Kali pooja

Posted on October 14, 2009. Filed under: My musings | Tags: , , |

Kali Puja means the worship of goddess kali linked with destruction as well as death. Kali means power of time or transition. Linking goddess kali with death and destruction does not necessarily mean that death occurs due to this goddess, but mainly due to time since kali is a god of time as well as change. Goddess kali also referred to as the goddess of ultimate reality appears dark. Kali Puja occurs in the Hindu religion and is done inside the temples.

Kali god represents shiva goddess andstands among the most dreaded gods in Tantric. Kali puja begun many centuries back in 200BCE-200CE and took root in Tantric. This goddess’s resembles a dark woman standing.   Kali Puja plays a significant role in Tantric and incorporates activities such as yoga. Yoga enhances the flow of energy in the body due to relaxation and produces a calming effect. Yoga integrates the inner spirit with the physical body creating a wonderful feeling. People practicing Kali Puja sit in a yoga position. This position allows easy communication between a person’s spirit and the god.

Figures associated with kali convey fear among believers and are only worshiped to cast out evil spirits and demons committed to durga goddess. Kali goddess therefore opposes durga goddess of beauty. Kali goddess has a spouse known as lord shiva. The union of this couple is the cause of the world’s destruction

These qualities subject Kali Puja believers to meditation and obedience. Kali goddess’ physical appearance contrasts with her characters.  The goddess makes gestures that dispel worry. Kali Puja followers believe that, the more kali is exposed, the more wrath and pain diminish. Worshipers hail praises to kali goddess as they watch her exposed young body with a gentle broad smile.

An infant Shiva calms violent kali. According to this myth, kali got overjoyed after defeating her enemies in a battlefield. She drunk the blood of the slain enemies and got drunk, to calm her down, an infant goddess Shiva came crying aloud. After calming kali down, restoration of the world’s stability occurred. Restoration of stability occurred after kali started breastfeeding Shiva. This myth shows the maternal characteristic of goddess kali. This trait is very common between the Hindu and unpopular in the west.

// kali thakur
Goddess kali ma frees the ego of Kali Puja worshipers and shows them compassion. Kali ma’s male equivalent referred to as kala has less powers. Many Hindus practicing Kali Puja do not understand goddess kali ma however, many theories suggest that kali ma is a goddess linked to death, suffering and destruction. Other Kali Puja worshipers believe kali ma is a goddess linked to death of ego and self-centeredness. Both goddesses shiva and kali ma make trips to cremation lands and restore peace to people meditating on these grounds. Kali ma visits these grounds to show believers that physical life is temporary where as spiritual life is eternal.

Of all the Devi goddesses, kali is most compassionate by provision of liberty to moksha offsprings. Kali destroys unreality and ego thus equalizing all people in the world. According to kali goddess, all people are equal before her own eyes. This is according to the beliefs of the Hindu.

ma kali

Mahakali Pujan

Beneficial for… Vashikaran, enemy. Courage.

Mahakali is a goddess with a long and complex history in Hinduism. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence, while more complex Tantric beliefs sometimes extend her role so far as to be the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and Source of Being. Finally, the comparatively recent devotional movement largely conceives of Kali as a straightforwardly benevolent mother-goddess. Therefore, as with her association with the Deva (god) Shiva, Kali is associated with many Devis (goddesses) – Durga, Badrakali, Bhavani, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati, Chinnamasta, Chamunda, Kamakshi or kamakhya, Uma, Meenakshi, Himavanti, Kumari and Tara. These names, if repeated, are believed to give special power to the worshipper.

Goddesses play an important role in the study and practice of Tantra Yoga, and are affirmed to be as central to discerning the nature of reality as the male deities are. Although Parvati is often said to be the recipient and student of Shiva’s wisdom in the form of Tantras, it is Kali who seems to dominate much of the Tantric iconography, texts, and rituals. In many sources Kali is praised as the highest reality or greatest of all deities. The Nirvnana-tantra says the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva all arise from her like bubbles in the sea, ceaslessly arising and passing away, leaving their original source unchanged. The Niruttara-tantra and the Picchila-tantra declare all of Kali’s mantras to be the greatest and the Yogini-tantra , Kamakhya-tantra and the Niruttara-tantra all proclaim Kali vidyas (manifestations of Mahadevi, or “divinity itself”). They declare her to be an essence of her own form (svarupa) of the Mahadevi.

At the dissolution of things, it is Kala [Time] Who will devour all, and by reason of this He is called Mahakala [an epithet of Lord Shiva], and since Thou devourest Mahakala Himself, it is Thou who art the Supreme Primordial Kalika. Because Thou devourest Kala, Thou art Kali, the original form of all things, and because Thou art the Origin of and devourest all things Thou art called the Adya [primordial Kali. Resuming after Dissolution Thine own form, dark and formless, Thou alone remainest as One ineffable and inconceivable. Though having a form, yet art Thou formless; though Thyself without beginning, multiform by the power of Maya, Thou art the Beginning of all, Creatrix, Protectress, and Destructress that Thou art.

