World ? Asia ? India

Kali Puja

Oct 2009 (annual)
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Diwali, celebrated as the festival of lights in the rest of India, takes on particularly dark overtones in West Bengal, where the celebration of the Dark Mother Kali replaces the candles and fireworks you find elsewhere on the sub-continent.
Following close on the heels of the Durga Puja, the Bengali equivalent to Dussehra, this festival celebrates the dark and bloodthirsty goddess Kali, conqueror of time and consort of Shiva. Icons are painted, religious pujas or ceremonies are performed and there are pilgrimages to local holy sites devoted to Kali, of which there are 51 throughout Bengal.

Kali is one of the most perplexing and mysterious figures of the Hindu pantheon. She is the supreme warrior-goddess, the very manifestation of female rage, bloodthirst and frenzy. She is usually represented wearing a necklace of severed human heads, with weapons in her six arms and drinking the fresh blood of her enemies from a cup. Her skirt is woven from severed human hands and she is depicted as standing on the prostrate body of her consort Shiva, or on a corpse (possibly one of her enemies). This represents her dominance and conquest of all enemies including time and entropy: she is the only force who can tame the inexorable power of Shiva, the Lord of Destruction.

Kali is also worshipped by her devotees in her aspects of Dark Mother, the fiercely protective female who unleashes her rage only to clear away obstacles and protect her offspring. She has also been associated to human sacrifice, orgies, demonic worship and unpalatable quasi-legal blood rituals, hence her devotions are often conducted with the utmost austerity and solemnity, partly to deflate her horrific reputation.

Kali is certainly an interesting and deeply symbolic religious figure, worth investigating, though don't go overboard: we wouldn't recommend impaling your boss on a pike to drink his blood next time you hit the glass ceiling.
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