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Kalighat: Where Shakti shows her angry side

Mother Goddess is the embodiment of Shakti ? the eternal power of every deity, without which even Shiva is incomplete.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 12:30 IST

In Bengal, the Mother Goddess has the hearts of the people. She is worshipped in every form: the benign smiling warrior Durga, the terrible destructive dark Kali, the intellectual musician Saraswati and the giver of wealth, Lakshmi. For the Bengalis, the Mother Goddess is the embodiment of Shakti – the eternal power of every deity, without which even magnificent Shiva is incomplete.

They say the city of Kolkata gets its name from the venerable Kali temple – Kalighat. It is one of the 51 pithasthana – the places where parts of Sati’s body fell when Vishnu dismembered it. The little toe of her right foot is said to have fallen here. A temple has been in existence here for centuries but the present structure arose in the 19th century. It was built by Shibdev Roy Chaudhuri, the zamindar of Barisa. The temple has a bangaldar-style curved roof and some fine examples of terracotta tiles but over the years it has faced much neglect attempts at repairs.

Kalighat’s goddess is a powerful deity. Kali is the fierce, angry and unforgiving form of the Mother Goddess. She came into being to destroy the terrible demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. She fought the demon army and as she cut off their heads, she wore them around her neck as a necklace and drank their blood. A maddened Kali rampaged so fiercely that the gods feared for the earth and begged Shiva to stop her but she wouldn’t listen to him. So Shiva lay down in her path and Kali stepped on him. This finally made her stop, the realisation that she was standing on the chest of her lord, and she stuck out her tongue in shame.

The image at Kalighat is that of a goddess wearing a necklace of skulls, holding a bloody sword and standing over Shiva. Kali is a dark goddess and here she is made of black stone and she glitters with gold and silver and stands under a silver parasol.

Abridged from Devalaya – Great Temples of India, Rupa