We worshiped Maa Kali on the 12th of November, so here is an article that delves into the multifaceted aspects of the Holy Mother exploring her historical evolution and the diverse interpretations within the context of religion. It addresses the societal disconnect from cultural roots and highlights the misinterpretations prevailing in contemporary pop culture.
Something is very wrong with that society which has completely forgotten its own culture, history, heritage, rituals and Dharma. Society has been overtaken by politics of a completely useless but disastrous nature to make it a little bit more paralyzed and forgettable.
Kali is perhaps one of the most interesting forms or manifestations of Devi, and one can easily pen an entire book on her origin, and how she kept on evolving and manifesting her own appetite, desire, and existence. Individuals who are deeply involved in the pop-culture of the world have taken almost everything ‘for granted’, and so most youngsters (from age 15-25 years) understand Shiva as someone who is either an angry God or someone who’s always there to inspire people to take weed or ganja. To think like this is tolerable because it is an individual’s choice, but at the same time one has to really acknowledge that what he/she is thinking is inaccurate and just an atom out of more than a billion atoms. It is equally a part of pop-culture to perceive Maa Kali as the version of a woman who is fierce, filled with rage, unapologetic and consumes alcohol and weed just because of the former three qualities which subsequently lead to the idea of freedom.
Sanatana Dharma says that Guru/Guru Maa is referred to as someone who shows us the path from darkness to light, so if we separate the syllables then we’d get:
Gu = darkness; Ru = Light
It is a very interesting thing that the concept of Sanatana was always based on Samvaad and Vivaad between the Guru/Guru Maa and his/her students. With the advent of a culture that’s vulnerable, the concept of Guru/Guru Maa changed into a God-like figure which has never been the objective of Sanatana Dharma, and so if we go through its history, we’ll find that it still is different and progressive from every other religion (don’t go by my words, just go through the scriptures). So, the origin of Maa Kali also came out of the Sanatana Dharma and the Kali of the Vedic age wasn’t the Kali we see today. Nirriti was the first form of Devi and she has a nature that’s similar to that of Kali, wherein she’s the one who’s breaking the order like Shiva does.
In the Bengali concept, the emergence of Dakshina Kali came from Niritti where Niritti is linked with death and is associated with the Southern or Lumbar region of the existence of the soul (it is subsequently associated with death). So, this form of Maa Kali does not consume food. She has no food, no light, no air; she’s a void. Interestingly, in the later period, Niritti has been called the mother of Mrityu (death), Bhaya (fear) and Mahabhaya (terror), making her fierce, but her appetite (as prasadam) used to be dark or decayed husk because Niritti itself means death and decay. So the concept was totally different from what we know today (especially in the presence of people who are inspired by a certain kind of pop culture).
The Sanatana Dharma then moved towards the Jaiminiya Brahmana or Sāmaveda, where we then get to see Dirgha-Jihvi (the form of Devi from where the concept of long tongue of Kali actually started), the one form of Devi who has multiple sexual organs, and she, in Sanatana Dharma, is the sexually virile form of Devi, and she was killed by Sumitra (the one she made love with, out of every other men, because of the presence of multiple male sex organs) by the instruction of Indra because Dirgha-Jivi drank the Amrita or Soma rasa of Indra and the other demigods. She is the one who, for the first time, made society realize the concept of male insecurity and desires of a woman. We find the prototype of Kali in Dirgha-Jivi too, when we see that she holds a long tongue and is sexually virile and makes love by choice, and just on her own terms.
After more than a million years (by scriptures) and a thousand years (based on archaeological and mythological analysis) after Niritti and Dirgha-Jivi, we find the name of Kali in the Upanishads. Even in the presence of Shiva and Vishnu, Devi, in the form of Kali, used to be the one taking charge to vanquish the most ferocious demons. We find her during the war of Kurukshetra in the form of Kalaratri. She appeared on the final night when Ashwatthama slaughtered the sons of the Pandavas. The Puranas and Upanishads mention different forms of Kali with pretty different appetites and forms of existence. One cannot actually understand Kali without understanding all of them, and so it is also obvious that no one can generalize the concept of food when it comes to Kali, since there are so many forms of the Goddess. Also, in various scriptures, she has been called just a form of energy without Maa/Mata/Mother in the prefix or suffix.
Bhuvaneshwari Devi is one of the Mahavidyas associated with Devi or Kali. In the Devi Bhagavata Purana, she is referred to as Adi Parashakti (eternal divine energy). She is the form of Kali who doesn’t invest her time and energy on meat and also doesn’t consume alcohol. Rather, as per Devi Bhagavata, the five natural forms of Devi, namely Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Gayatri and Radha, came out from Bhubaneshwari Devi only. Bhuvaneshwari has a complexion that’s more or less similar to red and wears a garland of lotuses.
