Spent a relaxed 5 days in Kolkata last month. I have been to this city earlier but always with family as my close relatives stay here including my grand mom 🙂 This time I planned to spend time with family AND explore the intriguing Kolkata!
One of the first places that I wanted to take a look at was the Kali temple, as Kolkata is a city that intrigues with all sorts of dark stuffs. No, if that caught your interest – I didn’t majorly explore any “dark stuff”. But I did dig into some of the oldest temples in Kolkata. My interest in temples fundamentally lies in really old temples where I can sit and meditate for a while. I also like to understand the older traditions, rituals, culture, architecture and so on.
Kali Temple, Kalighat
Kali – Calcuttawali, this a saying I have often heard but never thought much of it until I started researching what to explore in Kolkata and realized that the entire region predominantly worships the Devi and there are some fairly significant Kali temples. This one at Kalighat is within Kolkata while another popular one is the Kali Temple @ Dakshineshwar near the Belur Math.
As I alighted from the car on the road leading to the Kali temple, I smiled as I saw a bunch of Pandas standing there to approach me. It is typical of most Indian religious spots. There is a whole people structure that benefits from devotees visiting the temple. Fundamentally they are supposed to provide useful service to the devotees but most often it has degenerated into a scam. The more popular a deity, the more scammy services around it. I have come a long way from my solo trip to Varanasi when the whole religious ecosystem freaked me out. Since then I have matured and quite enjoy these scenes. I am also adept at working with it. So when the Pandas approached me I was fairly calm and smiled at them and said ‘Nahi chahiye’ and walked on. Most of them dropped back – I think as solo woman they don’t see me as very lucrative. A couple of them pursued. So I explained respectfully that, “I don’t need your service, why don’t you approach someone else who can benefit from your service?” And that ended there.
I figured I need to leave my foot wear somewhere though so, one panda jumped to help in and I let him. For about 30 INR (I don’t remember the exact amount) I got a few flowers and I put my chappals at another stall (the chappal stand charged me 10 INR). I could have reduced this expense but it was a small enough amount so didn’t bother. Also I value this interaction as a way to gauge the level of corruption and also the mood of the people. Usually in North India I have felt fairly relaxed as they are trying to fleece lower amount of money. They will try to overcharge 5-10-15 INR. This isn’t much. In South India and other metrpolis areas fleecing can be of few 50-100 INR then it becomes a problem.
So I entered the temple bare foot with a bunch of red hibiscus flowers.
Red is the colour of the Devi.
Red is the colour of blood.
Red is colour of the kum kum.
Red is colour of betel nut juice.
And you will find all this around the Kali temple.
The temple is in many ways different from other temples I have visited in India. The architecture is Pagoda style due to the triangular shape of the dome. This is the common style of older temples in Kolkata and Bengal region. The dome has a silver & multi-coloured coating on it. Not sure what material it is.
There are couple of entry gates to the temple. Each of these has some religious significance, the East entry usually the most auspicious. I went via a side entrance near a kund (pool of water). Taking a dip in water before entering a temple makes the body more receptive to the energies of the temple, this is why a lot of Hindu temples always have a kund nearby. I didn’t take this dip though, no such preparation (towel etc..).
I entered the temple and was pleasantly surprised. Again a very different style of temple. It had little shops inside that sold various temple related stuff like idols. Behind some of these shops the people had their houses, so they stayed here itself! I guess I should’ve inquired more about what these people were doing/selling, what an unusual system!
In the middle was the main Kali temple with a verandah around it. People could line up in this verandah to see the Kali idol from nearby. I was there on a Thursday morning 9 am and there wasn’t much line at all. I could have stood for 15 minutes and reached right up to the idol, but it didn’t seem so interesting to me. Also the line inside the sanctum sanctorum was too packed and crowded so I didn’t want to go there. Inside the sanctum there was a cooling system for the idol. One of the reasons for this might be the ancient Shakti peeth element (Shakti’s Toe). Yes, the Kali ghat is one of the Shakti peeth’s in India – these are powerful Devi temples. Once a year there is a ceremony where the priest unwrap the ancient toe to take care of it (I don’t know whether this is true, this is something I have read somewhere)
The whole temple with the sanctum is fairly small. I handed my flowers to the priests from the shortcut that allows us to go to the verandah from the other side and peep at the idol. The priests also ask for some cash along with flowers etc… I put a couple of coins in the tray :p Not the amount they are looking at.
Right near the main temple is a viewing gallery & I like to think that it is also a meditation hall. It is fairly cool and clean. A lot of people sit here or crowd around the balcony which allows them to peep into the sanctum to look at the idol. The idol is a striking face with three glittering eyes. It also has a golden tongue coming out and 4 golden hands with various weapons. I didn’t notice all the details though. But yes I can associate the colour Red with this temple.
At the viewing gallery I wondered whether to sit and meditate but then I got a sweet smell in the air and I was keen to see the next space. I would not have been ready for a animal slaughter place within the temple if not for a blog that I read earlier to understand more about this temple I was going to explore.
Yes, that’s what I said – an animal slaughter place within the temple. And I guess this is a common practice across Kolkata and Bengal region. As I saw a similar stand outside another Devi temple in Kumaratully as well.
So I peeped into the slaughter space in the Kali temple. The two slaughter stands had flowers, incense and lamps burning around them. This was a place of worship. Many people were milling around. Bowing down inside. One slaughter stand was dry and people were bowing down to it. The nearby one had liquid red oozing on and around it. I didn’t see any meat nearby so I don’t know whether a slaughter had just taken place or whether it was some pooja involving red vermillion. One interesting thing I came across this blog I read and then I confirmed at the temple was that this sacrifice isn’t really to the Devi. It is a misunderstood concept.
