Kali Puja in Bengal
Kali or Kalika is a Hindu Goddess, and is the fierce form of the Supreme Being Shakti, as per Hindu mythology. Kali means the power of time (derived from the Sanskrit word Kal), and the colour black. Thus Goddess Kali is symbolic of preservation as well as destruction, the destroyer of the dark forces in the universe, and the force of time. In West Bengal, Goddess Kali is venerated as a Mother, and people address her as Ma. Even in her most fierce form, Goddess Kali is a symbol of kindness, and like a true mother, Goddess Kali is forever ready to destroy herself to protect her children. Bengalis all over the world worship this embodiment of Goddess Kali with great devotion.
Every year Kali Puja is celebrated in West Bengal, as well as by Bengalis all over the world, in the month of Kartik as per the Hindu Lunar calendar. The festival falls on the new moon night known as Amavasya in the month of Kartik, and coincides with the festival of Diwali. Kali Puja is celebrated to rid one of all negative emotions, and for spiritual enlightenment.
As per Hindu mythology, Shumbh and Nishumbh were two very powerful demons who declared war on earth and all devas residing in heaven. They reigned supreme even over Indraloka, the abode of Indra. The devas took refuge on Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati (A form of Shakti). They beseeched Goddess Shakti to help them overcome the demons. Goddess Shakti thus took the form of Kali and destroyed the demons. She rescued Heavens and earth from the evil clutches of Shumbh and Nishumbh.
Thus the day on which Goddess Kali destroyed the evil forces on earth and in heaven is celebrated as Kali Puja.
The Forms of the Goddess Worshipped in Bengal during Kali Puja
In Bengal during Kali Puja, the Goddess is worshipped in many forms. While some are the more traditional embodiments of the 108 forms of the fierce Goddess as per scriptures, there are some new versions like the one Jwalanto Kali or Burning Kali, or the Mohun Bagan Football team’s version of the Goddess in the team’s signature purple and green colours.
Based on the traditions and scriptures the following are the embodiments of Goddess Kali worshipped during Kali Puja:
Dakshina Kali: This is the core form of the divine manifestation of Shakti. In this form the Goddess has her tongue out as she steps on Lord Shiva. Legend has it that the Goddess had to drink the blood of the demons Shumbh and Nishumb as every drop of their blood which fell on the earth gave rise to one more demon. After killing the demons however Goddess Kali’s rage did not cool down, and intoxicated with the blood of the demons the Goddess went on a killing rampage. Lord Shiva, to stop Goddess Kali, lay in her way, and when she stepped on him, the shame of stepping on her own husband made her stick out her tongue. In this depiction Ramakrishna Paramahamsa says “Shiva and Kali are like fire and its power to burn, like milk and its whiteness.”
Shyama Kali: In this form Goddess Kali is kind and tender like a mother. Just like a mother will not let any harm befall her children, Shyama Kali protects her children from the pitfalls of life like epidemic, famine, earthquake, drought, and flood. In this manifestation the Goddess is benign and loving.
Tara Ma: Goddess Kali manifests herself as a fearsome form of the Divine Shakti. Here the idol is depicted with Lord Shiva as a child suckling at Ma Tara. According to legends, during the churning of the cosmic oceans by the Devas and Asuras for Nectar, a large amount of poison first emerged from it, which threatened to destroy the entire universe. Lord Shiva drank this poison to stop the destruction. To relieve Lord Shiva of the effects of poison, Ma Tara breast fed him as he took on the form of a child. Thus the destructive aspect of Lord Shiva takes the form of Kali here.
Shamsana Kali: In this form the Goddess presides over the only reality of this Universe and that is Death. Shamshan-Kali here is the mistress of the Shamshan, the burning ghat which is a Hindu crematorium. The puja here takes place only at the crematorium. Shamshan Kali is manifested in a human form to symbolise that in death every being is only a common human.
Chhinna Masta: Here the Goddess is depicted as having no head. She holds her own head in one hand as blood spurts out of her own wound. The Goddess is also standing on a copulating couple (Kamdev and Rati). Goddess Kali is also an embodiment of the sexuality of a human being, and destruction as well as creation. This form depicts this sexuality. It is believed that during the time of rituals if girls enter the temple they will lose their sexuality, and thus women are not allowed to enter while the worship is in progress.
Raksha Kali: Goddess Kali in this manifestation is a protector. The Goddess protects her devotees from epidemic, famine, earthquake, drought and flood.
Kamala: Goddess Kali is the tantric incarnation of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity – Laxmi. The Goddess thus is worshipped on Kali Puja for prosperity.
Siddha Kali: This form of Goddess Kali is worshipped by the tantrics who want to attain Siddhi, meaning perfection. She is depicted as roaming the cremation grounds in the company of jackals and terrible female spirits. Thus on the night of Kali Puja, Tantrics conduct the worship of this manifestation in the crematorium.
Kali, the power of time, frees the oppressed and rewards her devotees with spiritual enlightenment. Kali is Shakti, the universal feminine creative principle and energizing force. Kali is the ultimate reality, and her colour black symbolises that just like all colours merge into black, Goddess Kali transcends all forms in heaven and on earth.
Here wishing all of you the blessings of Goddess Kali. Happy Kali Puja.