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KALI YANTRA - geometrical portrayal of Goddess Kali Credit:

KALI YANTRA – geometrical portrayal of Goddess Kali

The primal energy of the creative force in Hindu theology is conceived as a feminine entity. This is quite remarkable for a country which is essentially patriarchical. Worship of the Goddess as mother is fairly universal with major festivals being dedicated to honouring her with chanting, prayer, song and dance. Millions also trek to pilgrimage sites with fervour, devotion and resolve to receive her maternal blessings and empowerment.

The Universal Essence is symbolized as partly masculine, the epitome of truth, consciousness, calm and bliss and partly feminine, creative, volatile, energetic and emotional. The masculine element, Shiva, contemplates creation through his eternal meditation and is regarded as the eternal yogi, while his counterpart Shakti ( energy in Sanskrit) is cosmic energy that enacts that creation. Shiva is the seed, Shakti is the womb.



Shakti is depicted as having three manifestations or aspects. Lakshmi is its benign form generating prosperity, growth, health, well-being and good fortune. One finds her portrait on an altar in most shops and commercial establishments, in addition to homes to ensure the success of the enterprise and well-being of the family.


SARASVATI ( painting by Raja Ravi Varma)

Sarasvati is the intellectual aspect generating scholarship, the fine arts, music dance and  knowledge. Her images with Sitar in hand adorn the stage where dance and music concerts are to be held or at inaugurations of cultural events. Students before joining an educational institution or proceeding to take an exam will seek her blessings.

Kali is Shakti’s darker aspect, symbolizing inexorable time (Kal), mortality and the ephemeral nature of physical existence – energy in a constant state of flux. Together the three aspects of Shakti create, facilitate growth, enhance the quality of life through prosperity and the creativity of the arts and finally terminate it to recycle the process again and again.



The three Goddesses when combined as one force are pictured as Durga displaying beauty and strength as a many armed maiden astride a lion ( or tiger) furiously battling the forces of inertia, atrophy, darkness and evil represented as the buffalo-demon which she slays even as it seeks to change form to deceive her.

Kali  ( the dark one and time in Sanskrit) is the most striking and fearsome aspect of Shakti. She is shown as standing with one foot irreverently placed on the chest of her recumbent lord Shiva, the blissful representation of the Universal Essence whose inner force she actually is! According to myth she was conceived to destroy demonic entities who had overpowered the  demigods and subverted nature imperilling creation. Even after their destruction her furious destructive energy could not be contained thus threatening the very creation she had been produced to save ( much like nuclear energy gone awry). Shiva then as a last resort threw himself at her feet to contain her fury but she carrying forward with uncontrolled momentum inadvertently placed her foot on his breast Thus the epitome of truth, consciousness and bliss, lord of the universe, lay under the foot of his own power time, which strode over him as if to declare that she alone ruled the material world of opposites ( good and evil, light and dark, pain and pleasure, love and hate, life and death). As she places her energetic foot on the chest of the universal lord she suddenly realizes what she has done and in embarrassment sticks out her tongue, realizing that the physical world is only a mirage created by the Universal Lord. The allegory is stark. The uncontrolled physical momentum of the physical world can only be restrained and tamed when it over steps its spiritual base and in so doing is shocked back into equilibrium.

The stirring, striking and paradoxical imagery of Kali with Shiva underfoot took the Hindu psyche by storm and is abundantly on display at meditation centres and places of worship where people hope to overcome persistent obstacles in their path. In Kolkata this representation of our combined spiritualism and materialism is worshipped at the famous temples of Kaligahat and Dakshineshwar where goats are sacrificed to appease her fury. Unlike most branches of Hindu worship  vegetarianism is not observed here and in place of honey water and milk cakes being offered to worshippers as sacred blessing the practice in many Kali temples is to offer wine and preparations of meat.

It is Kali who helps brides consummate their marriage, it is she who protects us from physical traumas. I composed a poem as a tribute to the goddess who though fearsome as life itself is yet full of hope and maternal concern.




                      M O  T  H  E  R


Red stamens

Stick out

Like her tongue

In hibiscus garlands,

Prescribed adornments

In Kolkata.


The great Shiva

Lies prostrate


Holocaust inevitable


In Kolkata.


