The Kalighat temple, Kolkata

The Kalighat temple is one of the 51 Shakthi peedams, so the visit was definitely in our agenda. I asked Anirban, our English speaking guide whether it would be crowded as it might be very difficult for Amma to stand in a line for hours together. He said that it will be crowded and suggested we get the help of a Pundit and get our way in to avoid waiting for hours. I agreed as Amma insisted that we must visit…”How can we miss the famous Calcutta Kali!”

A narrow path took us through a busy bazaar road with shops selling colourful wares. We decided to buy some souvenirs on our way back. Guide Anirban introduced us to a Pundit. He asked us to leave our footwear in his shop (seemed like a tea shop with a bench) and so we set off following him. Anirban refused to come with us remarking he would rather pray from outside!

When we reached the entrance gate a burly security guard stopped us and said something in rapid Bengali. We only understood “Bag” and realized that bags weren’t allowed inside. The Pundit said that he will give the bags to a known person while we go inside! Of course we did not agree to that. LOL. My sister offered to stay outside with all our 3 bags while I took Amma inside along with the Pundit. First we stopped at a place with a strange smell. The Pundit thankfully spoke Hindi and told us that it’s a sacrificial place and every day animal sacrifices are being done here. The place sure enough looked gory and there was blood splattered on the ground as well. Red blood like kungumam/sindhoor was smeared on the stones used to cut the animal. While we both stared speechlessly the Pundit stepped inside and took a bit of the red paste from the stone idol and before we could protest drew a long Tilak on both our foreheads. Now I had blood on my forehead! I pacified myself that of course its Sindhoor and not blood. Focus on prayer, I chided myself.

Then we walked to the area where the Kali Goddess was. The Pundit took us aside and asked us to repeat some mantras after him which we did. There was a crowd in front of the Kali Sanctum Sanctorum and while Amma and I were trying to get a glance, one pundit pulled me inside the small enclosure to have a closer view of the goddess. Then he pulled Amma also inside. I thought this was the special Darshan I had agreed for, till I realized that I was sadly mistaken.

The Calcutta Kali:

The Goddess was very different. I was mesmerized by her eyes. She had three eyes (one on the forehead) and 4 gold hands and her tongue also in gold was hanging out. Two of the hands held a sword (divine knowledge) and a detached head (human ego). The other two hands hold the Abhaya Mudra Or Varada Mudra which indicate that the Goddess protects all humans who seek her. This idol was very different from the Kali we saw at Dakshineshwar. This deity is about 200 years old and believed to be crafted by two saints Atmaram Giri and Brahmananda Giri. The river Hooghly used to flow very close to the temple but over the years the river has changed its course.

Kali Ghat in 1887

The Shakthi Peetam: 

King Daksha Prajapati’s daughter Sati wedded Lord Shiva. Despite the fact that he hesitantly consented to the association, he insulted Shiva for his unrefined way of life.

Daksha organized a major Yagna and intentionally did not invite Shiva and Sati. Sati decided to go to the Yagna as it was her father who was conducting it, ignoring Shiva’s protests.  At the Yagna she was offended that Shiva was not treated well, she immolated herself into the yagna fire.

This angered Shiva and he danced the Rudra Tandava holding Sati’s burnt body in his hands. The whole earth shuddered in the impact and Lord Vishnu to get back peace on the Earth used his Sudarshan Chakra and mutilated Sati’s body into 51 pieces. The pieces fell on different parts of the earth and each spot became a Shakthi peetam. At Kali Ghat the right toe is said to have fallen. People say that a devotee lead by a great light found a stone which resembled a human toe several years ago and this stone is kept in the Sanctum and brought out to the devotees’ view on special occasions. 

The Big Burly Priest

It was a tiny little space before the Sanctum Sanctorum and I was afraid Amma would miss a step and fall backwards. The big burly priest who had dragged us inside said something loudly in Bengali. I gestured to him that I didn’t understand. Then he demanded that I pay Rs 900 for me and Rs 900 for amma. I protested saying that we had already spoken to another pundit. But he refused to allow us outside and also put his bulky arm across so that we don’t crossover. I explained to him in my limited hindi that my purse was not with me as bags weren’t allowed. Then he said, go outside and give. I had to agree as I thought we both might be bodily harmed if I hadn’t agreed. It was then he removed his burly hand and we both squeezed out. We went back in a daze outside. The pundit did not take us to any other important spots in the temple and I came to know about the missed spots later after I read up about it! My forehead was smarting with the suspicious sindoor/blood red tilak. I decided to convince myself that it was harmless sindhoor and not blood.

I related the whole incident in rapid tamil to my waiting sister and instructed her loudly again in tamil not to go anywhere near the Sanctum Sanctorum. Just worship from afar. I also told her not to allow the pundit to smear the red tilak. She nodded and went in and returned unscathed. While Amma and I sat on the Pundit’s shop bench waiting for my sister, the big burly pundit from inside sat across watching us with unsmiling face and sharp eyes lest we leave without paying him. He left after checking the money we handed over. Oh well…we walked voluntarily into the trap, so had to pay.

Tried to shake off the resentment which grew in my mind…and focussed on buying a red and white bengali shell bangle as well as colourful benign smiling Kali faces as souvenirs.

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