Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Kali Temple in Kalighat, South Calcutta

The great Kali Temple in south Calcutta, Kalighat, is said to be the oldest and most important Kali temple in India. It is, whatever the case, the central temple of the Calcutta region, a region where Kali worship is particularly developed, so much so that it is in reference to this terrible goddess that the name Calcutta (Kali -kata) is most probably formed. One of the fifty-two so-called Shakti Peethas – sacred sites – of India, it is supposedly where the toes of the right foot of Shakti fell upon the earth when Shiva, in his grief, danced the dance of death, and the disk of Vishnoo dismembered Shakti’s body.

All official tourist accounts will tell you that foreigners are strictly forbidden from the Temple, the reason usually being given that it is the site of gruesome animal sacrifices that are not for the feint-hearted. Touts patrol the grounds, however, and for a hundred rupees or so they will escort you in, and in fact right into the very inner sanctum such that no part of the complex is off-limits. The crowds are crushing, the marble floors are slippery, the devotees are delirious and the Brahmins are looking to make extra money for the slightest holy gestures, but with a good escort it is a tolerable and fascinating experience, one of the essential rites of the Kali cultus that is such an important yet at the same time mysterious feature of Hindoo religiosity.

Once within the inner sanctum, the appropriate ritual gesture is simple: to the chant of Om Kali! Om Kali! Om Kali! (thrice, thus) the devotee throws a handful of flowers (hibiscus) over the figure of the goddess. She stares back, black and dreadful. Devotees yearn to look upon Her gaze. For this purpose there is a further room in direct line to the apeture where devotees greet Her and from time to time, when the crowd thins, Her gaze extends there are the waiting devotees count themselves blessed for it. In fact, the line of the goddess’ gaze extends even further. The present author witnessed a young Hindoo outside of the Temple walls ascertaining where the line of sight might be in order to stand within it and thus make his devotions directly towards the ever-watching goddess. Moreover, the line of sight includes the pillars where beasts (mainly young he-goats) are sacrificed in a covered enclosure. Therein, devotees place their heads upon the butcher’s block, this gesture of profound submission being (in theory) witnessed by the goddess from within the inner sanctum.

It is hard to tell in the madness and the rush exactly what directions are involved in this. The whole complex is surrounded by smaller buildings and canvas stalls and it is impossible to obtain a wider view of how the temple is situated in the landscape. But it is clear that there is some form of geomantic orientation forming the basis of the temple's location. The goddess herself, in fact, is represented by a large black stone which is wrapped in cloth and has the distinctive three eyes of her dreadful glare painted thereupon. The temple is merely a house for this stone, a more or less domed shape structure which is, despite the age of the complex, relatively modern. 

If you make it into the very centre of the complex, this is what you will see, although usually only a glimpse as the crowds push past:


Who is Kali? In Homer's Iliad there is a passage where Zeus boasts that, if he wished, he could lift all the gods up with just his little finger. He is the supreme god, he says, and is afraid of none... except one, the goddess Nux, Night. That is Kali. She is the darkness beyond the stars. The silence before all things. The blackness into which all dissolves and which underlies all manifestation. 


Harper McAlpine Black

No comments:

Post a Comment