Life blood is stark red

Against the darkness

Of death,

But together,fundamental

Cosmic flux,

In Kolkata.


Her spirit is everywhere;

In the parting

Of bridal hair,

anointed vermillion,

Lissom bodies bare

In Kolkata.


Dear mother,


In fearsome aspect

Is abroad;

As we are secure

In Kolkata.


Dakishneshwar Temple

Dakishneshwar Temple

The Avatar KrishnaAs a young cowherdCredit: ISKCON

The Avatar Krishna
As a young cowherd
Credit: ISKCON

The idea of Avatar was borrowed by the West from India, more particularly Hinduism, much like the concepts of Guru and Pandit were. James Cameron adapted it for his blockbuster film of the same name and PCs the world over for the abstract representation of users in the virtual world, but with modifications. The Hindu concept is actually neither of ones extension through a transporting machine into an alien world, nor of an imaginary portrayal of one’s persona on the web. The Sanskrit word simply means ‘descent’ and has come to mean divine manifestation through incarnation.

But every soul’s reincarnation from the spiritual realms to the material world does not qualify. The incarnation of the Universal Essence (Brahma). as an anthropomorphic saviour on the physical plane, alone qualifies to be called an Avatar. In the Gita, Krishna the Avatar, assuming the deep sonorous voice of his true Self, the Universal Essence, explains when such a descent into the world becomes a painful necessity – the extraordinary embodiment of the Godhead, making it subject to all the trials and tribulations, pains and pleasures, fortunes and misfortunes of a mortal existence ( Christ on the cross), subject to all the earthly conditions, save one. The Avatar remains exempt from the Law of Karma and accumulates no effects, which would otherwise necessitate enforced rebirth under Karma’s inexorable and inflexible regime of cause and effect. Why the exemption, one may ask? Because the Law cannot touch or take into account actions that are dispassionate and made with no egotistical purpose. The Avatar’s actions are all altruistic and meant to ameliorate the sorry plight into which the material world has degenerated at the moment necessitating its incarnation.

The Avatar is in fact the Hindu counterpart or approximation for  prophet, messenger or ‘son of God’ concepts in other cultures. The difference being that the Avatar is not regarded as a representation of divinity but divinity incarnate itself, God in a human guise.

The most popular of such Avatars are Rama of the Epic Ramayan and Krishna of the epic Mahabharat, whose discourses on the battlefield become the message of the Bhagawad Gita. The Hindu pantheon also includes (apparently without permission) the Buddha, as its latest Avatar, without dwelling on his teachings or philosophy, which quite often is at variance with Hindu thought. Like other cultures, Hinduism also holds out the hope for the coming of yet another saviour. The present age is called the Age of Kali, Kaliyug, the age of vice. The Avatar to come as saviour in this age, Kalki is portrayed as a warrior on a horse with sword in hand ending evil with the apocalypse which accompanies him.

Kalki , the avatar to come.Credit:

Kalki , the avatar to come.

Except for sages, philosophers, yogis and mystic-saints, most ordinary Hindus, while acknowledging a formless God (Nirgun) as the Universal Essence, generally engage in adulation and worship of the Avatars Rama and Krishna, while others worship the incarnated form of the Universal Energy (Shakti), depicted as a female deity riding a tiger or lion.



The Avatar is etched deeply in the Hindu psyche and arouses a range of emotions from admiration, adulation, ecstasy and love, expressed through worship, prayer, meditation, song, poetry and dance.

 The Avatar then is an extraordinary phenomenon. On the one hand it has the charm and charisma of a leading film star, breathtaking to view and irresistible to the surging mob of fans. On the other, he has also the dignity, majesty, serenity and power of a king of kings into whose audience you are ushered, overwhelmed and awestruck. He has also the compassion and humility of a saint, melting your ego like a candle in tears and the love of a mother you meet after years of yearning separation. He is also Superman with supernatural abilities he is loath to use but of which one is aware. This film star who happens to be a king, a saint and Superman, all rolled into one finally is also your best friend who arouses unbearable emotions of love and intimacy. If you can succeed in conceptualizing all these amazing attributes together in one person for a moment, then you can picture an Avatar standing before you.




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