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.
|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.
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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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),