Goddess Yamuna

The Yamuna River is the second longest tributary of the River Ganges and it is regarded in both Hindu mythology and theology as a representation of the Goddess Yamuna who is none other than the sister of the God of Death, Yama – the very personification of Dharma.

Yama and Yamuna are the son and daughter of the Sun God Surya and the grandson and the granddaughter of the Primordial Creatrix, Aditi, and therefore are Devas or descendents of the race of Gods.

Yama and Yamuna were born onto what could only be described as the Hindu Garden of Eden and were its first habitants. They were the sole occupants of this earthly paradise, a place that was unsoiled by the rigors and turmoil of the physical world and whose inhabitants were untouched by the birth and death cycle and were not subjected to the turning of the karmic wheel. It was a land where the sun never set and it remained perpetually and continuously in the sky.

The Epic of Gilgamesh gives us some clues as to its location and whereabouts. Following the death of his close friend, Enkidu, Gilgamesh goes in search of the hereafter so that he won’t be touched by old age or death and from all accounts the paradise that he was searching for was the Harappa Civilization or the Indus Valley civilization epitomized by Mohenjo Daro, or the “Mound of the Dead” that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BC.

The stone tablets that the poem Gilgamesh was inscribed on date back to about 2100 BC, so it’s more or less during the same time-frame, give or take a few hundred years.

Does the term or the phrase “Mound of the Dead” have any reference to the God of Death, Yama, or does it implicate him in anyway? – the answer in short is yes.

The supreme God of the Indus or Lord of the Indus was Shiva and in seals and other artifacts found in the Indus Valley there are depictions of Shiva and two other Gods that are synonymous to Shiva, Rudra and Yama. The three Gods (Shiva, Rudra and Yama) are also associated to another indigenous Harappa God – Kallan.

I’m not going to elaborate on Kallan at this stage and I’ll leave it for another day but it is clear that Yama was a significant presence in the Indus Valley and that implies a strong Vedic link or connotation because Yama is a Vedic God.

According to the Vedas, Yama is an Āditya (child or descendent of Aditi), and therefore was granted dominion over the world after death, not to be confused with the hereafter but a transitory world that is synonymous to Yama or the Kingdom of Yama.

According to the legend, after years of isolated existence Yamuna fell in love with Yama and sought a union between the both but the God of Death and Virtue refused and counseled Yamuna instead to seek the tender embrace of another.

Thus shunned, Yamuna undertook a journey of self contemplation and wandered far from her brother. She returned much later to find him asleep beneath a tree. She shook him and tried to awaken him, to let him know that she had realized the error of her ways, but Yama neither moved nor stirred.

His body had gone completely cold and despite the resplendent heat that pervaded the earthly paradise, his body was devoid of warmth. It eventually dawned on Yamuna that Yama was no longer alive.

Yamuna started to cry and the tears rolled down her cheeks like little streams and flooded the ground below her feet. Yamuna vowed to cry for as long as the sun remained in the sky.

Realizing that their kindred and sibling was in mortal pain and that the world was in danger of being drowned by her tears the Devas conspired to create night and day.

Yamuna would cry during the day and only at night when the sun sets will her crying stop or abate. The tears that flow down Yamuna’s cheeks are, according to legend, the water that fills the river Yamuna.

There are a few temples dedicated to the Goddess Yamuna. The most famous Yamuna temple is located in the state of Uttarakhand at an altitude of 10, 797 feet.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Goddess Ganga

The river Ganges is the third longest river in India and it is home to a host of rare aquatic species including the endangered South Asian River Dolphin which is split or divided into two exotic species, the Ganges River Dolphin and the Indus River Dolphin.

Many ancient kingdoms were situated along the river or close to its shores including the non-Vedic Kingdom of Magadha which was located in present day Bihar, just south of the Ganges River Basin.

The river according to both Hindu mythology and theology is a representation of the Goddess Ganga who comes to light in the Vamana Purana and she is none other than the daughter of Brahma.

The story begins when Vishnu at the behest of Aditi reincarnates in the physical world to end the reign of Bali who despite being born in the asura clan is a pious devotee of Vishnu.

Because of his devotion, he acquires enough powers to usurp the Devas (those who belong to the race of Gods) and conquer the three worlds (Triloka) or the three spheres of existence. The Devas who are suspicions of Bali’s intentions and apprehensive of his sudden rise to power appeal to Aditi, the Primordial Creatrix, as far as the Devas are concerned, for help, and she in turn extols Vishnu to intervene on behalf of the Devas.

Vishnu refuses at first but Aditi continues to plead and the mighty God not unaware of the dangers that Bali could pose to the Devas eventually relents.

As Vishnu’s next avatar starts to take shape, in the belly of the primeval ocean, the laments of the Devas grow louder, to the point that Vishnu is unable to complete the full term and is forced to manifest or appear prematurely and as a result his growth is stunted and he appears as a dwarf. Hence Vishnu’s Vamana avatar is also known as the dwarf avatar.

