Friday, February 6, 2009

Cult of Kali and related thoughts

When we speak of religions we often envision concepts of moral human behavior as they are outlined within the particular belief system that one is associated with. And yet this supposition is not always what it seems, for what exactly is morality?What may represent morality for one set of people may not necessarily be the same for another group of people.In this article I would like to take a look at such an example.And her name is the Goddess, Kali. Kali first appeared in the Devi-Mahatmya, where she is said to have emanated from the brow of the Goddess Durga (slayer of demons) during one of the battles between the divine and anti-divine forces. Etymologically Durga's name means "Beyond Reach". In this context Kali is considered the “forceful” form of the great Goddess Durga.As a point of reference, the Devi Mahatmyam is a collection of 700 Slokas on Sri Durga from MarkaNDeya PuraaNa. The Markandeya Purana is one of the eighteen major Puranas, which in turn are Hindu religious texts.Kali (whose name means Black, as well as Time) is a Hindu Goddess associated with death and destruction. Scriptures like Agni Purana and Garuda Purana describe her fearsome appearance and associate her with corpses and war. Kali is thought to be a pre-Aryan goddess, belonging to the civilization of the Indus Valley. She is often depicted as having four arms. In one hand she has a sword, in another the head of the demon she has slain; with the other two she is encouraging her worshippers. For earrings she has two dead bodies and wears a necklace of skulls; her only clothing is a girdle made of dead men's hands, and her tongue protrudes from her mouth. Her eyes are usually red, and her face and breasts are besmeared with blood. She stands with one foot on the thigh, and another on the breast of her husband, Shiva.In Western media such as movies, Kali is often depicted as an evil Goddess.And over the course of history there have been those that have associated themselves with the dark aspects of Kali.One such example is the Thugees which the modern word “thug” originates from. Thugees were otherwise known as the Stranglers of Kali. Their name in fact is first found in ancient Sanskrit texts. They were murderers who were often members of the same extended family. And they were very efficient at their craft, often piercing the stomach to let out gases that may bloat the body and give away the burial location. Sometimes the eyes were gouged out, based upon the superstition that the image of the murderer was imprinted on the victim’s eyes. Each member of a Thugee gang (not always entirely family members) was a specialist at their assigned duties. Some were scouts, some were stranglers, and some were “hand-holders” who pinioned the victim. There were even specialist grave-diggers and the pick-axe, with which the graves were dug, was dedicated to Kali, the four-armed Hindu Goddess of destruction. They were also very secretive about their murderous craft. It is thought that the Thugees were responsible for approximately 2,000,000 deaths.And yet in spite of the existence of such a cult and the perceived dark aspects of Kali, does this manifest into a cultural behavior in which all Hindus are by nature of their worship of such a Deity as Kali, bloodthirsty murderers? At first glance one may arrive at such a misconception. For people from one ideology will often judge others from their own point of view and sense of standards. But if one takes time to delve beneath the surface of their comfort zone they would discover that Kali represents so much more then just the dark fa├žade she is attributed with.For instance, Kali's blackness symbolizes her all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because black is the color in which all other colors merge. This signifies the nature of Kali as the ultimate reality. In Sanskrit this is known as “nirguna” (beyond all quality and form). Her nudity has a similar meaning in that she is described as garbed in space or sky clad. In her absolute, primordial nakedness she is free from all covering of illusion. In Sanskrit this is “Prakriti”.Her garland of fifty human heads, represent one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, which symbolizes the repository of knowledge and wisdom. Her girdle of severed human hands represent the principal instruments of work and so signify the action of karma.Kali's four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction, which is contained within her. She represents the inherent creative and destructive rhythms of the cosmos. In short, the light and dark aspects of life that create a realistic balance. To further accentuate this balance; her right hands, make the mudras of "fear not" and, represent the creative aspect of Kali, while the left hands, holding a bloodied sword and a severed head represent her destructive aspect. She is seen as the ultimate representation of reality.And so at first glance, one who is not familiar with the Goddess Kali and thus one of the Hindu religions, would wrongly assume that she is a terrible and frightening Goddess who is bent solely on death and destruction.And from this short-sightedness a pattern of prejudice is sure to follow as it so often does with humans.Far too often people assume that they understand those things of which they have no more then a superficial understanding. And as a result we have the constant and in my personal opinion, unnecessary bias and hatred that is often seen amongst divergent religious belief systems.Perhaps the prime Moral should be one of common respect. If people could embrace the concept that the right religion/spiritual path is the one that works for the individual, then maybe we could focus our attention on issues that really matter. Matters such as hunger and disease and may I dare say it, peace and genuine acceptance amongst the inhabitants of this weary world of ours...

1 comment:

Mike said...

Amazing. In an old Sci-fi novel (I've forgotten the title) there was a technology to replay a murder victim's last retinal image. Many authors are familiar with myth and it's great to be a reader that see's the fictional parallels. Good job! You started out painting a bleak picture and balanced it with the other polarity, while making a good point about conclusion before investigation.