Bhadrakali

There’s the question of deities in India.  They can represent the myriad attributes of the Divine, and our interaction with the sacred.

The Indian people are in general very accepting.  As a result, Hinduism is one of the most accepting religions- you can often pick your own deity.

Shunyata Yoga posted this image of Ganesh with a great concise descriptions of what he represents.

I like Ganesha.  Being the Remover of Obstacles, he’s one of the most popular deities in Hinduism.  Who doesn’t want that?

Generally, what I want doesn’t coincide with what the universe decides I need.

For example.

After a long day of yoga practice, swimming, powder massage and Ayurvedic cooking class, we made our way toward the rickshaw stand in Trivandrum to find a ride home.  Before we reached it, we discovered a Ganesha temple.  They sold coconuts for 10INR (20 cents).  We bought coconuts, because if you throw them inside a pit in the temple and they crack, Ganesha grants your wishes.

I was nervous about being strong enough to break the shell, but it turns out, a coconut striking a stone wall inevitably breaks.  My wishes would come true!

I was then given a piece of coconut to offer to the deity in the inner sanctum of the temple, so I got in line to enter the area (after mistakenly thinking I was supposed to eat the coconut shard and taking a bite).  A man with a fleshy pouch for an eye came up and spoke vehemently about something.  After a while, I gathered I could not enter the inner sanctum because I was not wearing a sari.

The men, by the way, were mostly shirtless, with a piece of cloth tied around their hips.

Ganesha, my favorite, had denied me access.

Still buoyed by the memory of my shattered coconut, I drove a sleepy 20 minutes home in a rickshaw, dodging pariah dogs, bicycles and all manner of other conveyance.  I told my friends I thought I knew a shortcut, and as usual, we became lost, winding through mazes of alleyways filled with small shops selling tiny gods and crystals, artwork and hippy clothing.

Eventually we came to a temple and decided to enter.  The priest gave us prasad and explained that the temple in front of us belonged to Parvati, the mothering, benevolent consort of Shiva.

Usually when I receive prasad at a temple, it is food to eat.  I was confused when this prasad was composed of red powder and flowers on a banana leaf.  I assumed I was supposed to offer it to Parvati.  I began to climb the steps to her temple.

“No!” the priest cried, rushing over.

Apparently I was not supposed to climb the steps.

“Only Brahmin,” he said.

Parvati had rejected me as well.

There was another temple area and I asked the priest what deity resided inside.

“Bhadrakali,” the priest said.  I had no idea who that was.  I could barely tell what the image inside the temple represented until my friend Liza pointed it out.  (I had thought the head was a sweater or something.)

Kali, standing on Shiva in the battlefield, with a nacklace of human heads and a skirt of human limbs.

“See the blue head and the crazy eyes and tongue?” she said.  “That is Kali.”

I stood and gazed at the image, and the priest appeared beside me, smiling.  He handed me a banana leaf covered with fruit and ghee.

Success.  Apparently this deity had chosen me.

Of course, I thought.  Just when I’ve become a full-fledged vegetarian on principle, the goddess of carnage and animal sacrifice appears.  So appropriate.

Since visiting the Kali temple, I have been visited by a strange force.  I’ve been a bit confrontational.  I’ve demanded what I need.  Instead of negative reactions from my friends, they seem thankful.

“I think you needed a little Kali energy,” Liza says.

I look up Bhadrakali on Wikipedia.  Bhadrakali is the manifestation of Kali worshiped in this region of India, Kerala.  She’s the auspicious and fortunate goddess of battle.

There is a ritual in which you seek to confront Kali, and thereby assimilate and transform her into a vehicle of salvation.  This fits within the tenets of yoga.  Pantajali says all fear, at its heart, is a fear of death.  Conquering the fear of death conquers fear.

From Wikipedia:  In the Mahanirvana-tantra, Kāli is one of the epithets for the primordial sakti, and in one passage Shiva praises her:

He, O Mahākāli who in the cremation-ground, naked, and with dishevelled hair, intently meditates upon Thee and recites Thy mantra, and with each recitation makes offering to Thee of a thousand Akanda flowers with seed, becomes without any effort a Lord of the earth. 0h Kāli, whoever on Tuesday at midnight, having uttered Thy mantra, makes offering even but once with devotion to Thee of a hair of his Shakti [his energy/female companion] in the cremation-ground, becomes a great poet, a Lord of the earth, and ever goes mounted upon an elephant.

So, in seeking transformation, I don’t get the contented god Ganesh.  I get the terrifying goddess of fear itself.  At least in its auspicious form, the odds are that I will confront her and win.

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