Baglamukhi Mata is one of the ten Tantric deities of the Sanatana Dharma, and a very unique manifestation of Devi and is very deeply associated with Maa Kali (if we go by symbols and history). She is a lover of the color yellow, and has a skin tone that’s also yellow in color. She is the one who fights with the misconceptions of people regarding her and Dharma. She, too, does not consume alcohol or any form of meat, although her sadhakas or devotees still do, since all of them belong to the school of Tantra. It isn’t necessary that a practitioner of Tantra should be a meat eater or alcohol consumer. It completely depends on the version of Devi we have in our mind. Sanatana Dharma is about subjective analysis and not about objective decisions or opinions.
Devi Mahatmya, in the Markandeya Purana, again tells the story of Maa Kali and her fierce nature when Kali manifests into two forms to kill the demon named Raktabeeja. Her first form was that of Chandi, while the second form was of Kali with an elongated tongue coming out of her mouth. Chamunda kept on drinking Raktabeeja’s blood because, as per mythology, every drop of Raktabeeja’s blood would give birth to another demon (that’s a malignant tumor). The Kali that we worship today has a garland of Raktabeeja’s head which Chandi killed. Here, Maa Kali drinks blood, but never did she accept alcohol or ganja in the entire Sanatana dharma. Although she chose to eat flesh according to Tantra, which clearly states the Tamasik nature of Devi and she doesn’t flaunt it with pride. Her sadhakas do because that’s actually a form of energy they want to have. Devi, on the other hand, always stays away from getting into her Tamasik nature and so really good Tantrics keep on saying that unless and until a person is a practitioner of the Tantra sadhana, he/she should never enter into the zone that’s filled with every form of energy.
Chinnamastika is another form of Devi that’s also pretty close to Kali, but has a different history and philosophy. She has been portrayed as nature who cuts off her own head to feed herself and the predators associated with her. She stands over Kama and Rati, who are referred to as god and goddess of desire, when they’re making love, expressing the need for creation and how it is important if something is getting destroyed or slaughtered. Rati is the dominant one when it comes to the couple, making it very clear that in the scriptures of Sanatana Dharma, women have always been shown as the active members responsible for both creation and demolition.
Tara is a form of Devi, which is where we can find the woman who’s responsible for the evolution of both Shiva and Buddha, and so, we will find Tara as an important manifestation of the Devi both in the Tantric or Mahayana school of Buddhism and the Tantric school of Sanatana Dharma. She is the one who keeps on cultivating compassion inside Buddha and Shiva, making her more friendly to her worshippers.
It is important to understand that the Shakta literature or school of Sanatan Dharma does not speak about Maa Kali as a meat-eating Goddess without any philosophy. Shakta literature acts as a response to the more masculine Shaiva school of Sanatana Dharma. Also, it is more active and feminist than the Vaishnavite School of Sanatana Dharma. The Tantra that arises from the Shakta school is about the love and valuable conversations between Devi and Maheshwara. In the Shakta literature, Devi, in the form of Kali, stands on top of Mahadeva and then makes love to him and only after making love to her, does Mahadeva transform into a more compassionate Shiva. Kali, with her protruded tongue, expressed that she is practically mocking the limitations of a patriarchal society. If one is really speaking about Kali, then she/he must know the many other versions of the same Goddess where she is both very different and similar to the Goddess. Sashan Kali and Bhadra Kali are two main forms of Maa Kali we see around us. The first one is wild and free, whereas the second one is compassionate and has the form of energy that can be consumed by Bhaktas/Sadhakas/devotees.
Also, when someone is speaking about Kali, she/he should also know that apart from Tantra, Kali is also present in the Bhagavata Purana in the form of Radha, and Krishna had to engage in a fight with her. Radha is different from all other Gopis/Gopikas of Braja and Vrindavan. Krishna was unable to tame her, which made him fall for her even when he knew that, on a marital basis, he had no future with Radha. Radha has broken more boundaries than Krishna by accepting him as his lover even after she was married to Yashoda’s brother. She was demanding and unapologetic. Brahmavaivarta, one of the many Puranas of the Sanatana Dharma, says that Krishna and Radha were married in heaven and then they had to separate after their birth. This makes Radha fall into the zone of Kali even after being fully clothed and Radha wasn’t a meat-eating or alcohol-consuming woman.
I am not inclined to any contemporary ideology or political party and it is very obvious that parties will come and go, but Dharma should stay like it is, and interestingly, Dharma will stay even if we follow it or not. Also, Sanatana Dharma doesn’t need to evolve with time because it is already way ahead of our time. The things we’re speaking about today have already been spoken about in our scriptures way before the birth of even our fiftieth great-grandfather. It is sad and unfortunate that we still do not subscribe to the evolutionary process of the Sanatana Dharma, and I won’t force anyone to do that also. But at least, before subscribing to anything that’s very inaccurate, try to understand the philosophy behind what actually is there in our history or itihasa. It is the primary task of a seeker, and now it is completely up to you, whether you want to be an active seeker or a passive sleeper.
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Kabir Deb, a recipient of the Social Journalism Award (2017), the Reuel International Award for Best Upcoming Poet (2019), and the Nissim International Award for Excellence in Literature (2021) for his book Irrfan: His Life, Philosophy and Shades, is based in Karimganj, Assam. He also runs a mental health library named ‘The Pandora’s Box to a Society called Happiness’ in Barak Valley.