Vamana approaches Bali when the latter is performing an Ashwamedha and both Bali and Sukracharya, the Lord Preceptor of the Asuras, recognize Vamana for who he is but because Bali is a devote worshipper of Vishnu, he is pleased that the God has decided to grace the occasion with his presence, and offers to grant Vamana anything that he wishes for.

Vamana asks for all the land that he can cross in three steps and Bali readily agrees. As soon as Bali agrees Vamana grows in height and soon towers well above the sky and continues to grow indefinitely until he reaches the highest extremity of the present universe.

With his first step, he reaches Brahmaloka located in the highest precinct of the universe. As soon as Brahma senses that Vishnu has set foot on Brahmaloka he reaches for his water-pot to wash the foot of the mighty God. The water that flows from the sprout of his water pot is the Goddess Ganga.

Ganga swept through the heavens and through the celestial kingdom of Indra, her currents swift and strong, and she remained there until she was brought down to the earth to wash away the remains of Asamanjas and the other sixty thousand sons of King Sagara, with the help of Shiva, after they had been reduced to ashes by the sage Kapila.

According to the story, the spirits of Asamanjas and the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara remained behind and were prevented from crossing over because their last rites had not been completed in the prescribed manner. Kapila later granted the son of Asamanjas, Anśumat, the boon that his grandson will be able to wash away the sins of his father and his uncles.

By the time Anśumat’s grandson, Bhagirath, assumed the throne, the souls had turned malevolent and malicious and had begun to precipitate death and destruction in the kingdom of Kosala.

Bhagirath consulted the sages and discovered that the malady that had befallen his kingdom was caused by the restless souls of the sons of King Sagara and the only way he could rid the kingdom of the evil that plagued it was to wash away the remains of Sagara’s sons or as custom dictated have the ashes scattered in running water.

Unable to retrieve the ashes of Sagara’s sons, he asked Brahma for help who in turn told him that the ashes of Sagara’s sons could only be washed away by the Goddess Ganga. However, he cautioned that Ganga was a willful and turbulent river and should she fall directly onto the earth it would tear the world asunder and therefore he told him to seek the help of Shiva to bring Ganga down from the heavens without destroying the world.

Bhagirath meditated upon Shiva and in time the God appeared before him and agreed to help him. Shiva sat in the meditative full lotus position and with the aid of Brahma convinced Ganga to fall unto the world. In order to break the fall, she first fell on Shiva’s matted dreadlocks and then flowed from his hair to the mortal world. It is said that bathing in the cool, crisp waters of the River Ganges absolves one of his or her sins.

There are very few temples dedicated to the Goddess Ganga and she isn’t worshipped in orthodox or contemporary Hindu circles and that might be due to her forceful and uncompromising nature.

One of the most famous temples dedicated to the Goddess Ganga is in Bharatpur. It is an exquisite two storied red sandstone temple built at the turn of the last century.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Chandika is a Hindu Goddess of some significance but she is rarely worshiped in orthodox Hindu circles and though she is mentioned in various shlokas and in the Devi Kavacham (armor of the Goddess) her worship is anything but common.

She is more worshiped in Nepal, especially among the hill tribes than anywhere else, and many of the rites and rituals accorded to her are shamanic in essence.

Before I go any further let me first elaborate on the word Chandi and the various meanings attached to it. The word Chandi simply means mistress and denotes a feminine power of greater authority. It has different connotations or implications and its interpretation depends on the context it is used in but all of them relate to a higher feminine power, for example the Chandi Path (the path of the Goddess).

Chandi in South-East Asia refers to small places of worship constructed in some of the South-East Asian nations like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia by visiting traders (most likely).

These places of worship include, in addition to intricate carvings and sculptures, clay and terracotta representations of Hindu deities and other heavenly and celestial beings associated to Hinduism (Chandi No. 11 – Lembah Bujang, Kedah). It is safe to say that these Chandis were constructed at least a thousand years ago, if not earlier.

In addition to being places of worship I am convinced that these Chandis were markers that marked a trade route that connected various parts of ancient India to Southern China and the initial voyage to the Malay Peninsula and the Isles of Indonesia was made by sea i.e. the route was part maritime and part land.

If the origins of these Chandis were uncovered or unraveled, it would most likely shed more light on the mysterious religious rites and rituals of Angkor. It is in reality a facet of Hinduism that we know very little about.

These Chandis may have also served another purpose and I’m inclined to think that some of them were mausoleums that were erected to honor high-ranking members who died along the journey or local chieftains of some note.

They may have been an outflow of a unique blend of Hinduism that culminated in Angkor and the total shift outwards may have erased all tangible evidence of the source of these archaic rites and rituals that without doubt originated in the sub-continent. This can be adduced by the clearly discernible Vedic and Sanskrit influences.