He, O Mahakali who in the cremation-ground, naked, and with dishevelled hair, intently meditates upon Thee and recites Thy mantra, and with each recitation makes offering to Thee of a thousand Akanda flowers with seed, becomes without any effort a Lord of the earth. 0 Kali, whoever on Tuesday at midnight, having uttered Thy mantra, makes offering even but once with devotion to Thee of a hair of his Sakti [his female companion] in the cremation-ground, becomes a great poet, a Lord of the earth, and ever goes mounted upon an elephant.

The Karpuradi-stotra clearly indicates that Kali is more than a terrible, vicious, slayer of demons who serves Durga or Shiva. Here, Kali is identified as the supreme mistress of the universe, associated with the five elements. In union with Lord Shiva, who is said to be her spouse, Kali creates and destroys worlds. Her appearance also takes a different turn, befitting her role as ruler of the world and object of meditation. In contrast to her terrible aspects, she takes on hints of a more benign dimension. Kali  is described as young and beautiful, has a gentle smile, and makes gestures with her two right hands to dispel any fear and offer boons. The more positive features exposed offer the distillation of divine wrath into a goddess of salvation, who rids the Sadhaka of fear. Here, Kali appears as a symbol of triumph over death.

Tantric origins:

Goddess temples develop in India in many ways. In Hindu folk religion,

we have deities who incarnate within material objects, either

spontaneously (svayambhu) or by choice. However, sometimes they end

up imprisoned in these objects, and their liberation and worship by

human beings becomes the origin of a temple. Thus, it is the birth and

material incarnation of the goddess that lead to the sacred space. In

tantric Shaktism, we have sacred space based on death and desire. The

goddess’s sacred space may be associated with death in the past (as in

the story of Sati’s death), or in the present (the goddess dwells in the

burning ground or smasana). She may also be called down through the

desire of the tantrika. In devotional goddess worship or Shakta bhakti,

the goddess comes down in response to human love, to dwell in temples

as long as she is fed, or temporarily in the puja murtis made for

yearly festivals. In this paper, I shall examine these origins of sacred

space: birth, death and desire, and love. I shall observe examples from

fieldwork in West Bengal, in the areas of Calcutta, Bolpur, and Bakreshwar.

In folk Shaktism, the goddess has been in matter “from the beginning,”

as informants phrase it, or suddenly awoke there for reasons

unknown. She finds herself trapped, and may spend centuries calling

out to human beings for help. Most people cannot hear the voices of

deities, so she must stay until someone can come to rescue her, usually

as a response to a dream command (svapnadesa). The dream will

recur until the person goes out to find the goddess. If he or she ignores

the original dream, then the recurring dream will start to torment the

person and cause all sorts of disasters. It is only after the rock is recognized

as a goddess and given offerings that the dreams will stop.

When the person, usually accompanied by other villagers, goes out

to find the goddess, they take the stone or statue back to the village

and set up a shrine to her. When she has performed miracles, especially

healing particular diseases or answering vows or manats, then she is

accepted as a living goddess, and her temple starts to attract pilgrims.

At the most basic level, the goddess shrine may be a rock, statue, or

pot along a roadside or beneath a tree. When the power of the deity is

recognized, then a small shrine hut (than) is built. There is just enough

room inside for the rock or statue, some offerings, and perhaps a person

or two. As the deity becomes more popular, a permanent (pakka)

building with plaster or cement walls may be built, and the local sevait

will offer food and worship on a schedule.1 These folk Shakta temples

do not normally have brahmin priests—they have local people willing

to feed a starving goddess, who has for centuries only had wind to eat.

Sometimes the goddess is hurt, as when laundrymen have been banging

out the dirty clothes on the rock in which she dwells, or people

have been breaking oysters open on her rock, thus hurting her back.

She often begins with a small group of devotees, but with miracles, her

shrine may grow into a full-fledged temple or even temple complex,

and eventually official brahmin priests may work there. The place of

debasement becomes a place of honor, and the goddess is liberated from

hunger and loneliness, while the devotees get blessings in return.2

While the usual view of folk religion is that human beings depend

on deities for happiness (for such things as food, fertility, good weather)

here we see the goddess dependent on human beings for liberation. In

this case, her freedom does not come from being taken from her material

home. Instead, she demands worship and food, which strengthen her

and allow the conversion of her space from secular to sacred.

A special case is the Adivasi or tribal goddesses, where the tribal

group is forced to migrate due to industrialization or land development,

and they must leave their traditional land behind. In this case,

the goddess is a representation of the sacred land, and in forced exile

she becomes a refugee goddess, carried into a foreign land by her refugee

people. Many Hindu Bangladeshi informants in Calcutta told similar

stories, of when they carried their deities on their backs during the

war, unwilling to leave a family member behind. The goddess brings

the sacred space of the homeland with her into the land of exile.

