Dakshineshwar to Kalimath
A journey from the Manifest to the Unmanifest.
Word Count – 2583
I am inspired to start this essay on a bizarre note, as out of character as the symbolism behind the iconography of Kali. The iconography may appear to be bizarre at first, but on an esoteric level it unfolds to reveal a profound meaning. Just as the inclusion of this dialogue from an awe-inspiring hindi movie I saw a few months back. The movie – BENARAS, A Mystic Love Story. The dialogue – Shwetambari to Dr. Bhattacharya, is as follows:
Shweta: Dr. Bhattacharya, aap khud nahin jaante sach kya hai aur jhooth kya hai? Gyaan aur Agyaan ke beech mein kya hai? Agar jaante to apnaa saaraa kaam, apnaa naam aur bees baras se basaaya hua apnaa sansaar chhodkar, is chhote shahar Benaras, mein nahin aate.
Aap ek anant shaanti ke khoj mein bhatak rahe hain, aur woh shaanti keval yehi mil sakti hai, kyunki yeh Benaras hai. Woh Shaanti hi mukti hai, Dr. Bhattacharya, Aur woh mukti aapke confused rationality mein nahin hai.
Sab kuchh khokar bhi mil sakta hai. Sab Kucch! Is Benaras mein.
Jaaiye, Dhoondiye use! Dhoondiye mandiron ke kono mein, shamshaan ke sholon mein, ganga ke sunahre paani mein, ya fir un aankhon mein Dr. Bhattacharya, jo senkdo saal mare hue babaji ko aaj tak dekh sakti hai. JAAIYE!
Sheer inspiration drove me to open this essay with a filmi dialogue. How this inspiration unfolds during the essay, is for the reader to see.
She can be seen in all her manifest resplendent horror at Dakshineshwar, while one can experience her true unmanifest essence at Kalimath. Dakshineshwar, in West Bengal is one of the very famous and important temples of Kali, Kalimath on the other hand is obscure in its existence, perhaps deliberately so… known only to serious Tantra practitioners. The temple at Kalimath, in Uttaranchal is a very powerful shaktipeeth of ancient times where till today (if one is lucky) one can find adepts in whose presence the full spectrum of Tantra can be experienced.
Rani Rasmani, the wife of a wealthy landlord from Calcutta, built the Dakshineshwar temple on the behest of Ma Kali who appeared in her dreams and asked her to cancel her imminent pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi. Ma Kali instead asked her to build a temple by the Ganges, where Ma Kali could manifest herself in the idol and accept daily worship and offerings.
The 20-acre plot was acquired by Rani Rasmani in the village of Dakshineshwar, a few miles north of Kolkatta, on the eastern bank of the Ganges. Some part of the land belonged to an Englishman, while the remaining part consisted of an abandoned Muslim burial ground. According to Tantra, a burial ground was considered very suitable for the installation of Shakti and her sadhana. The temple that took 8 years to build, houses a black image of a Dakshina Kali carved in Basalt, standing on a supine Shiva carved in white Italian marble. Although the Goddess in this temple is Dakshina Kali, she is regarded as the benign one – Ma Bhavtarini, a protectress rather than a destroyer.
Subsequent to the death of Rani Rasmani, Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa for 30 long years worshipped the Divine Mother Kali in this 9-spired white temple. His intense worship awakened the image of Kali and ever since she has become a living goddess.
The black basalt image of the Ma, dressed in gorgeous scarlet brocade, stands on the prostrate white marble body of her divine consort, Siva. On the feet of the Goddess are anklets of Gold; she wears necklaces of gold and pearls, a golden garland of human heads, and a girdle of human arms… She herself has four arms; the lower left hand holds a severed human head and the upper grips a blood stained sword. One right hand offers boons to her children; the other allays fear.
The majesty of her posture is indescribable. She is lustrous like a dark cloud. Her tongue lolls, her face is dreadful to behold, her eyes combine the terror of destruction with the reassurance of motherly tenderness. She smiles. Truly she is the cosmic power, the totality of the universe, a glorious harmony of Srishti shakti (creation), sthiti-shakti (preservation) and samhara shakti (destruction) . She has three red eyes. Her hair is disheveled. She is capable of projecting an image that strikes dismay into the wicked, yet pours out affection for all her devotees. Nay, Ma Bhavatarini is more than a mere thought, she is a symbol of the ultimate reality, an embodiment of the highest truths. By ineterpreting her features and habits allegorically, even an amateur can reach the understanding that Ma Kali’s dramatic, often offensive, and always shocking appearance is not to be taken literally.