The next meaning that is attached to Chandi is shamanic and it is tribal in essence. Chandi in this context refers to the returning spirit of a young maiden usually in the prime of her youth, deprived of the pleasures of existence because of an untimely death that occurred in a particularly brutal manner i.e. accidents or murders. It is usually the latter and it does not exclude ritualistic murders.

This is the reason why some sources refer to Chandi as a malevolent deity or a deity that is found in the most uncommon places. This type of worship is however limited only to specific hill tribes (Nepal).

Having clarified the meaning of the word Chandi, let me now elaborate on the Goddess Chandika. The Goddess is an extremely potent form or manifestation of the Goddess Durga and very much akin to the Goddess Chamunda (Chamundi), the slayer of the asuras, Chanda and Munda.

They are similar in that they both emanate from Durga but they are not the same. Chamunda is a Goddess that is worshiped in contemporary Hindu circles and this is made evident by the popular recital of her mantra “om aim hreem kleem chamundaye vichche”.

Chandika on the other hand is rarely worshiped in orthodox Hindu circles because it is, to put it mildly, difficult to channel the energy that one derives from her worship.

In most instances, she in only worshiped by those who are willing or competent enough to make the required sacrifices and in most cases this is limited to orthodox kysastrias including those who belong to the hill tribes of Nepal. She is a bali-devata and therefore she is a Goddess that is worshiped with offerings, often sacrificial in nature, made or performed in a stipulated manner.

According to most sources (shamanic) Chandika is a Goddess that picks or selects her worshipers and therefore her worship is not as popular as one would expect it to be.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Hidimba Devi (Hidimbi)

Hidimba Devi (Hidimbi) is a Goddess who is primarily worshiped in the state of Himachal Pradesh. She is not an orthodox deity and she is from the race of rakshashas (giants) who according to the Puranas are descendants of the Sage Kashyapa, one of the 7 Saptarishis (according to the Mahabharata) i.e. the 7 sages who remain constant in each manvantara and the daughter of Daksha (one of the 10 manasa putras or those who were born from Brahma’s intellect) and Krodhavasha.

An interesting fact about the rakshashas is that, in addition to being gifted with tremendous strength, they also have the ability, though they look ferocious and intimidating in their natural state, to take human shape and form or assume any form that they desire for that matter, and they may appear as either male or female. In more contemporary terms, they are shape-shifters.

The next obvious question that springs to mind is that, is it possible to worship them? Well the answer in short, despite not falling into the folds of orthodox or conventional Hinduism, is yes.

In the Mahabharata for example, Amba in order to kill Devavrata (Bhishma as he was known after he’d taken the oath of celibacy or he who’d taken the terrible vow) meditates in a secluded forest and after years of silent devotion gains or acquires the power of the rakshashas and Amba in addition to gaining the strength of giants also acquires the ability to shift-shapes and goes from being a female to a male and is later appointed Arjuna’s charioteer in Kurukshetra.

Because Amba was born a female, she is untouched by Bhishma, who abided strictly to the kysastria code, which prohibited a warrior from inflicting any type of harm or injury to a woman and eventually she helps Arjuna defeat Bhishma. So it is definitely possible and it may be a facet of Hinduism that remains as yet unexplored.

Hdimba Devi’s story starts in the Mahabharata and to some extent it is safe to say that she is a Goddess who surfaced towards the end of Dwapara Yuga and at the start of Kali Yuga and from that aspect or perspective of things, her appearance does conform to the scriptures because Kurukshetra also signals the end of orthodox Hindu practices and the start or the beginning of more ritualistic types of worship (according to most sources Dwapara Yuga ends with Arjuna’s victory in Kurukshetra).

In the story, after the Pandavas escape from Lakshagraha (a house built from highly flammable material that was designed to be a death-trap) they found themselves in a dense forest occupied by Hidimba (male) and Hidimbi (female), who are siblings.

Rakshashas by the way, in addition to being savage looking also feed on human flesh and sensing that the Pandavas had entered their forest, Hidimba sends his sister to lure them into a trap. Hidimbi takes the form of a sultry woman and makes her way to where the Pandavas are resting.

She soon stumbles across Bhima or the second of the Pandava brothers and she instantly falls in love with him and instead of luring him into a trap, as she was supposed to, she asks him to marry her but not before revealing her true identity.

Bhima agrees to do so and with Hidimbi’s help he manages to kill Hidimba. The pair marry soon after and are gifted with a son, Ghatotkacha, who was later summoned to fight along with the rest of the Pandavas in Kurukshetra where he meets his end in the hands of Karna.

The above story tells us a lot about Hidimba Devi. To start with because she is a descendent of the race of rakshashas she is most likely a Bali-Devata. Though there is no harm in worshiping her with vegetarian offerings there might be instances where she would be worshipped with ritualistic (sacrificial) type offerings.

Because of her nature she is a strong Goddess, forceful in her approach and therefore diligent worship will reward the devotee(s) with both mental and physical strength.