In the Shakta tantric tradition, the goddess comes with death. The

origin may be mythic (as in the story of Sati) or current (where the

goddess dwells in the burning ground or smasana, in the ground, or in

the skull asanas upon which the tantrikas sit). While Kali is a goddess

of death, she also leads the soul to the next life or to heaven to rest

in her lap, so she is a goddess much concerned with the future as well

(some Shakta tantrikas understand her to be the goddess of the future

apocalypse). She may also come down due to desire by her devotees,

mediated by ritual action. She may be visualized in various places in

the body of either gender through the yogic practice of nyasa, or she

may come to dwell in the female tantrika through possession (avesa)

during meditation.

In West Bengal, the major focus of Shakta tantra is death, and

many informants interviewed either have performed the corpse ritual

(sava-sadhana, in which a corpse becomes the place of the goddess’s

incarnation) or plan to do it in the future. There are also piles of skulls

and seats made of skulls that attract the goddess’s sakti or power, and

people come to them to gain the goddess’s blessings (or siddhi labh kara,

to gain perfection in special types of meditation).3

There is also a third type of goddess worship—Shakta bhakti, or

devotion to the goddess. There is introspective bhakti, where the goddess

dwells within the individual human heart, and community bhakti,

where groups of people participate in her worship in a shared space.

Shakta bhakti is probably the major urban approach to the goddess,

and may be found in Kali’s annual festival of Kali Puja and also in her

temples. Kali Puja night is a time for magic shows and theater, for fireworks

and celebrations, but also for animal sacrifice to the goddess and

contemplation of her importance in this world and in the universe. For

most devotees, she is not merely Shiva’s wife, but rather the origin of

the universe, and her night reminds devotees of the fragility of their

lives and their dependence upon a goddess who is alternately ruthless

and compassionate. Many informants emphasized how careful one

must be in worshipping Kali, for an error in worship could bring down

her wrath.

During the festival in Calcutta, Kali’s images are varied in the different

street-corner shrines that are set up to celebrate Kali Puja. Some

shrines are the size of small walk-in camping tents, made of rattan or

bamboo, with Kalis like voluptuous dolls or withered old women, with

white ornaments made of solapith and bright crepe-paper streamers.

Large shrines may have beautiful Kalis standing on pale Shivas dressed

in silk or gold lame or imitation tiger skins. In 1983, when Kali and

Shiva were used to represent different cultural values, I vividly remember

one set of statues, with a tribal-style Kali with dark skin wearing

animal skins and a fierce expression. She was stepping on a blond crewcut

Shiva dressed in a three-piece grey Western business suit, holding

a briefcase. Next to him was a jackal, who stood beneath the severed

head that Kali was holding, drinking its dripping blood. However, there

were some Kalis at the 1993 Kali Puja with dark skin, large noses, and

kinky hair, politically-correct Kalis looking like the Adivasis or tribals

of West Bengal rather than Aryan invaders or Western imperialists.4 In

many situations, the image of the goddess is a reflection of the image of

the self, or the personal ideal. Some Kalis were bright blue, voluptuous,

and smiling happily, looking mature for a sixteen-year-old, while Kali

with white skin showed her spiritual or sattvic nature. In the larger

and more well-funded community pandals were giant statues, fifteen

feet high or more, with piles of offerings all around. Sacred space was

mobile, as was the goddess herself—her space was where she was worshipped

and loved.

There are also more stable temples, where Kali is believed to dwell

with mankind in response to their love, and to the priest’s ritual devotion.

These are often sanctified with the Hindu equivalent of relics

buried beneath the temple in the form of jewels or gold or other valuable


These understandings of sacred space—folk, tantric, and bhakti

often appear together. I shall give two examples from fieldwork, one

on a small scale and one on a larger one. Each reflects all three types of

Shakta sacred space. I shall also note two types of understanding of the

goddess shown at her temples: as a joint Mahavidya goddess, and as an

individual goddess who may alternate between wrathful and peaceful


I met the female Shakta tantrika Gauri Ma in the town of Bakreshwar

in West Bengal. It is a temple town dedicated to the god Shiva,

with 108 Shiva lingas in stone shrines heavily overgrown with large

tree roots. It is also a sakti-pitha, a place where there is a body part of

the goddess. This town is the traditional locale of the goddess Sati’s


At the old burning ground in Bakreshwar is an ashram of male

and female renunciants of the Sankaracarya lineage. It is called the

Bholagiri Abhayananda Ashram, named for the tantrika Shri Shri Pagal

Maharaj (King of Madmen) Abhayananda Giri. Gauri Ma was head of

the temple, a strongly-built woman in her fifties, with a rudraksa mala

necklace and a shaved head. She had an intense gaze, and did a sadhana

:  77

practice with me that incorporated kundalini yoga and pranayama as a

precursor to telling me stories about her ashram (she also told some

stories that I was not permitted to publish). She told me the story of

the temple’s origin as we sat next to a lakhmunda asana, a great pile of

human skulls (there are said to be one hundred thousand there). The

skulls are buried at the base of a great asvattha tree, which appeared

to be cemented over, and the area was covered with alpana, paintings

done in white rice paste. Some of the exposed skulls are painted red

and look out at any visitors who come to worship and meditate. She

told of Aghor Baba’s call by the goddess Kali in her mahavidya or great

wisdom form as Tara:

This meditation seat (asana) was built by the tantric practitioner

Aghor Baba, who was born in Orissa in the nineteenth century, and

went to Tibet to study and meditate. He achieved several forms of

empowerment (siddhi) there, and then he went to Tarapith. When he

went there, the tantrika Vamaksepa was living there. In a dream, Tara

told Vamaksepa to remove him, that Aghor Baba should not stay at

Tarapith and did not belong there.