Food Offerings – Prasad v/s Slaughter Offerings – Bali (Sacrifice)
In most temples either we offer some fruits which we leave at the temple and then the priests may take it or they may be donated to the needy. Or we can offer some fruits and then take them back with us as Prasad and have it ourselves. The idea is to consecrate the food with temple energy and consume to enrich ourselves. Usually Prasad is fruits or cooked sweets like laddoos, sheera etc…
The animal slaughter ritual in the Kali temple is of the second type. People bring their animals for slaughter and then they take the meat with them. As a meat ‘Prasad’. The devotee would have anyway taken the animal to be slaughtered elsewhere and then had the meat. But instead they can bring it to the temple where the slaughter may happen in a more cleaner and satvic environment. The animals are slaughtered with a clean cut, so there is no ‘ritualistic’ torture or any such thing that happens. Also the meat would be enriched with the temple energy. The point I am making is that the slaughter is not to satiate a ‘Goddess thirsty for Blood’ as is the impression. It is actually a slaughter service provided by the temple for the devotees who are predominantly non-vegetarian. The idea of a ‘Thirsting Goddess’ maybe concocted by external entities who were shocked by the occurrence.
Animal Slaughter In Tantric Practices
There is also another aspect to the slaughter – it aids in many tantric practices. So it is possible that the slaughter predominantly done as a service, also allowed many tantric practices and it caused a certain environment in the temple for certain spiritual practices.
It is an intriguing place.
While I was there I didn’t see any arcane or trance states but then to observe such stuff I would need to spend more time there.
After looking at the slaughter house I strolled around and visited a Shivling inside the temple. There were also Radhe-Krishna deities in another corner. I then sat down for a while and meditated. The place did have an energy space of some kind, the meditation was good until I got kicked in the knee by the usual Indian person who has become so accustomed to huge crowds that by default people are just ignored. He does what he likes. Random physical contact is not even noticed, let alone avoided. I am not sure the guy was aware that he just kicked a person meditating – which would be really frowned upon as per any scripture. He was busy worshiping the Devi. 🙂
I liked the temple overall. I saw that it is possible to enter the temple structure with footwear and leave it right outside the main temple building, thus not having to spend on the stands outside. There is an unusual tree behind the main temple building, another place that people can make wishes and worship. There was a lot of red stuff on it. I asked them whether it was kum kum? If not it could have been blood. Haha all sorts of arcane ideas coming to my mind. Red for the Devi. 😉
Near this tree is another shivling, where we could offer small pots of water and flowers for 5 INR. Pouring this water on the shivling and placing a flower around it is a soothing experience. Overall I enjoyed myself.
I took a stroll around the temple to get the feel of the place. I found it interesting that there are a lot of ‘Halder’ named people in the area. I noticed this name because they are the caretakers of the Kali temple. I guess there is a huge family tree that settled in this area. The actual family that takes care of the temple are bit away living in a nice mansion.
Then I headed to Kalighat. Sadly there was some construction going on in the area, I think they are making a bridge to the other side. Because of this, the area was absolutely, pure filth. No other way to say it. This picture says it all,
Fairly pathetic this I feel. I am sure constructing a bridge can be done in more wholesome way without turning the entire area in a junk yard! Kali temple of the Junkyard-Ghat more than Kali ghat.
Meandering around the streets somewhat dejected by the Kalighat filth I landed up at Nakuleshwar Bhairava temple. This is intriguing for me because I am fascinated by this form of Shiva. I earlier went to Varanasi intrigued by the Kaal Bhairava. Then did a bit of research to find that Kaal Bhairava is adopted within Jainism also (Whoa!). So now Nakuleshwar Bhairava,
It is a small enough temple with old style architecture but not majorly different in any way. The Bhairava deity was a few inches into the ground (similar to the Kali idol) and it was just a stump really. I guess the actual idol broke or some such thing. I have done fair bit of research into the Ashta Bhairava in Varanasi and many of the Bhairavas are pretty much stumps from the older idols. However, my impression of this Bhairava deity was that it is very much LIVE. When I sat for meditation it was a powerful experience.
I read outside that the priests from Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi were coming here for an Aarti in a few days. I have heard very good stuff about this Saptrishi Aarti. Apparently it is one of the few Indian rituals that is being done right and has very palpable energy impact. I would have loved to attend this if I was still in Kolkata then.
I was impressed by this temple. And moreover I left feeling, I had explored this Kali temple energy space in Kolkata fairly well.
Some of what I have written may sound weird to many readers especially if you aren’t into meditation/yoga. I love old, ancient temples to meditate. A lot of them really support meditation and spiritual practice even though they are very old and may have lost a lot of their idols and rituals to time. However there is always a possibility that it doesn’t really have much energy space left. Or sometimes, over time the real temple is lost but some other structure is deemed as the temple and the rituals take place there – so there may actually not be any major energy structure there. There is no fool proof way for me to know this stuff. If Sadhguru or some yogi I follow says something about a temple then I go by them. Otherwise, the way I explore is by sitting down and meditating in the temple. A lot of times I pick up certain ‘flavours’ in the meditation which I suspect is that place. Then there is a chance of at least a remnant energy structure in place. Sometimes the energy structure maybe very strong too.
Live energy spaces would impact our system. Only way to truly discern is to become meditative and aware of that impact.
India is a true enigma. There are layers and layers to our religion, culture, tradition.