When the entire northern part of India celebrates Diwali – the festival of lights, it is only in Bengal, Assam, Odisha and parts of Nepal where Kali Puja is celebrated. Kali Puja is celebrated in the Hindu month of Kartik on the new full moon day. On this occasion all of Goddess Kali’s faithful devotees worship her at late night hours using mantras and Tantric rites and offer her hibiscus flowers and various food items like rice, meat, fish . Tantric teachings are a collection of Ancient magical stories and folk practices that are considered to have wild tribal origins from the distant past.
Kali’s Birth- Myths and beliefs
There are several versions and stories about how exactly Kali was incarnated. The most popular version narrates about the deity being the warrior Goddess Durga. Durga was incarnated from Parvati who had defeated Mahishasura, the buffalo demon, after a ferocious war of fifteen days. It’s believed that Durga had become so infuriated that her anger burst from her forehead in the form of Kali, who went wild, killing and eating all the demons that she came across. She strung all their heads on a chain which she wore around her neck. She was so infuriated and enraged that her attacks befell all wrongdoers, both humans and Gods. To calm her down Shiva, her husband lay himself down on her path and just when the Goddess realised who she was standing on, she finally calmed down. This story also stands as an explained association of Kali with battlegrounds and areas where cremations are carried out.
Kali’s name derives from the Sanskrit meaning ‘she who is black’ or ‘she who is death’. She is often associated with time, death and doomsday. She can also be understood as a symbol of Mother Nature herself – primordial, creative, nurturing and devouring. In various Tantric meditations Kali’s dual nature leads worshippers to simultaneously understand the beauty of life and the reality of death, with the understanding that one cannot exist without the other. Limitations and superficialities of the physical world like colour, light, good and bad do not apply to Kali. She is also a symbol of feminine energy, ferocity, and fertility. She represents duality because she is the incarnation or another form of Parvati, the wife of the Shiva, who is calm, composed and is depicted as how a conventional Indian woman is expected to be. Again, as Kali, Parvati is represented and worshipped as a fearless dark skinned woman who fights evil naked, with a necklace of heads, a skirt of arms, a lolling tongue, and a knife dripping in blood.
The Thuggee cult
From around the 14th century till the 19th century there a cult group called the Thugee operating in India. The word Thuggee means ‘deceiver’. The group is believed to have had a thousand followers and during 600 years of its operation its members were accused to have killed as many as 500,000 to around 1 million people. These Thuggees proudly claim themselves to be the children of Kali, created from her sweat. Pandering to the fiercest aspect of Kali and her thirst for death, destruction and human sacrifice, the Thuggees believed that they were just doing her sacred work. It should also be noted that they did not hesitate in robbing their victims. Their ethos was similar to that of the Aghori monks of Varanasi who inhabited cemeteries, sometimes indulged in cannibalism as a part of their rituals, and also consumed alcohol and marijuana, which they believed assisted them in meditating on top of corpses, which would help them to reach a heightened state of awareness and bring themselves closer to Kali and Shiva.
The British Government finally wiped out the Thuggee cult in the mid 19th century, and this group of religious stranglers ceased to exist except in myths and folklore. However, it is difficult to ascertain whether their descendants follow the same practices among some of the Tantric sects today.
Goddess Kali is more often feared than worshipped among her devotees because of her association with evil and ferocity. The understanding of the divine has not only been changed but it has also become ignorant; the powerful Goddess who should be an inspiration is feared because her power has become a synonym of terror or fright. She acted as a protector for her fellow Gods and Goddesses, for the world and her children. Many people paint a scary image of her in their minds after listening to her stories but she actually had an ocean of love in her heart for this world which instigated her anger. Somewhere deep down maybe Goddess Kali is the reflection of our personalities; it is up to our choice and sagacity to either learn good things or to inherit the bad lessons. It is believed that Kali is a deity who does not ask for any rules or rituals to be followed. She easily answers the prayers of her children. With time people have distorted the idea behind the Goddess, associating her name with Black Magic but she has no relation to such absurd things. Although it is said that Kali is an energy that is easier to access for humans than other energies, Goddess Kali has no role in Black Magic.
She has always been a symbol of life and unreciprocated love for her children, but people have forgotten the true meaning of her existence. However, she will always be the nurturing Goddess who unleashes her wrath upon demons and blesses her devotees.
Relevance of Kali in today’s world
In the 21st century, many western feminist scholars have adopted Kali as a mascot of female empowerment or an understanding of the golden matriarchal age which existed before patriarchy took over. Kali is not only a deity whom we worship in temples but is also a symbol of defiance against the chains of patriarchy who tried to tame and domesticate her. Rejecting a woman for her dark skin is equivalent to rejecting an incarnation of Kali. Curbing a girl from pursuing her education, implies restraining an incarnation of Saraswati. It is paradoxical when we consider daughters to be a financial burden and get rid of them in the womb itself, but it is Goddess Lakshmi who we turn towards during times of financial crisis. Sexual predators should remember that it was Durga who had vowed to destroy the evil and vices which plagued the world. At a time when female empowerment has become such an important topic of discussion, a woman needs to remember no man or even woman has any right to make her feel small or inferior about herself because if she wants she can achieve anything, she is strong and invincible, as she is a woman.
Picture Courtesy- Open Magazine