Now, people in the aghor stage of tantric practice [in which they

do not distinguish between pure and impure] often disturb people

around them. Shiva Mahakala spoke of the tantras through five

mouths, and he is called Mahakala when he sits in the burning ground

and decides the fate of souls. When a person dies, or enters the state

of death while living, he is called Aghor Mahakala. The person in this

state eats unused things and the flesh of dead people, and he drinks

but does not become drunk. Even when the corpse is burning and

the skull bursts, he will drink that liquid. He does many things which

make people uncomfortable.

Tara instructed Vamaksepa to remove him, and Aghor Baba left

unhappily and involuntarily. He then went to a temple at Howrah (near

Calcutta), and sat down to meditate. He had a vision in which he was

told to go to the town of Gorakhpur.

At Gorakhpur, he met a renunciant named Gorakhnath Mahayogi.

Aghor Baba told him what had happened and of his anger at the goddess

Tara. Gorakhnath went into meditation and called Tara Ma to

find out why Aghor Baba had been expelled from Tarapith. Tara Ma

answered his summons and came in the form of a tribal woman. She

was quite angry, as it was a long way from Tarapith to Gorakhpur,

and a long way to travel, even for a goddess. She said that she had him

removed because he could not attain any greater power at Tarapith—

he had to go elsewhere to develop spiritually. She suggested that he

go to Bakreshwar, which was a center of Shiva worship (an aghorpitha),

and a place more appropriate for his meditation. In the distant

past, Shiva grew angry at Gauri, and he threatened her by chopping

himself into five pieces. One of those five pieces came to rest at the

Bakreshwar burning ground (smasana).5 Here Aghor Baba could gain

the power and abilities that he desired.

Aghor Baba came to Bakreshwar to do tantric practice. However,

the burning ground was already occupied—a kapalika (practitioner

who carried skulls) had come to the place years ago, and was living

under a tree with his three female ritual partners (sadhikas). The

kapalika told Aghor Baba to leave, which he did not wish to do, as he

had been commanded by Tara Ma to go there. They fought there, and

Aghor Baba killed the kapalika and his three partners. However, he

did not allow their souls to gain liberation, for he intended to gain

knowledge of the place from the four souls. Their burned bodies gave

the first four skulls of his collection. He continued to collect skulls

from the bodies burned at the burning ground and from the bodies of

people killed by tigers and wild animals. He would enliven the skulls,

and draw the souls down to the bones, and by tantric means ask the

souls about meditation and use their power for his practice. However,

he still could not attain his final goal.

At the last stage of his practice, a Shakta tantric holy woman

(bhairavi) named Maheshvari Devi from East Bengal came to Bakreshwar.

She helped him a great deal and finally brought him to liberation.

With her help he attained siddhi, and he spent his remaining

years in Bakreshwar. His pile of skulls is still here, at the base of the

great asvattha tree.6

Aghor Baba’s samadhi site at the ashram (where his body rests, for

renunciants are buried rather than burned) is a five-foot ziggurat of

bright red, and it is understood to be a place of power. Bakreshwar is

often called a power place, sacred to both Shaktas and Shaivas. The

main temple at the ashram is a temple to Kali, with the outside painted

yellow and the inner room painted blue. There is a statue (murti) of a

sweet, mischievous goddess, wearing a red and white silk sari and a

garland of red hibiscus flowers, who stands before a red aura painted

on the wall. She is called in hymns Satyanandamayi Kali and is surrounded

by numerous pictures of deities and saints, including a tantric

Ganesha with four arms. The priest in saffron waves a black fan and

performs the offering of lights (arati) with young female assistants.

Sannyasis chant a hymn to Shiva by Sankaracarya before her statue.

She is not jealous of this worship, but rather is pleased at the praise

of her husband. There are complex white designs (alpana) before the

entrance to the Kali temple, often with a dog sleeping in the middle

of the designs (as Gauri Ma says, “These are not ordinary dogs”). Kali

is friendly and helpful, and blesses the practitioners of various Hindu

traditions who come to meditate at the burning ground. Gauri Ma discussed

the nature of tantra generally:

Life stories tell about a person’s worldly history, but tantric practice

(sadhana) reveals a person’s internal history. When a person has initiation,

he or she is given the power to see inside. True initiation is

given through the eyes and into the heart, but false initiation goes

only through the ears (with the mantra)—it is a business. When you

do tantra-sadhana, your right side becomes like fire and your left side

like water, and your spine looks like a row of Christmas lights, shining

in different colors. Inside of your mind you can see an inner television

screen, and you can watch your inner life (prana) on it. Indeed,

the term tantra is derived from the words body (tanu) and your (tor):

it is the practice that you do with your own body.

