Wednesday, 15 May 2013



Am typing this in the middle of a tropical rainstorm in Singapore, and its unbridled and gleeful ferocity reminds me of Kali.

Not for nothing does a famous song by the Kali devotee Ramprasad mentions "my mad Mother Kali", and of all the incarnations of the Divine Mother, the Primordial Shakti, Kali represents not just the fierce and wild, but the rampaging movement of the Divine.

Westerners have always struggled with the basic problem of what happens when things go wrong, good times break down, businesses fail and good people suffer, and are more comfortable finding consolation in a dualistic view of God... Everything good is God, everything bad is the devil.

But Kali is a figure that embraces the terrifying as well as the benign. If you've ever truly been around destruction, whether in warfare or by some dreadful event, there is a wildness there. Kali's wildness often strides across our lives. When we turn our devotion to the Devi, sooner or later we can find that we start off worshipping Lakshmi, the bringer of auspiciousness and comforts, only to find that life takes a tumble... The sudden precipitous plunges in the reputations of celebreties and politicians... The unexpected departures of partners and friends... Upsets, incidents that seem to reflect a raw energy, a primal electrical shock that breaks every foundation.

That's one aspect of Kali, and through different ages and countries some reflection of the Fierce Mother shows up. Can one love such a force, actively embrace its power as an example of the strength of the hidden?

I think we not only can but must. A pretty life filled with neatness and order gets you absolutely nowhere in the end but suburbia. Spiritual life is difficult, often dangerous, but its an adventure which we all instinctively recognise. For within each of us is the capacity to worship it all, all the good, all the bad, all the troubles and joy... Worship this as the great Maya, the wonderful illusory dance we witness while we are alive.

Someone very close to me once had a dream in which Kali came to her bed one night, and for her, this experience was the essence of bliss and ecstacy... And she was never the same again. Kali, then, is not doom or gloom, but she is untameable, supremely free, and to glimpse her even for a second (lightening and thunder rumbling right now across the night sky as I write this) is to gain a matchless gift. Next time your world comes tumbling down, see if you can spot Her at play...

There are lots of secrets about Kali-Ma. She has penetrated western consciousness for at least 200 years in a particularly shameful way- the British imperialists decided to label her worship as devilish, and this image even resurfaced in one of the dreadful Indiana Jones movies of the 1980s - a bloodthirsty goddess with crazed supporters out to kill everyone.

That said, She is wild and untameable and holds the Bhairav, the fierceness of a tigress about to pounce. She is the village goddess, She is the supporter of those who do not fit into any category. She sweeps all away, and none too gently... but to Her devotees, She is revealed in true loveliness.

As one beautiful Yogananda chant puts it:

Who tells me Thou art dark, 
Oh my Mother Divine?
Thousands of suns and moons
From Thy body do shine!

(hear a good version of this at

Her colour is dark, her hair free. Her very name is linked with Kala, time, the great devourer. Her tongue is loose - some say with shame at trampling her husband, some say with the unquenchable thirst for blood, and that tongue will sweep up the negativities of a devotee, often with a masterly series of blows that hurt when they happen, but heal when they are over.

It is important to realise therefore that She has a benign (dakshina) side as well as fearful (smarshan) side, and here the iconography becomes important. If She steps out with her right foot and holds Her sword in a left side, this is the dakshina form. The other round, and She is Smarshana Kali, the embodiment of the power of destruction and unstoppable.

Shyama Kali is tender and worshipped in Hindu households as the dispeller of fear and granter of boons.
Raksha Kali, the protectress is who we turn to in terrible times.

Tantrics worship Siddha Kali to attain perfection, Phalaharini Kali to destroy the results of their actions, Nitya Kali the eternal one to help achieve perfection. Even robbers thieves and dacoits get in on the act and some worship Dakait Kali. Across India, in villages and towns, Kali murtis exist and are worshipped - much to the apparent ire of the Mother in Sri Aurobindo's ashrams, who did not particularly like the fear that Kali seemed to evoke in superstitious villagers.

She seems to crop up along the fringes of western magic, paganism, and is little understood... and young western women who want to declare their freedom often like to align with Her energies in a very superficial way. There are echoes of her, the Primordial Mother, in many other traditions... such as the Yoruba deity Oya, or the strange Santa Muerte, or some of the very few "Black Madonnas" found in southern Europe.

She is absolutely the opposite of a submissive or well behaved feminine presence, and it is interesting that the land of India, which demands so much from its image of saintly, withdrawn women who pander to men's every needs, nevertheless is a crucible for veneration of the exact opposite of polite and withdrawn. Kali chooses who She favours, not the other way round.


Kali Maa has attracted many famous saints in recent times. Ramprasad, the Devi-intoxicated Bengali poet in the eighteenth century, sung of Her praises throughout his life and his songs are just as popular today:

Mother, am I Thine eight-months child?
Thy red eyes cannot frighten me!
My riches are Thy Lotus Feet
which Shiva holds upon His breast;
Yet, when I seek my heritage,
I meet with excuses and delays.
A deed of gift I hold in my heart,
attested by Thy husband Shiva;
I shall sue Thee if I must,
and with a single point shall win.

