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Kali Mandir of Kolkata


ALL OVER India are dotted temples, steeped in lore and antiquity, with some even claiming their origin to the puranic days. One such is the Kali Mandir at Kalighat in south Kolkata. Goddess Sati, feeling humiliated at the cruel treatment meted out to her and to her husband, Lord Siva, by her father Daksha, during one of his yagnas, threw herself into the sacrificial fire. Lord Siva, even otherwise, noted for his quick temper, became infuriated at the self-immolation of his beloved, carried her body on his head and started dancing in mad abandon.

To pacify the angry consort and to calm Him, Lord Vishnu cut the body of Sati into pieces. Wherever one such piece fell, a holy stone was found, which soon grew into a centre of pilgrimage of Goddess Sati (or Parvati). One such blessed place was Kalighat, where the four toes of the right leg of Sati, fell.

No visit to Kolkata is complete without offering prayers at the Kali Mandir and at the equally famous but not so ancient Kali Temple at Dakshineswar, made famous by Ramakrishna Paramhamsa's stint as a priest. The Kali Mandir at Kalighat is situated in a crowded and congested area. Once one enters the outskirts, he is `assailed', more so if one is not a Bengali, by vociferous and determined flower sellers, sweetmeat shop owners, and more strident of all, by self-appointed touts who offer their services to take you inside the shrine! Unless one is firm and determined, one loses the eagerness to go inside and pray! The sanctum sanctorum is situated in a small room and circumambulation is difficult. Unlike people in the South, people in the North do it anti-clockwise.

Apart from the usual daily rituals, Durga puja, Kali puja (Deepavali day), pahle Baisakh (Bengali New Year Day, same day as for Tamilians), are all observed in a befitting manner. There are two other annual rituals, not so well known but still significant — at least this writer who was a resident of Kolkata for about four decades, came to know of them only after he left this city.

Vipad Harini (remover of obstacles) is observed in the Bengali month of Aashad, corresponding to Ani in Tamil Nadu and June-July according to the English Calendar. Thin red threads, after being sanctified, are tied round the wrists, to remove hindrances to domestic peace and prosperity, for the welfare of the husband, children and elders. This is reminiscent of the Kal Bhairav temple in Varanasi, where one can get black threads similarly sanctified.

Snan Jatra (Jatra same as the Hindi word Yatra) — can be translated as the Bath Festival! This is also observed in the Bengali month of Aashad. The toes of Goddess Kali (in stone) are usually kept under lock and key under the main idol. On the appointed day, the officiating priest, blindfolded, opens the box and washes the holy toes thoroughly, using plenty of scented water. The main idol which devotees worship is not exposed to any abishek at all. Saris offered to the Goddess in the earlier year, are removed and new clothes put on. The colours preferred are red, black and blue. Pieces of the old saris are distributed to devotees — mar pid vastra. These can be kept either in one's puja or placed in an amulet and worn. This is supposed to be beneficial. That only the toes are washed and bathed draws one's attention to the origin of the Mandir.

It is significant that Mother Theresa established one of her welfare institutions almost next door to the Mandir.

S. BALAKRISHNAN

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