Tantra is a kind of worship that requires the body. Some people

worship Shiva to gain Shakti, and some worship Shakti to gain the

blessings of the Mother. Shakti is wonderful in meditation, she does

everything; Shiva barely helps, that’s why people call him a corpse.

People say that tantrikas do evil things, but real tantric practitioners

do not. They do meditation on the five forbidden things

(pancamakara), which have many secret meanings. For instance, mada

is not wine, but rather special breathing (pranayama), and it makes

you full of power. Mamsa (meat) means silence, the control of speech,

while matsya (fish) represents the uncoiling kundalini energy, which

looks like a fish when it is active (jagrata). Maithuna is the raising

of kundalini up and down the spine, which unites the right and left

sides of the person, the male and female halves. It is not intercourse,

for no female partner (bhairavi) is used. Mudra means spontaneous

trance, when the universal spirit (paramatma) and the individual self

(jivatma) are related. The various finger to hand relationships, which

most people think of when they hear about mudras, actually represent

these deeper relationships. For instance, the thumb represents

the universal spirit and the first finger represents the individual self,

and the mudra where they touch represents their union. The third

finger is Shakti, the fourth finger is Shiva, and the fifth finger is

Dakini or Yogini. The mudras occur spontaneously when people are

in trance.7

Gauri Ma’s story of the ashram’s origin combines many aspects of

folk Shaktism (including the power of the goddess in material objects

and communication with spirits), Shakta tantra (supernatural power

over death and gaining power from the dead), and both Shaiva and

Shakta devotion (obedience and love towards Shiva and Shakti).

This site is also based on the story of Sati. There are many variants

of the story of Sati, who in Bengal was most frequently understood by

informants as an incarnation of Kali and who had committed suicide

and was dismembered by the gods as her husband Shiva danced a mad

dance of grief and destruction. Each place that one of her body parts

fell become a place sacred to her.

Most goddess temples include all of these aspects, and perhaps the

most famous set of goddess temples is known as the sakti-pithas or satipithas.

There are many temples and shrines dedicated to Kali that arise

from the story of the sakti-pithas. These are centers of power that extend

over India and represent the goddess’s identity in a variety of locales.

These sacred sites of the goddess are based on a myth—the destruction

of the sacrifice of Daksha Prajapati by the god Shiva, also called Rudra.

The story is found in many sources, the earliest probably being the

Mahabharata (XII, 282–283), though it is also found in several major

puranas (including the Matsya, Padma, Kurma, and Brahmanda puranas).

The most well-known variant is in Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava

(I.21), in

which Sati was the wife of the god Shiva and the daughter of Daksha.

When Daksha organized a great sacrifice to which neither Shiva nor

Sati was invited, Sati decided to attend anyway, and was insulted there

by Daksha. Sati’s death came about because of this insult, for Kalidasa

says that she threw herself into the fire and perished. When Shiva found

out about this, he angrily came with his attendants and destroyed the

sacrifice. Three of the Shakta puranas—the Kalika, Mahabhagavata, and

Devibhagavata puranas—also have versions of this story.

In the Kalika Purana version, Daksha did not invite his daughter

Sati and her husband Shiva to his sacrifice. When Sati learned of this,

she generated yogic power that burned her body with yogic fire. Shiva

took her corpse on his shoulders and began to dance madly. To shake

Shiva out of his frenzy, the gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Sanaiscara (Sani,

god of misfortune) entered the corpse and cut it into six pieces, which

fell to earth and formed the six sakti-pithas. The area where Shiva had

danced, “the eastern part of the earth,” came to be called “the sacrificial


In the Mahabhagavata Purana, Daksha decided to have a sacrifice

but would not invite Shiva. Narada suggested that they attend the sacrifice

anyway, and Sati agreed, but Shiva refused. At this Sati became

furious, took on a wrathful expression, and generated ten forms of

herself, the ten mahavidya goddesses. Sati predicted that these forms

would be worshipped in the future by Shaktas in tantric rituals. Shiva

was very frightened by her terrible forms and praised her, telling her

he would obey her. Sati later split into two forms, one of which committed

suicide (which was a shadow or chaya form), while the other

existed secretly. Sati was thus able to survive her own suicide. Shiva

was angry at Sati’s apparent death and generated out the form of the

warlike Virabhadra, who went to destroy Daksha’s sacrifice.

Brahma and Vishnu told Shiva that the real Sati was alive and invisible

and that it was the Chaya Sati who had apparently died in the fire.