If thou dost oppose me
Thou wilt learn what sort of mother's son I am.
This bitterly contested suit between the mother and Her son
What sport it is! says Ramprasad.
I shall not cease tormenting Thee
Til Thou Thyself shall yield the fight
and take me in Thine arms at last.

Kamalakanta  is another famous poet from the end of the eighteenth century, and a householder like Ramprasad who sang of "My Mother full of Bliss." These songs are still sung today with great enthusiasm throughout India. In the west, one chant always seems to surface wherever you go, which is simply

Kali Durge Namo Namah

But the West really learned about Kali through the life and teachings and school of Yoga of the great Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, whose extraordinary sadhana and brilliant circles of disciples is well-described and easily accessible, and his link with the great murti of Kali at Dakshineshwar. Kali came alive for him, a living palpable presence, and I've always yearned to see this great temple. She used to walk on the balcony in absolute beauty and loveliness - and Ramakrishna had many exalted experiences of Her. This is his famous description of what happened when he finally cracked and picked up a sword hanging in the temple to end his own life, maddened by being unable to see Her:

"It was as if  houses, doors temples and all other things vanished altogether;
as if there was nothing anywhere.
And what I saw was a boundless, infinite conscious sea of light.
However far and in whatever direction I looked,
I found a continuous succession of effulgent waves coming forward,
raging and storming from all sides with great speed.
Very soon, they fell on me
and made me sink to the unknown bottom.
I panted, struggled
and fell

Less well known is the story of a great devotee, Bhamakepa, who spent most of his life at Tara Peeth in west Bengal, a great shakta site, and who died in 1911. Extraordinary stories of his devotion to the Mother in all forms abound and his life story is worth checking out. He was not a learned man, but  a true Tantric adept. People called him mad from an early age because he showed no interest in worldly life, so he added "khepa" or "mad" to his name.

He wore no clothes, and lived in the famous smarshana or burial ground at Tara Peeth, a place filled with Tantric adepts and gawping tourists during the daytime... and strange rituals at night. When asked why he wore no clothes he replied "My father (Shiva) is naked. My mother (Tara) is also naked. So I am practicing that. Furthermore I don't live in society. I live in the cremation ground with my mother. So I have no shame or fear!" Unusually he was fed prasad before it was offered to goddess, after Tara appeared in a dream to the Maharani of Nahore and threatened to leave the place because he was being beaten by the temple priests.

There are some great stories about the various miracles he performed... always with a kind of roughness or fierceness that hid a heart of pure love and compassion. My favourite one is when a beautiful woman decided to tempt him (this is a familiar theme in the mythology of many saints, but one with a twist this time). In stead of ignoring her, he lunged forward, shouted "Ma!", bit her breast and she fell unconscious. Now imagine trying to package this kind of personality in the 21st century when Gurus wear silk robes and charge for courses!


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    1. She is not easy to understand, absolutely agree. But She is, She is there the other side of our awareness.... How wonderful you feel such devotion. A brother in bhakti!

  2. Namaskar, today had a dream that is why I was looking for something being related to Kali Ma. In a huge hall where are my close relatives and friends present I heard cries of some children from somewhere. I rush to the spot and see some of the miscreants resort to killing innocents. After killing them I see Baba Ramkrishna sitting silently at one side of the huge hall. When I start calling Baba, at once Kali who was behind the curtain in grey form with hairs open and red lips. What else you need are not you satisfied now? You wanted them to get killed and now I have taken them back, what else you need. Without daring to say anything I was trying to say something to Baba that I woke up around 6 am in the morning. Since then I am in deep thought process as to what I saw today, blessing or what else?

  3. Surrender to Her as a child to its mother...not looking for any selfish results but open to all possibilities of good or bad as Her Prasad...She will take it upon Herself to teach you personally the Great Mysteries of Life. Ask again and again till it gets etched in your Mind...Mother, give me Bhakthi to ever worship Thy Lotus Feet even if I take fourteen million janmas...please let me not forget a child, I may make mistakes and will have all sorts of faults in my pooja, in my mantra, in my action, in my Bhakthi but as a need to overlook all my shortcomings and bless me with Bhakthi and also make my pooja paripurnam. Say this daily at every pooja, every time you think of Her...till it becomes your breath itself. Om Sakthi.

    1. Jai Maa Kali. Reading yr article I can feel yr devotion to her. May she bless u with contentment and may yr Bhakti bless a thousand souls.

  4. Thank you very much for your wonderful words and blessing. The only reason I wrote what I wrote here is to let others knows the Divine Mother Kali never ever abandon you or your prayers..She always answers the cry of Her children...but it all depend on how hard you cry...yes, this world we cry for all the wrong reasons and for all that is impermanent...Ask Her for that which is permanently everlasting Bhakti to ever worship Her Divine Lotus Feet...When you have Her, you have the entire Universe...without got nothing...All Glories to Her. Om Maha Kalinyai Namahe!


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