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Kali’s Dark Divinity

Updated: August 6, 2011 2:24 pm

Recently a leading Newspaper exposed the cruelty of a husband who dumped his wife because she was dark skinned. For a nation obsessed with fair skin such unpleasant incidents are not surprising. What is surprising however is the lack of wisdom in understanding the nuance of that remarkable colour black. As a child I was totally hooked to Anne Sewell’s novel which tells the story of a beautiful horse named Black Beauty. According to Shakespeare’s Fair Desdemona who marries the black moor Othello, “Black men are pearls in white’s women’s eyes.’’ There is divinity to this colour . In Hindu mythology both Krishna and Kali are dark. Recently the well known artist Tyeb Mehta’s untitled painting of the hindu deity Kali was sold for Rs. 5.72 crores at Saffronart, India’s biggest online art trading Forum.­­­

            Of all the goddesses in the Hindu mythology Kali is the most mysterious. To wipe out evil, to make the wicked understand their faults the God the supreme power took the incarnation of Kali in this world. Kali has two fascinating divine dimensions—the fearful and violent, the protective and compassionate. In the first she is the destroyer of evil and ego in man. In the second she is the all embracing, loving mother jaganmata (mother of the universea) to her devotees. The first dimension however is more predominant. Kali is often regarded as the black goddess of death, she is depicted as having been born from the brow of Goddess Durga during one of her battles with evil forces. As the legend goes Kali was so much involved in the killing spree to destroy evil that she began to destroy everything in sight. To stop her, Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet. Shocked at the sight Kali stuck out her red, blazing tongue in astonishment and put an end to her rampage. Hence the common picture of Kali shows her standing with one foot on Shiva’s chest with a garland of bones using the human skull as a cup. The reclining Shiva prostrate under Kali suggests that without the power of Kali—Shakti, Shiva is inert.

            The colour black best becomes Kali—the fiercest among the world’s diety. Kali’s black complexion symbolises her all embracing transcendental nature. Just as all colours disappear in black so all names and forms disappear in her. Although Kali is worshipped throughout India, Nepal and even Indonesia, she is most popular in Bengal, where one finds Kalighat her most famous temple, just outside Kolkatta. The Kolkata city received its very name from the Goddess Kali. In China Town in Kolkata there is a Kali temple where even the Chinese people worship Kali Mata. Mona Gangulay once in an interview said that her husband cricketer Saurav Gangulay whenever went on tours, he always carried an idol of Kali with him. Swami Vivekananada and Shri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa are some of the legendary devotees of the Goddess. Legend has it that Goddess Kali inscribed some letters on a poor shepherd boy’s tongue and he became the great poet-scholar—Kalidasa. Since Goddess Kali blessed him he assumed the name of Kalidasa (devotee of Kali).

            Kali is regarded as being associated with the mystic elements in the universe and living in cremation grounds. Kali puja is observed on the night of amavasya and tantrik puja is observed on new moon night. On mahalaya amavasya the appropriate mantra is Vishnusahasranama followed with lalita sahasranama is the prayer for mukthi—salvation.

            There is a Kali in every woman. When a woman avenges the death of her rapist, she is the angry violent Kali and justly so. In remarkable women like Sindhu Tai Sapkal of Maharashtra who is known as the mother of orphans for providing shelter to destitute children the compassionate, loving Kali emerges. For those who seek the protection of Kali she never lets them down.

By Prof Indira Satyanarayan

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