All three gods praised Sati, who then appeared before them in the form

of Kali. She told Shiva to create the pithas by carrying Chaya Sati’s body

on his shoulders and letting her limbs fall in different places. Then

Shiva chose to live in the fifty-one pithas in the form of rocks (lingas).9

In the Devibhagavata Purana story, Daksha ignored a gift from his

daughter Sati, thus insulting her, and she became angry and burned

herself to ashes in a yogic fire generated by her rage. Shiva roamed

the world with Sati’s corpse on his shoulders, and Vishnu severed her

limbs with his arrows. These limbs fell to earth in 108 pieces, creating

the 108 sakti-pithas.

As we can see, there are a variety of origin stories for these sacred

sites and their temples. There are also several different lists of pithas

in various puranic and tantric texts, and the numbers range from 4 to

108. Many tantric sites claim to have some piece of Sati as justification

for their existence, and there are long arguments by priests and

disciples as to why their site is not listed in any of the traditional lists

of sati-pithas. Most recently, the temple site of Tarapith has made this

claim, and many Shaktas accept it as a sati-pitha, or at least a siddhapitha

(a place where people have gained perfection or siddhi).

However, such justification as a sati-pitha is not necessary—sites

can begin just on the basis of dream commands from the goddess. The

most famous dream command story in Calcutta is probably that of Annada

Thakur, whose picture hangs throughout the marketplaces and

shrines. Thakur was an ecstatic who lived in Calcutta around the turn

of the twentieth century. He had dreams and visions of the goddess

Kali and would often fall into trances. He was commanded by her in a

dream to rescue her statue, which had long lay hidden in the muddy

waters at Eden Gardens. He found the statue between the two trees she

had specified and had it brought back for worship. It was a statue of

the goddess Kali in her tantric form as Adya Shakti Kali, or Kali of primordial

power, naked and with matted hair and a sword. This form of

Kali is often described as the origin of the ten tantric mahavidya forms

of the goddess.

While the Adya Shakti Kali was initially satisfied with household

worship of her statue, after a few days she decided that she was

dissatisfied with worship at only one place—she wanted much broader

worship, and she also wanted devotional rather than ritual worship.

So she ordered Thakur to immerse her in the Ganges and have people

worship her photograph instead. This was new technology at the time,

and an early case of what came to be known as “photo-bhakti”—taking

the darsan of a goddess from a photograph. But she could indeed get

wider worship, for pictures could be spread throughout villages and

marketplaces and home altars, as well as just temples. While the

goddess required devotion, she also threatened people who would not

worship her properly, punishing families with illness and misfortune

for their neglect of her picture. She continued to come to Thakur in

dreams and visions, giving him mantras to chant and hymns to write

down. The mantras would also induce states of trance.

However, many years later, Annada Thakur had another dream

command. This one was from the late sadhu Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,

a famous Shakta saint of West Bengal. He told Thakur to build a

temple to Adya Shakti in Kalisthan (or the Land of Kali, as he called

Bengal because of its Shakta devotionalism). He gave detailed instructions

on how it was to be composed and run. The new temple was to

include Vaishnava iconography, as well as a statue of Ramakrishna,

and another statue of Adya Shakti standing upon the chest of Shiva.

This started out as a small temple, which grew into the temple complex

known today as Adyapitha (or Adyapeath), the third member of the

tourism “Holy Trinity” (as their advertising phrases it) along the Ganges,

of Belur Math, Dakshineshwar, and Adyapitha. It is considered a

modern addition to the shifting number of sakti-pithas in West Bengal,

and it is included in the stops of the tourist buses that come out of Cal:

cutta to visit the pithas. It has adopted imagery from other traditions;

for instance, their Mother Teresa hall can feed two thousand people

each day, and the poor eat for free. The walls list thousands of donors,

and there are offices, orphanages, a library, kitchens, meeting halls,

and housing for the elderly and for renunciant monks and nuns. It has

been very successful at fundraising and attracting political support.11

In the case of Annada Thakur and Adyapitha, we see the various

forms of sacred space merged together. Initially, there was sacred

space by dream command and a neglected and demanding goddess.

Then she came as a tantric Mahavidya goddess, giving mantras and

trance states with visions. However, she also requires devotion and develops

a form of bhakti that had no name at the time, shifting sacred

space from building and statue to photograph. For Thakur, Adya Shakti

Kali was the most important form of the goddess Kali, as primordial

power. However, we may also see Kali in joint or alternating forms. To

gain insight into how the goddess is understood, we can look at one

example where the images of the goddess are united in a Mahavidya

mandala and another where we have an individual image that alternates

between peaceful and wrathful aspects.

At Matrimandir Asrama, in Kalimpong in the mountainous region

of northern West Bengal, there is an astrology temple dedicated to the

goddess’s Mahavidya or Great Wisdom forms. This temple was founded

by the Shakta tantric renunciant Jnanananda and has images of the

tantric Mahavidya goddesses, which are here associated with astrology.

