I found the Goddess of Destruction in Kolkata. Her name is Kali, and she has this fearful title because of her annihilating powers against the evil forces of the universe. Her appearance is scary with big red eyes, and a long tongue that hangs out in lust for blood. She has many devotees amongst the people of Kolkata, and if you reach the address above, you will have reached ‘Kali ghat temple’, which is a very important temple dedicated to her, and where hundreds of people come daily to give their prayers.
I had come to see this Goddess with an urgent request. In all my life I have never been to her temple or prayed to her. However, my prayer to her was not for me, but someone else who believes in her, who could not come to see her because the person is very sick. This person is close to me whom I’ll just call X. Since I had to pray to Kali for X to get well soon, it was important that I believe in her so that my prayers would have a chance of being answered. So, with Shumi, my help who also acted as my guide through the whole Kali temple procedure, I went and gave my prayers.
On arriving at Kalighat, it felt like I’d stepped into another time. The ambience seemed a bit unreal, several dark alleys, with dark shops or rooms on either side with strangely dressed men and women. At first my heart was beating a bit fast, because I was alone, Shumi is half of my height, and I worried a bit about my security in this strange place. But you know what, very soon, I felt really quite fine, I saw nobody cared about my presence, everybody was busy in their own thoughts or doings, and slowly I started delighting in being curious and observing all the activities around me. I told Shumi I wanted to continue staying here for a longer time than what was planned for.
The picture above is not of Kali, but of a mythological figure whose sculpture is along the banks of the river Ganges, not far from the temple of Kali. Shumi told me her story. She is praying for her husband, who is lying on her lap dead, bitten by a snake. I think all the red is vermillion that has been applied on the sculpture as a sign of offering from her devotees.
To enter the temple of Kali, and to gain ‘easy access’, we had to do so via hiring the services of a priest (21 rupees, or less than 1 USD). There was a serpentine queue and a ‘quick route’ to the temple, and we’d taken this quick route by hiring the priest. I was already fascinated by the crowds of people who were waiting for that auspicious moment at 4pm, when the inner temple doors of Kali would be opened, and the devotees would get the chance to finally see her idol. There was a narrow hall which was already crowded to the max with people. We were the last 3 who could squeeze in. The priest, so familiar with the temple, immediately closed the big wooden doors so that no one else would get in. And then we waited… and waited… in sweltering heat, sweaty bodies pushing against each other for more space. The priest kept shouting out instructions to the people to take care of their children so not to lose them. For many moments i contemplated if a stampede might be possible. I worried for Shumi, she was easily engulfed by the taller people around her. Everyone was murmuring when would the doors open. I was lost a bit in my prayers for X.
Finally the doors opened!!! And what a mad clamouring rush!! Our priest, by this time, had grabbed mine and Shumi’s arms and was dragging us upfront to catch a glimpse of Kali. Everybody around us were doing the same, racing to see Her. The closer we seemed to be inching towards her, the more violent the crowd got. Again, I wondered Stampede. Most of the devotees were elderly folk, and I felt a bit sad for them to have endured so much physical pain already just to be able to see the goddess in order to feel fulfilled. I saw bodies heaving in a giant mass against each other, thrown away and being thrown in together. I was pushed with much force by the priest in front of the idol, I also think he would have gladly liked to grab my hair and make sure my face was seeing her. There were about 50 faces as keen as mine to have a glimpse. I had a quick flash of a glimpse of Kali, and I felt better. She was indeed striking to the eye. Immediately I started looking around for Shumi, while the priest kept hollering ‘Did you see Her? Did you see Her?’.
By the time we managed to exit, I asked the priest if there was anything special today that there was so many people, or if this craziness took place everyday. He said this was a very quiet day in fact, he’d seen days where things got actually dangerous.
Goddess Kali lives in the heart of the people of Kolkata. She is also seen frequently decorating the front part of the Ambassadors, old relics that still ply on the roads of Kolkata, mostly as taxis.