She is a potent Goddess especially when it comes to removing hexes and maledictions and will no doubt have the power to forcefully eject any spirit that has invaded the body and thus she is extremely helpful during exorcisms.

Her temple is located in Himachal Pradesh and it is built, according to most sources at the spot where she sat in deep meditation, in Manali. It was built in 1553 but remains stolid until today.

Now, if we go by the Mahabharata, Manali or the area around Manali is most likely the dense forest that the Pandavas entered following their escape from Lakshagraha and the spot where the temple is built was the spot where she sat in silent contemplation with her brother Hidimba, next to her, when the Pandavas encroached into their territories.

It is also fair to say that she is a guardian deity who is peculiar to this part of the world or pertinent to those who originate from this part of the world.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Despite the polytheistic nature or aspect of the Tibetan faith, many of the deities that are peculiar to Tibet especially Bon deities, remain unknown and it is safe to say that these deities may differ from village to village or from territory to territory and are distinguishable by locality. The worship of numerous deities is a common feature or trait in the Himalayan states and the religious schools that these states belong to are very different from contemporary or orthodox Hindu schools or sects.

There are however 5 Tibetan deities that seem or appear to have an universal appeal and they are Tonpo-Shenrab, Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, Avalokiteśvara, Tara and Mahakala. Here we are concerned solely with Tara.

Tara first appeared during a battle between the devas (the race of Gods) and the asuras (the race of anti-Gods. I hesitate to use the word demon here because asuras are significantly different from western demons or the western interpretation of the word demons).

It might be easier to perceive devas and asuras in the following manner: – devas are divinities who wield positive powers and asuras are their negative equivalent. The universe as we know it is a combination of both positive and negative energies and as such it is possible to draw strength from either source.

The opposing forces are in constant conflict and in one of the many battles that raged between them, the asuras wrested control of the oceans from the presiding deity Varuna (deva) and poisoned the waters of the world.

The people cried out in anguish and the devas heard their pleas. Indra himself ventured forth from his kingdom of heaven astride his war elephant, Airavata, to champion the human race.

Indra however was defeated in the battle that ensued and his defeat posed a direct threat to the devas who were then forced to call upon the Hindu Trinity for help. In response to their pleas Shiva, the third God in the Hindu trinity descended from Mt. Kailash to save the world.

The God with the matted dreadlocks consumed all the poisoned water and churned the water in his belly, separating the poison from the rest of the water. He then spat the clean water out to replenish the oceans.

As a result of absorbing the poison from the water, Shiva fell ill and his body assumed a bluish hue (this is the reason why Shiva is sometimes depicted in blue. This aspect of Shiva is worshipped as Nilakantha).

Shakti, Shiva’s wife and consort, alarmed at the fate that had befallen her husband appeared in the form of Tara to nurse him back to health and this is the first mention of Tara in the Puranas.

There are two salient points that I’d like to make here in that firstly Tara is a form of Shakti and secondly Tara is a healing Goddess and she embodies the powers of compassion. Hence, she is worshipped especially in Tibet as the Goddess of mercy and clemency.

Tara is sometimes alternatively known as Arya-Tara or Jetsun-Dolma. The prefix Arya may or may not denote an Aryan connotation but she doesn’t appear to be a Vedic Goddess and she appears to be more Puranic in substance.

The word Arya (Sanskrit) denotes someone with all the qualities of an Aryan. Alternatively it could also be interpreted as someone from the Aryan race or someone who is favorable to the Aryans.

I’m also going to elaborate briefly on the aspect of Tara that’s worshipped as Jetsun-Dolma. According to most sources, Jetsun-Dolma is a bodhisattva i.e. an enlightened person who has attained liberation but has chosen to remain behind to help others.

Tara as Jetsun-Dolma gives us another perspective of the Goddess in that she may have once existed in human form and was elevated to the status of bodhisattva or goddess because of her deeds.

It is a long standing principle of Hinduism that anyone can achieve the status of “enlightened being” or bodhisattva as a result of actions that benefit others.

Tara is also synonymous to Kurukulla or Red Tara so called because when Tara is depicted as Kurukulla she is depicted in Red. Tara-Kurukulla is a more complex Goddess and her worship is more ritualistic in nature.

For starters, she is a bali-devata the word bali (Sanskrit) denotes offering and the word devata (Sanskrit) connotes Goddess i.e. she is a Goddess who accepts offerings and this aspect of Tara-Kurukulla is analogous to the Goddess Lalitha Devi.

She is one of the 15 Nitya Devis, all of whom are parallels of the Goddess Lilitha and as such are best worshipped on the 15 days of the waxing moon i.e. the first 15 days after the full moon.

This is when she is most potent and devotees make quicker gains when they worship her on these days. It is also worth mentioning that all the 15 Nithya Devis are depicted in red.