The goddesses are believed to control the planets, and they have

set planetary associations. The temple priest explained the correspondences

between the Mahavidya goddesses and the planets and stars

followed by this temple:

Tara – Sun

Kamala – Moon

Bagala – Mangala (Mars)

Tripura – Budha (Mercury)

Matangi – Brihaspati (Jupiter)

Bhuvaneshvari – Sukra (Venus)

Dakshinakali – Sani (Saturn)

Chinnamasta – Rahu

Dhumavati – Ketu

Durga – Shakti (as universal power)

At the front of the temple, the smiling black Kali statue in the center

area was full of heavy silver jewelry: she wore necklaces, bracelets,

an ornate silver crown with red jewels, and a belt of large, shiny silver

hands. She carried a silver sword with a large eye on it, and there was

a silver lamp over her head. Behind her was a sky-blue halo made of

wood with the images of the Mahavidya goddesses painted on it around

the edge. The Mahavidyas are understood to be Kali’s ten major forms

or emanations.

According to the priest, Shiva is the joint husband of all of these

Mahavidya wives. The goddess takes on different shapes for different

functions. If a person has problems with Budha, there is no energy for

work; with Mangala, he loses his business and has political problems;

with Sukra, he has too much desire. Bagala helps with legal problems,

both civil and criminal.

When people come to the temple with problems, the priest looks at

their palms to find out which planet is the cause of the trouble. He also

finds this out by the date of birth, with which he consults the almanac

(panjika) and does calculations. Once he has decided upon the planet

that is causing problems, the person can then worship and give offerings

to the goddess who controls that planet and thus take care of the

problem. The priest finds out which planet is causing the trouble by

means of palmistry or horoscope, and then that goddess is consulted.

Astrology has come to be a specialization of tantrikas, and here astrological

insight is associated with the tantric knowledge gained through

worship of the Mahavidyas. While many wandering tantrikas make

their living doing astrological predictions and selling astrological gems

informally, here we have a temple dedicated to the practice.

When I asked about his own experience of the goddess, the priest


I am myself a devotee of the goddess, and my form of the goddess

was chosen by my guru. Kali appears in my dreams, looking like her

statue, and she gives me suggestions and instructs me. One may do

Vedic puja (ritual worship) or tantric puja—here we do tantric puja.

During tantric puja I am the son of the Mother, and I cling to her. We

do not sacrifice many goats to her, for the goat is only the symbol of

lust (kama), which must be sacrificed to have spiritual love (prema).

Kali is like a fire under a kettle, but you cannot put her out. People

are like matches—if you go too close to her, you too will catch fire.

But she is also a person, and she has a personality. This is shown by

the fact that she gives boons and she listens to devotees when they

call. But she is invisible, and people have to sense her presence without

seeing her.

Kali is a good goddess. Ma cannot be dangerous to her children,

for she loves them, and she only punishes wrong actions, according

to karma. She can change karma, but only to the good. She only

destroys attachments (ripus), not her devotees.12

Tantric worship uses different mantras than Vedic worship and

seeks a more personal relationship with the goddess. According to

the priest, the major goal of Kali worship is the destruction of worldly

attachments, which is a boon given by the goddess. She destroys the

bonds that bind the devotees and brings liberation to those who seek

it. As most people seek only favors, she gives gifts and suggestions to

devotees through dreams and visions. She gives mostly moral instructions

in dreams. Of the temple’s founder he states:

Usually, the role of guru is handed down from father to son, but sages

and sannyasis learn from other gurus. The founder of this temple,

Jnanananda, was a wandering sadhu who spent much time in Bengal

and Assam. He did tantric ritual meditation at burning grounds,

with pancamunda asanas and many skulls. We do not do tantric ritual

meditation (sadhana) here, only tantric puja. But we remember

Jnanananda, and hope that one day we may be like him.

In this case, the goal of the goddess’s multiple forms is a sort of

specialization of labor. Kali’s rupas have control over the powers of

the various planets, and each form benefits the devotee in a different

aspect of life. However, the Mahavidya goddesses may not be inclined

to influence the planetary energies without prayers and assurances

by the devotees.

This tantric temple in the mountains was founded by a sadhu who

had done meditation in the area and called down the goddess in her

Mahavidya forms. There are many stories of sadhus who have seen the

goddess in all of these forms (the most famous is probably Sarvananda,

whose vision occurred on a new-moon night while he practiced the

sava-sadhana or corpse ritual). However, specifically tantric temples are

a minority among the temples of West Bengal. Most temples combine

tantric imagery with folk and bhakti traditions.

In the village Badabelun in Burdwan, Kali is worshipped in a small

temple in her form as Bada Kalima (Elder Mother Kali or Big Mother

Kali; the term implies power as well as age and size). While the age and

size show folk influence, the revealed style of worship was tantric. When

the patriarch of the Bhattacharya family, Bhriguram Vidyavagisa, was

on his deathbed, he called his sons together. He told them how Kali had

appeared to him and told him to move from Ketugram to Badabelun

early in his life, as well as how she had recently appeared to him in

his dreams, telling him to prepare to die. She wanted her worship to

continue, and he needed to inform his sons how to worship her. He

told them of how to perform her worship in a long poem (emphasizing

tantric rites rather than the Vedic homa fire or the puranic arati or

worship with lights):

On the new moon of Kartik, sit [in meditation] through the night

Worship the Mother with devotion, after building her image.

