture like Bir Kuar. Images similar to Bir Kuar are found in states of Maharashtra and Karnataka too.