Tara’s association with Kurukulla give us some indication as to her origins and if I were to hazard a guess, though she has grown to iconic proportions in Tibet, I’d say that her worship originated in either Tripura, Bengal, Assam, Manipur or Bihar.

The worship of Tara as Kurukulla is also tantric in essence and therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Kurukulla is sometimes depicted as a naked Goddess with disheveled hair.

Interestingly enough I haven’t come across any representations of Tara-Kurukulla from the north-western sector of the subcontinent which corresponds with the Indus-Valley Civilization and territories that were part of the ancient Kingdom of Gandhara which reaffirms my belief that Tara originated from the north-eastern sector of the subcontinent.

Tara is also one of the 10 Mahavidyas or one of the 10 knowledge givers, all of whom embody a different quality of Shakti (this corroborates what I said earlier in that she is a manifestation of Shakti). The Mahavidyas are worshipped for purposes of obtaining spiritual, tantric and occult knowledge.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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Kolkata Kali IV

When some writers from the sub-continent or even from the west for that matter write about the Goddess Durga and the Goddess Kali especially with reference to the battle with the asura Mahishasura and the asura Raktabīja they often use strong terms like mashed, mangled, decapitated, shred to pieces etc. when it comes to describing the fate of the asuras in the momentous battle. There is a reason for this and it stems from the Shakta Sects or the sects that worship the Goddesses.

The Shaktas attribute all positive energies and the proper functioning of all their bodily organs to the Devi’s or the Goddesses.

In the Durga Kavach for example, a prayer that is recited for protection, every organ in the body has a corresponding Goddess. The presiding Devi is Chamunda or Chamundi, a manifestation of the Goddess Durga.

I am going to cite a small portion of the prayer as an example: – “May Maladhari (Goddess) protect my forehead, Yashaswini (Goddess) my eyebrows, Trinetra (Goddess) the space between my eyebrows, Yamaghanta (Goddess) my nose, Shankini (Goddess) my eyes, Dwaravasini (Goddess) my ears and Shankari (Goddess) the roots of my ears”.

From the passage above, we can adduce that Shaktas attribute all parts of their body, their conscious thoughts and their unconscious thoughts, in the waking state, the dream state and the transcendental state, to the Goddesses. The Goddesses in short are the core of their existence and form the very fibers of their body.

Likewise, Shaktas attribute all negative energies, hate, anger, lust etc. and all disease, pestilence, sickness and illness, to the asuras and therefore when they refer to the battle between the Goddesses and the asuras it is metaphoric of their own battles with the negative energies that seek to attack their bodies.

Therefore, they seek to crush, mangle, and decapitate any invasion be it in the form of an illness or otherwise to their bodies and that is the reason why the language that is used when referring to the battle with the asuras is strong or at times violent. It is reflective of the manner in which Shaktas deal with an attack natural or otherwise.

The representation of the Goddess Kali that is worshipped in Dakshineswar is called Dakshina Kali or the Black Goddess of Kolkata. She is an extremely potent manifestation of the Goddess and just to give our readers an example of how highly she is regarded, while on a trip to Rajasthan my father approached statute makers to purchase a black granite statute of the Goddess and they agreed to sell him one.

He took possession of the statue in the prescribed manner but before the statute was handed over the head of the statute was covered and the statute was boxed with the stipulation that the statute should be unveiled only after it has reached its destination. That is how particular they are.

Sometimes it is not a matter of wanting to buy or having the money to buy, the makers won’t just sell a statute of Dakshina Kali to anyone, not one that is made in the prescribed manner anyway. Similarly, not everyone is allowed to see the statue.

Part of the mystery that surrounds the worship of the Goddess Kali is due to the activities of a cult of assassins known as thugees who contributed to approximately two million deaths, prior and during British rule of India. The origins of the cult date back to the early 1300s. They were a highly skilled secret society who operated in conditions of extreme anonymity and membership was often handed down from father to son. They were very organized and operated in various parts of the subcontinent including Kolkata. The thugees were so secretive that they even had a jargon of their own called Ramasi.

Their activities were rampant and widespread to the extent that the British were forced to enact the Thugee and Dacoit Suppression Acts of 1836 – 48 to clamp down on them. The act made it a crime for anyone to be a member of a thugee cult and if convicted, the accused was sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labor.

Thugees preyed on merchants and travelers and because of their highly secretive nature, they left behind no eyewitnesses. Children however were not harmed and any child that belonged to any victim, because of the code of secrecy members of the cult abided by, were adopted by the cult and were, after being trained in the appropriate manner, initiated into the cult.