It should be fourteen cubits tall

Worship the image according to tantric rites.

Put earth on her body on the full moon of Asvin

Make her tongue from a winnowing tray.

Offer her three bags of rice, and sweets

Then be seated and keep a steady mind.

Offer her a banana, and the blood of goat and buffalo in a skull

But do not perform homa-fire or arati to the Mother.

Light torches at the time of worship

And offer red hibiscus flowers at the Mother’s feet.

Then give her sweets, rice and lentils, and meat offerings.

Continue to worship her until dawn.

Do not immerse her pitcher (in which she was installed)

But keep in inside the house, and daily offer it loving worship

On the third day after Kali Puja.13

He also told his sons about his experiences. After he had moved

to Badabelun due to the goddess’s dream command, he collected a set

of five skulls and buried them at the local cremation ground and sat

there in tantric-style meditation. He built a statue of Kali himself, and

he would worship her at the burning ground, with vultures and jackals

roaming about. He would call her “great bliss” (mahananda), and spend

long hours before the statue. One day he went off for a bath, and when

he returned he found that the image on the altar was not the one he

had built. He had made a peaceful goddess, but when he returned he

saw a terrifying figure. She had become very old and was standing on a

corpse with a terrible face, full of blood and horrifying to see.

He was frightened to see the image and was about to run away.

However, the goddess spoke to him reassuringly, saying, “My name

is Elder Mother. This image will be worshipped for ages. Anyone who

worships me with devotion will never have to worry about the next

world.” She told him to marry, for someone had to serve her after he

died, and she suggested a bride for him. She told him that on the next

new moon the daughter of a brahmin would die of a snake bite, and

her relatives would bring her to the burning ground. He should take a

handful of ash from the funeral pyre and put it into her mouth, and it

would bring her back to life. He should then marry this reborn woman

and start a family.

He agreed to do this, and on the next new moon he saw the funeral

party. The girl’s father wept like a madman, and he went over to

Bhriguram and begged him to bring his daughter back to life. Bhriguram

followed the goddess’s advice and put the ash into the girl’s mouth. She

sat up and said, “Goddess,” and stretched as if she had just awakened

from sleep. Bhriguram then told her father of the goddess’s command,

and he agreed with the proposal for marriage. This was the beginning of

Bhriguram’s family and the reason for the necessity of maintaining the

goddess’s worship.14 Tantric worship emphasizes the goddess’s power

over life, death, and liberation—in this story she is clearly a conqueror

of death. Her continued worship at her temple reminds people of her

ability to take life and to give it. In this case, we did not have a joint

image of the goddess like the Mahavidyas, but rather a single image

that could transform itself from peaceful to wrathful.

In the examples of Bakreshwar and Adyapitha, we have some major

understandings of Shakta sacred space. The folk goddess is incarnated

in matter, and her liberation is the ritual sanctifying of the matter

that imprisons her. She gains not freedom but power and respect.

The tantric goddess controls birth and death, sanctifying the places

of death of her own past incarnations and the burning grounds of her

followers. Death gains new value. Tantric ritual brings the passions of

both goddess and devotee under control and uses them for creation

and destruction. Bhakti has a mobile goddess who dwells in puja murtis,

in temples, and in the hearts of her devotees in response to their love.

Temples may also be large or small, dedicated to multiple forms of the

goddess or to one form. There are folk, bhakti, and tantric interpretations:

all of these are ways that sacred space is understood in Bengali



1. See Tushar Niyogi, Aspects of Folk Cults in South Bengal (Calcutta: Anthropological

Survey of India, 1987),

2. See June , Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in

West Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004),

3. See June , The Madness of the Saints: Ecstatic Religion in Bengal (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1989),

4. India has problems with affirmative action and prejudice, as does the West.

In the case of the Kali with non-Aryan features, the statue shows respect for

the Adivasi or tribal people who wish representation and concern for their cultures.

5. According to Gauri Ma, the five major aghor-pithas are at Ujjain, Bakreshwar,

Varanasi, Gorakhpur, and Kathmandu. The story may be a variant on the story

of Sati and the origin of the sakta-pithas.

6. Gauri Ma, interview with the author in Bakreshwar, 1994.

7. Ibid.

8. Kalika Purana, chaps. 17 and 18, cited in Usha Dev, The Concept of Sakti in the

Puranas (Delhi: Nag Publishers, 1987),

9. Mahabhagavata Purana, chaps. 7–11, cited in Dev, Concept of Sakti.

10. Devibhagavata Purana, VII, chap. 30, cited in Dev, Concept of Sakti, .

11. Fieldwork and interviews with practitioners, Adyapitha (Adyapeath),


12. Kalimpong (a Shakta priest), interview with the author, 1994.

13. Pranavesa Cakravarti, Ei Banglai (Calcutta: Dev Sahitya Kutir, 1992),

14. Ibid.,


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