While the ordinary Western mind, and some non-believing Indians tend to perceive Kali as hideous and absurd, a spiritually sensitive interpretation can on the other hand make an enlightening study.
- The Name: Kali comes from the word Kala or Time. The divine mother therefore is the power of time which devours everything.
- Complexion: While Siva’s complexion is pure white, Kali is the colour of the darkest night. As the limitless void Kali swallows up everything without a trace. Hence she is black
- Hair: Her luxuriant disheveled hair symbolizes her boundless freedom. Another interpretation suggests that each hair is a jiva (an individual soul), and all souls have their roots in Kali. Yet another interpretation suggests that her streaming hair, are representative of her omnipresent energy.
- Eyes: She has three eyes; the third one standing for Wisdom.
- Tongue: Her lolling tongue – a gesture of coyness. Kali is depicted as dancing over all of creation represented by the supine Siva (God in his vibration-less state, beyond creation). This dance represents the movement of the cosmic vibration, in which all things exist. When Ma Kali’s foot touches the breast of the Infinite, she puts out her tongue as if to say, “Oh! I’ve gone too far!” For at the touch of the infinite all vibration ceases.
- Arms: Ma Kali has four arms. Her left arm holds a bloody sword and the lower left arm holds a severed human head. The play of life and death expresses the divine mother’s activity in nature: creation, preservation and destruction. Hence the sword, the head and the third right hand extended, as if to bestow life. Her fourth hand is raised in blessing on those who seek her, not for her gifts, but liberation from the endless play of Maya or delusion.
- Dress: Kali is naked (clad in space), except for a girdle of human arms cut of at the elbow and a necklace of fifty human skulls. The arms represent the capacity for work. Kali represents Mother Nature. She is AUM, the cosmic vibration. In AUM everything exists – all matter, all energy, and the thoughts of all conscious beings. Hence the garland is representative of Ma Kali’s invisible presence in all minds. Another esoteric thought tells that each head represents one alphabet of the Sanskrit language, the manifest state of sound from which all creation evolved.
Thus it can be safely interpreted that the statue of the Manifest Kali is not intended to depict the divine mother as She looks, but simply to display her functions in the aspect of Mother Nature. And herein comes the dialogue again… “Dr. Bhattacharya, aap khud nahin jaante sach kya hai aur jhooth kya hai? Gyan aur Agyan ke beech mein kya hai?” Those who feel themselves attracted to Nature’s outward manifestations must continue the endless cycle of life and death. “Agar jaante to apna sara kaam, apna naam aur bees baras se basaya hua apna sansaar chhodkar, is chhote shahar Benaras, mein nahin aate.
"Aap ek anant shanti ke khoj mein bhatak rahe hain, aur woh shanti keval yehi mil sakti hai, kyunki yeh Benaras hai. Woh Shanti hi mukti hai, Dr. Bhattacharya, Aur woh mukti aapke confused rationality mein nahin hai. “
For they are the ones, who are still worshipping from a distance.
It is said in the Mahanirvana Tantra – “Just as all colours disappear in black so all names and forms disappear in Kali.” This same truth was interpreted differently by Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa. He said, “You see Ma Kali as black because you are far away from her. Go near and you will find her devoid of all colour. The water of a lake appears black from a distance. Go near and take the water in your hand, and you will see that it has no colour. Similarly, the nearer you come to God, the more you ill realize that God has neither name nor form.” Till you look at Ma Kali from a distance she appears black to you, the moment you become one with her, you can see no form, you can only experience her essence.
And this is exactly how the essence of Mother Kali is experienced at the elemental shaktipeeth that is Kalimath. 40 kms away from the small town of Guptakashi, on the way to Kedarnath, is a small village called Kalimath on the banks of Mandakini, a tributary of the Ganges. A motorable road has made Kalimath accessible to pilgrims as recently as three years back. Earlier, adepts had to make a strenuous trek to reach this very powerful shaktipeeth. Here, Ma Kali is worshipped in her unmanifest form.
A fully open, cage-like, round temple allows the devotee to look at the inner shrine (garbhagriha) from any point outside of the temple. The garbhagriha does not contain any idol. Instead there is a Sri Yantra etched on to a white metallic surface that forms the flooring in the middle of the garbhagriha. The head priest of the temple who provided some much needed information revealed that, the metallic Sri Yantra is a mere representative prototype of the ancient Yantra that exists inside a hollow lying directly beneath. The real Sri Yantra is accessed only once every year, for an annual cleaning ritual, before the Navratri festival before Dussehra. The opening of the real Sri Yantra is performed under maximum secrecy. There is a specially appointed person in the village who is the only one in his lifetime to be allowed this opportunity … Just before Navratri, a special time (muhurta) is decided according to the tithi, when the metallic surface is opened in the pitch black darkness of the night. The Yantra is cleaned, and the metallic lid is replaced again. This prepares the temple for the subsequent festival.