Brahmins or priests and women however were never harmed. The former because they were priests and the latter because they were defenseless and in that aspect, they had a similar code to the kshatriyas. Members of the cult were reputedly worshipers of the Goddess Kali.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

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Kolkata Kali III

The Goddess Kali glared at the asura Raktabīja but the asura refused to concede and continued with his brutal onslaught, despite the fact that the other asuras in his division were decimated. The fighting continued but only this time, every time Raktabīja was cut, the Goddess would drain the blood that oozed from the cut, before it fell to the ground, and Raktabīja whose sole defense was his boon from Brahma was soon incapacitated and the debilitated asura sank to his knees. By then however the Goddess had gone into a frenzy and with one fluid stroke of her sword removed the head of the asura from his shoulders.

The killing however did not stop with the demise of Raktabīja and the Goddess intoxicated by the blood of the asura continued with her killing spree, hacking and cleaving her way through the ranks of the asuras, grabbing them with her mouth, gnawing away at them, chewing on their mangled bodies and spitting out the remains, until there were none left.

Her unprecedented actions sent the Devas into a panic and fearing that they would be next they once again extolled the Hindu Trinity for help. In the meantime, the Goddess continued to pound on the fallen carcasses with her feet and a distraught Shiva, having heard the pleas of the Devas and fearing the worst descended from his abode at the summit of Mt. Kailash and lay naked among the sprawling corpses.

As the Goddess continued to stomp her way through the dead asuras she stumbled across the sprawling body of Shiva and as she lifted her foot to stomp on his body, she realized that it was her a husband that was lying in front of her and she hung her tongue out in shame. That is the reason why Kali is often depicted with her tongue hanging out.

Every aspect of the story including the manner in which the asuras were decapitated by the Goddess has some meaning attached to it especially among the Shakta Sects (sects that worship the Goddesses) and I will try to put them into perspective and elaborate on the meaning.

According to the most learned sources in the field the Goddess Kali is best worshipped with humility and this means at the time of worship one must have minimal clothes on. This is also the reason why she is often depicted with only a skirt of human body parts. We must also keep in mind the fact that Shiva himself prostrated naked before her. To give a more contemporary example, Swami Ramakrishna, probably the most learned authority in the field, was often seen with only a piece of cloth tied around his waist.

When one approaches the Goddess Kali in earnest one does so by doing away with all material possessions and one worships her with minimal attire and without any bodily accessories. It signifies that one is worshipping the Goddess with deference and her worship means more to him or her than material wealth or possessions.

Worship of the Goddess Kali lifts the veil of ignore that we are often covered in and allows us to attain the higher truths. Kali in reality is worshipped for knowledge and those who worship her are normally very learned people.

Secondly, I am going to attempt to tackle the preoccupation with animal sacrifice that is often associated to the Goddess Kali. Kali is a Hindu Goddess and therefore she is a vegetarian and she should only be worshipped if one desires to do so, with vegetarian offerings.

The sacrifices are for the asuras that she defeated. Upon defeat the asuras that she felled are resurrected and they become her attendants. The asuras in reality do not die but are rather subjected to the will of the Goddess.

When one looks at the depictions of the Goddess Kali one realizes that she is often depicted with a garland of heads belonging to the asuras that the Goddess crushed, mangled, and maimed on the battlefield. These asuras after their crushing defeat were resurrected to become part of her entourage and when one worships the Goddess one has a choice or worshipping the Goddess herself or drawing on the powers of her entourage.

It is therefore possible to draw on the power of the asuras or their energies and while there isn’t any need to, the results are much quicker.

Hate, anger, fury, all of which are negative energies are also very potent energies. When one draws on the energies of the asuras, however, one must be exceptional pious because the energies though, fast, strong and rewarding can also consume the person who draws on it especially if he or she doesn’t have the discipline that is required or uses it for the wrong purposes.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

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Kolkata Kali II

The story of the Goddess Kali begins when the asura Mahishasura invades Indra’s Kingdom of Heaven. While some authors equate asuras to the western equivalent of demons, they are not the same. Asuras and the devas are of the same race. They are both descendants of the Saptarishis.

A more precise definition of the asuras would be that they are those that embody the negative powers of creation while the devas are those that embody the positive powers of creation but because both the devas and the asuras were created from the same fabrics i.e. the fabrics of the universe, it is possible to draw upon both their energies to achieve a specific end or to perpetuate a specific outcome. Both the story of the Goddess’s origins and the definition of asuras that’s been given here will help us understand or comprehend the more common and contemporary aspects of Kali worship.

Asuras are not or have nothing to do with spirits or the returning spirits of the dead and they do not possess victims. It may be easier to infer or refer to asuras as those that bear the qualities of evil (negative energies).

It is also important to acquire some knowledge of the asuras because their roles do not end with their deaths in the hands of the Goddesses and we must keep in mind that the all merciful and compassionate Durga and Kali do not kill in vain and whenever there is death, there is resurrection.

Mahishasura is the son of the asura King Rambha who while he is out one day falls in love with Princess Shyamala who was cursed to occupy the form of a female water buffalo. The union between them results in the birth of Mahishasura and the child at birth acquires all the prowess of the asuras including their ability to undertake severe austerities and perform acts of rigorous penance to gain boons.

