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Just some information I gathered from various sources.
The image of Kaali usually shows her foot on Lord Shiva’s chest, a severed head in one hand, her sword in the
other, and wearing a garland of skulls. Kaali is worshipped as the Mother Goddess who protects from evil. She also epitomizes
strength or ‘Shakti’ and the darker side of life. The actual puja takes place at midnight on the day of
the new moon, the Amawasya in Ashwin (15th day of the Hindu month Ashwin). After Durga Puja comes Lakshmi Puja and then finally
Kaali Puja which is celebrated on the same night as Diwali, the festival of lights.
Kaali: The Dark Mother:
The love between the Divine Mother and her human children is a unique relationship. Kaali, the Dark Mother is one such
deity with whom devotees have a very loving and intimate bond, in spite of her fearful appearance. In this relationship, the
worshipper becomes a child and Maa Kaali assumes the form of the ever-caring mother.
Who is Kaali?
Kaali is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess Durga. She assumed the form of a powerful goddess and became
popular with the composition of the Devi Mahatmya, a text of the 5th - 6th century AD.
Legend of Kali:
Millions of years ago, the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha disturbed the peace of Indra, the king of gods, and his empire
(heaven). After extensive and endless battles, the gods lost all hope and the demons became stronger. The gods took refuge
in the Himalayas, the holy mountains and the home of Lord Shiva and Parvati. The shaken gods sought protection from Mahamaya
Durga, the goddess of Shakti (power). Kaali was born from Durga's forehead as Kaal Bhoy Naashini (destructor of fear). She
was created to save the heaven and earth from the growing cruelty of the demons. Along with Dakini and Jogini, her two escorts,
she set on her way to end the war and kill the devils. The goddess triumphed. After slaughtering the demons, she made a garland
of their heads and wore it around her neck. In this blood bath, she lost her control and started cutting off the heads of
thosw who came her way. The gods started running for their lives. The only source of protection seemed to be Lord Shiva, Durga's
consort. Seeing the endless slaughter, Shiva devised a plan to save the world. He lay down in the path of the goddess. When
Kaali unknowingly stepped on him, she came back to her senses. The famous picture of Maa Kaali, with her tongue hanging out,
actually depicts the moment when she steps on the lord and repents. This day has been celebrated as a festival, ever since.
Kaali is the first of the ten avatars (incarnation) of Durga. She is also called Shyama Kaali. Kaali puja is essentially
performed to seek protection against droughts and wars, for general happiness, health, wealth and for peace. It is a puja
performed only at midnight on the Amavasya.
The Fearful Symmetry:
Kaali is represented with perhaps the fiercest features amongst all the world's deities. She has four arms, with a sword
in one hand and the head of a demon in another. The other two hands bless her worshippers, and say, "fear not"!
She has two dead heads for her earrings, a string of skulls as necklace, and a girdle made of human hands as her clothing.
Her tongue protrudes from her mouth, her eyes are red, and her face and breasts are sullied with blood. She stands with one
foot on the thigh, and another on the chest of her husband, Shiva.
Kaali's fierce form is strewed with awesome symbols. Her black complexion symbolizes her all embracing and transcendental
nature. Says the Mahanirvana Tantra: "Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her".
Her nudity is primeval, fundamental, and transparent like Nature - the earth, sea, and sky. Kaali is free from the illusory
covering, for she is beyond maya or "false consciousness." Kaali's garland of fifty human heads that stands for
the 50 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes infinite knowledge. Her girdle made of severed hands signifies work and
liberation from the cycle of karma. Her white teeth show her inner purity, and her red lolling tongue indicates her omnivorous
nature, "her indiscriminate enjoyment of all the world's flavors”. Her sword is the destroyer of false consciousness
and the eight bonds that bind us. Her 3 eyes represent past, present, and future (the three modes of time), an attribute that
lies in the name Kaali ('Kaal' in Sanskrit means time). The eminent translator, Sir John Woodroffe in Garland of Letters,
writes, "Kaali is so called because She devours Kaal (Time) and then resumes Her own dark formlessness." Kaali's
proximity to cremation grounds where the five elements or "Paanch Mahabhut" come together, and all worldly attachments
are absolved, again point to the cycle of birth and death. The reclined Shiva lying prostrate under the feet of Kaali suggests
that without the power of Kaali (Shakti), Shiva is inert.
Forms, Temples, and Devotees:
Kaali's guises and names are diverse. Shyama, Adya, Tara and Dakshina Kalika, Chamundi are popular forms. Then there is
Bhadra Kaali, who is gentle and Shyamashana Kaali, who lives only in the cremation ground. The most notable Kaali temples
are all in Eastern India: Dakshineshwar and Kaalighat in Kolkata (Calcutta) and Kamakhya in Assam. Ramakrishna Paramhamsa
and Swami Vivekanand are some of the legendary devotees of Kali.
In the year 1847, the wealthy widow Rani Rasmani prepared to go upon a long pilgrimage to the sacred city of Banaras to express
her devotions to the Divine Mother. In those days there was no railway line between Calcutta and Banaras and it was more comfortable
for rich persons to make the journey by boat rather than by road. We are told that the convoy of Rani Rasmani consisted of
24 boats carrying relatives, servants and supplies. But the night before the pilgrimage began, the Divine Mother, in the form
of the goddess Kaali, intervened. She appeared to the Rani in a dream and said, "There is not need to go to Banaras.
Install my statue in a beautiful temple on the banks of the Ganges river and arrange for my worship there. Then I shall manifest
myself in the image and accept worship at that place." Profoundly affected by the dream, the Rani immediately found and
purchased land for the construction of the temple. The large temple complex, built between 1847 and 1855, had as its centerpiece
a shrine of the goddess Kaali, but also had temples dedicated to the deities Shiva and Radha-Krishna. A scholarly and elderly
sage was chosen as the head priest and the temple was consecrated in 1855. Within the year this priest died and his responsibility
passed to his younger brother, Ramakrishna, who over the next 30 years would bring great fame to the Dakshineswar temple.
The present temple was built in 1809 on the site of an ancient temple. It is also known as the Kaalighat temple. The legend
says that a finger of the Sati, wife of Lord Shiva, fell here. Since then it has been an important pilgrimage site. But the
temple is dedicated to the destructive side of Shiva which takes the form of Kaali. The temple is busy through out the year
and is surrounded by poor who come to have free meal. The Hospital for Dying Destitute by Mother Teresa is near the temple
and every one is a welcome visitor here.