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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