It is also worth mentioning that among the three divinities in the Hindu Trinity, there are only two that grant boons, Brahma and Shiva. Brahma is the easiest of the three Gods to please and Shiva is the hardest. Vishnu, the second divinity in the Hindu trinity, because he embodies the powers of procreation and continuity does not grant boons and often, it is up to Vishnu or his female equivalent the Grand Goddess, the Devi of all Devi’s, to assume an avatar and descend on to the earth to undo the boons that have been granted by either Brahma or Shiva.

Mahishasura followed in the lead of many of the other asuras, and after years of performing severe penance, Brahma appeared before him and granted him a boon. Mahishasura requested for immortality in that he could only be defeated by a woman.

We must keep in mind that, at the time Mahishasura requested for the boon, there was no woman in existence who could defeat an asura as powerful as Mahishasura. Brahma accordingly granted him the boon and Mahishasura returned to the land of the asuras and convened his armies before he began a ruthless siege on the Kingdom of Heaven.

A distraught Indra approached the Hindu Trinity for help and because of the boon granted by Brahma, the Trinity had to create a new woman, a Goddess, to defeat Mahishasura. The three divinities Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva came together and using the creative energies vested in each of them, brought to life the Grand Goddess Durga.

The Goddess instantly took to the battlefield astride her magnificent tiger, each of her eight arms bearing a separate weapon.

The asura divisions were led by different generals all of whom had acquired separate boons from Brahma including a particularly potent asura called Raktabīja. The asura had acquired in the same manner Mahishasura had done, a boon from Brahma in that, for every drop of his blood that was spilled, a new Raktabīja would appear.

Having smashed her way through the ranks of the asuras, pounding on their corpses and reducing their remains to dust that scattered to the four corners of the world, the Grand Goddess, found herself face to face with Raktabīja and he posed a complex problem.

Every time he was wounded and drops of his blood fell to the ground, hundreds if not thousands of Raktabīja’s would spring up and the Devi had to redouble her efforts. The wise Goddess drew on the collective energies of the Hindu Trinity that flowed in her veins like ripping currents and manifested as the Goddess Kali.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

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Kolkata Kali I

I have titled this post Kolkata Kali to pay tribute to the city that has done so much to promulgate the worship of the Goddess Kali. My father a devout worshipper of the Goddess often tells me, “to truly acquiring her blessings one has to visit Kolkata and once there one has to set foot on the sacred grounds of the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar”. It is something that I look forward to doing fairly soon. Much of what I have learnt of the Goddess Kali is from him and I hope to pass the knowledge on to my daughter.

It is only fitting that we start with the Kali Temple in Dakshineswar where the worship of the Goddess Kali is centered. It is located in the state of West Bengal where many of the saints and sages who have attained the highest form of realization by worshipping the Goddess Kali once lived.

The Dakshineswar Temple was built by Rani Rasmani (1793 – 1861) a lady of substance, who according to most sources was born in a lower caste family of little means. It is fair to say that her early life wasn’t at all easy. Despite her humble beginnings she was very beautiful and in time she married a wealthy man.

Rani was a devout worshipper of the Goddess Kali and upon her husband’s death, she took on the duties of managing his estates and in so doing built the Dakshineswar Temple that stands tall to this very day. Its grounds have been graced by the presence of the most learned authorities in the field including Swami Ramakrishna and his disciple Swami Vivekananda.

Rani Rasmani was a woman of some fortitude. Bearing in mind that she lived at a time when education was not made available to women, especially women of lower castes, and the common perception was that the place of a woman was beside her husband, she managed to create something that has become known in the farthest corners of the world and is valued for both its extrinsic and intrinsic contributions.

Within the compounds of the Temple there is a main temple and twelve Shiva Temples and it is symbolic of the relationship between Shiva and Shakhi. The former is represented by the linga and the latter is represented by the yoni and this nexus is the centerpiece of all Hindu religious rites and rituals that originate from the Indus Valley Civilization or the Mohenjo – Daro and Harappa civilizations.

From all accounts Dakshineswar generates or reverberates with harmonious vibes that echo throughout the grounds and the distinction between the Shiva Sects and Vaishnava Sects that pervade many other places of religious worship appear to vanish as soon as one steps into this holiest of places.

I have in the past had the opportunity to liaise with traders in Bengal and others who have been on a pilgrimage to Dakshineswar and all of them have told me similar stories. Some of them have even told me stories of an enchantingly pretty lady clad in a white saree adorned with exquisite jewelry that they’d met during prayers in Dakshineswar and one or two of them have actually said that during prayers, when they have worshipped the Goddess with a heavy heart, laden with troubles, the lady in the white saree had appeared to deliver them from their troubles. These of course were men who worshipped the Goddess with a great deal of sincerity.

Persons of all religions are welcome to visit the sacred grounds of Dakshineswar and there is a great harmony that prevails. There are no signs or traces of religious discord or intolerance.