The Sri Yantra is an uniconographic cosmic diagram which helps the tantrika to propitiate the Divine Mother in the form of Sri Vidya. Yantra Sadhana is said to be the natural extension of mantra sadhana. Mantra sadhana enables the aspirant to recognize his relation with the Divine Mother, but it does not necessarily help the tantrik to experience either Her relationship with the dynamic forces that emanate from Her or the tantrika’s own relationship with those forces. This is the fruit of meditating on a Sri Yantra.
Kalimath as an ancient site of Tantra, fulfills this role to the T. The most suitable sites for Tantric practices are supposed to be very remote, less known and offering only the bare necessities, so that only those who are fully committed to their sadhana are attracted to them.
The silence and the elemental peace that embraces you in this temple is nothing short of phenomenal. The cage-like appearance of the temple allows the energies and the elemental winds to truly become a divine experience. Kali is truly naked here… she is truly space clad.
The essence that is at the core of the empty, open and silent temple, seems to me the only way to experience non-duality. This very same essence reminds me of the other empty, open and silent temple in becoming - my very own body. The cage-like walls of the temple remind me of our unmanifest formless essence caged in the manifest flesh of our own body, waiting for existence to come and smash its boundaries, so that the air within that is imprisoned by restrictive thought, is instantly merged with the universal air mass, the absolute, that abounds this holy place. The same absolute which is represented by the Bindu, at the core of the Sri Yantra.
Jaaiye, Dhoondiye use! Dhoondiye mandiron ke kono mein, shamshan ke sholon mein, ganga ke sunahre paani mein, ya fir un aankhon mein Dr. Bhattacharye, jo senkdo sal mare hue babaji ko aaj tak dekh sakti hai. JAAIYE!
Kali as found in the confines of a Dakshineshwar temple, Kali as found in the cremation ground, Kali as in Kalimath, besides the golden waters of the ganges, or Kali as a formless essence that makes itself known only through an intense mystic experience.
Sab kuchh khokar bhi mil sakta hai. Sab Kucch! Is Benaras mein.
The mind always tends to cling to concepts, and hence the constant affair with form. At Dakshineshwar, Kali beckons us in her most chaotic manifest form, as if to lure us from the maddening throng of our own mental concepts. While at Kalimath, Kali lures us to accept her as the unmanifest yet potent energy that just allows the adept to be.
While a form has the potential of being destroyed, the formless essence remains eternally dynamic and creative. Kalimath seems to echo the emotion that the collective consciousness of a holy place does not need to register the bricks and mortar, fame, population or notoriety: from time to time the place may be built and destroyed, but such happenings have no effects whatsoever on or in the space which is filled with divine consciousness.
May it be the universe telling us to see beyond form and appearances into the realm of mere feeling? You may indeed lose the chaos, and gain some experience in the bargain.
Truly, Sab kuchh khokar bhi mil sakta hai. Sab Kucch!
Another interesting aspect about the two temples is their origin. Kalimath being older than the Dakshineshwar temple, is a true example of all forms coming out of the formless void. The Manifest form of Kali in Dakshineshwar comes after the Unmanifest form of Kali in Kalimath. For a mere layman who is only familiar with the iconographic image of Kali, a pilgrimage to Kalimath is the sincere aspirant’s true way of experiencing the essence at the core. The circle of creation starting from the formless into the form and back to the formless is thus complete. The journey between Dakshineshwar and Kalimath seems to remind the sadhaka, that he is on a constant journey back unto the place where he started. Whether it is his will or not, there is no second course or second destination left.
Nothing is so bizarre if one sees beyond the appearances. Kali seems to be the epitome of this adage, and hence a fitting tribute to her, would be to end the essay with an intellectual definition to the word NONSENSE. As Gary Zukav, said in his book “The Dancing Wu Li Masters”…
“The importance of ‘NONSENSE’ can hardly be overstated. The more clearly we experience something as ‘nonsense’ the more clearly we are experiencing the boundaries of our self imposed cognitive structures. ‘NONSENSE‘ is that which does not fit into the pre-arranged patterns we have superimposed on reality. Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet formed the point of view from which it makes sense.”
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- Benaras – A Mystic Love Story, A Setu Creations Film, directed by Pankaj Parashur, 2006.