North of the Kali Temple there is a temple dedicated to the worship of Krishna and Radha and it is not uncommon to find devotees boisterously chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Hare Rama Hare Rama”. Like the Kali Temple, the Vishnu Temple (Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu) is built on an elevated platform.

There is an interesting story about the statue of Krishna that is worshiped in the temple. While the priest of the temple was carrying the statue, three months after the temple was built, he slipped and fell and in the process dropped the statue. The statue fell to the ground and one of its legs was broken.

Rani Rasmani when she heard of the mishap was extremely disappointed because it is considered an ill omen to worship a broken statue and the priests suggested that they immerse the statue in the waters of the Holy River Ganges.

A distraught Rani was about to agree when Swami Ramakrishna himself intervened. He said “what do you do when a person breaks his leg?” …. “you send him to the doctor”. Therefore there was no need to immerse the statue in the waters of the Ganges and instead he told the priests to have the leg fixed and return the statue to its original place. The priests did just that.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

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Sikhandini though not an orthodox Hindu Goddess is an intriguing character that first appears in the Mahabharata. She is the reincarnation of Amba, one of the three daughters of the King of Kasi that were spirited away by Bhisma during or just after a Swayamvara (a test of strength held to find a suitable husband for a bride, usually a princess) and the route or that path that she took to gain her revenge is intriguing. One is left wondering if it is possible to emulate the steps that she took to gain the powers that she eventually acquired i.e. meditate on the rakshashas (race of giants).

We have to keep in mind that she eventually defeated a warrior that even the great Parashurama couldn’t defeat, Devavrata or as he was later known, Bhisma of the Gods.

Bhisma by spiriting Amba, had caused her to be spurned by the person that she had set her heart on, the Prince of Saubala, Salva, and a distraught Amba, pleaded with Bhisma, to reunite her with the person that she loved most and despite Bhisma’s attempts to do so, Salva wouldn’t have her back and her unrequited love eventually turned to anger and hate that was, not as expected directed at Salva, but was instead directed at Bhisma, whose actions had precipitated the whole affair.

An angry Amba sought her revenge by first looking for suitable warriors to take on Bhisma but no warrior was brave enough to test his mettle against the son of Ganga, the daughter of Brahma. Bhisma just by his lineage alone, without taking into account his own accomplishments, was destined to be great and was almost impossible to defeat.

Brahma however was equaled in power by the other two divinities in the Hindu trinity, Vishnu and Shiva, and it was ultimately Shiva or those that came from the line of Shiva that were able to provide her with the means to exact her revenge and that was by drawing on the powers of others who came from the line of Brahma and the seven saptarishis.

She undertook severe austerities and gained the friendship of Lord Subrahmanya who was in fact the son of Shiva. He took kindly to Amba and gave her a garland of flowers promising her that anyone who wore the garland of flowers around his neck would be able to defeat Bhisma.

Amba searched high and low for a champion but no warrior was game enough to take on Bhisma, even with the garland of flowers around his neck, and a distraught Amba left the garland hanging on the palace gates of King Drupada and went into the forest to retreat.

There she befriended the hermits and sages who resided in the forest. They took kindly to her and advised her to seek the aid of Parashurama, the Vishnu incarnate who had defeated every warrior in the Kysastria clan.

Amba soon after started meditating and in time Parashurama appeared before her and promised to grant her anything that her heart desired. Amba wished for the defeat of Bhisma and Parashurama accordingly took to the battlefield but was eventually forced to admit that even he could not defeat the son of Ganga of the Gods.

A distraught Amba then fled to the Himalayas and there she meditated upon the mountain mendicant Shiva who appeared before her in time and assured her that she would defeat Bhisma in her next birth.

Unable to restrain herself Amba built a fire and threw herself into the flames and in her next birth she found the garland hanging on King Drupada’s palace gates and retreated into the forest to meditate.

She called upon the powers of the rakshashas and acquired not only their strengths but also the ability to shape-shift and she eventually became the man who defeated Bhisma in Kurukshetra.

The story is intriguing from the perspective that it tells us that it is possible to obtain the powers of the rakshashas. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that people should throw themselves into a funeral pyre, no, not by a long-shot, but while we are on the subject self-immolation has long been regarded as the highest form of sacrifice and the next birth will be in accordance with the deal that was struck just prior to death.

When in the meditative state, it is difficult to ascertain the nature of the “powers” one comes in contact with. Obviously this type of meditation has to be done in isolation or in seclusion and sages in the past have acquired tremendous powers from practicing this type of meditation and the source of their powers has never been identified.

Is it possible to drawn upon the power of the rakshashas via the meditative process? …. the answer in short would be yes because it is impossible to ascertain what happens when the unexplored channels of the mind are opened or the type of energies that pass through the body when that happens.

Copyright © 2017 by Dyarne Ward

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