When The World Stood Still and Mother Kali Danced

Over the years, whenever I saw the image of Mother Kali, I was always overwhelmed and even perplexed by the apparent contradictions in her appearance. A black figure, with a red tongue protruding from a fearsome face with eyes ablaze. With one hand she gives benedictions and blessings and but in the other hands she holds a bloodied skull and a sword. She wears a belt of severed skulls around her waist, and she stands with one foot on the prone form of Lord Shiva, her consort. What does She really represent? It was only after reading the life of Sri Ramakrishna and his teachings that the image of Mother Kali emerged  as the Divine Mother. He explains so lucidly, “You see Her as black because you are far away from Her. Go near and you will find Her devoid of all colour. The water of a lake appears black from a distance. Go near and take the water in your hand, and you will see that it has no colour at all. Similarly, the sky looks blue from a distance. But look at the atmosphere near you; it has no colour. The nearer you come to God, the more you will realize that He has neither name nor form. If you move away from the Divine Mother, you will find Her blue, like the grass-flower.”
(The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna). 

Swami Vivekananda, even after experiencing Sri Ramakrishna’s purity and devotion, had this one dilemma, that he could not somehow accept the world of gods and goddesses, visions and ecstasies that Sri Ramakrishna lived in. Sri Ramakrishna told Swami Vivekananda, “you suffer because you do not believe in the Mother.”  Later in his own words, Swamiji explained, referring to his own days of doubts in accepting the Kali ideal, “How I used to hate Kali! And all Her ways! That was the ground of my six years’ fight — that I would not accept Her. But I had to accept Her at last! Ramakrishna Paramahamsa dedicated me to Her, and now I believe that She guides me in everything I do, and does with me what She will. . . . Yet I fought so long! I loved him, you see, and that was what held me. I saw his marvellous purity. . . . I felt his wonderful love. . . . His greatness had not dawned on me then. All that came afterwards when I had given in. At that time I thought him a brain-sick baby, always seeing visions and the rest. I hated it. And then I, too, had to accept Her!”

Kali’s Dance

In the Devi Mahatmyam, or the Chandi we read of Raktabija. The goddess Ambika is at war with the asuras, the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, and Raktabija is fighting along with them. As she faces the asura Raktabija, and wounds him, from each drop of his blood that touches the ground, another Raktabija appears. The goddess is overwhelmed in fighting the losing battle against the fast-multiplying duplicates of Raktabija. She has other goddesses flighting along with her, but the battle seems too one-sided. Suddenly, the Goddess Kali joins the battle.  With her  tongue stretched over the earth, she licks up each drop of blood pouring out from Raktabija’s body, while other goddesses continue to wound him. Kali devours his duplicates into her gaping mouth. Ultimately, Raktabija is annihilated. As our mythology further narrates, after killing Raktabija and most of his entire army, Goddess Kali goes on to kill all creatures in a fury. But Shiva intervenes and before she can annihilate everything, he lies down in her path. Striking his body, Kali is shaken and embarrassed and takes out her tongue in shame. After that, her anger vanishes as speedily as it had arisen. 

Today, while we are fighting Raktabija, the world stands still… while planet Earth continues to revolve and rotate, the Sun gives its heat, the winds continue to blow, Nature continues with its cycle unabated, a shocked, confused, scared, and helpless humanity stands and watches. For the first time in memory recall, what the world faces is unprecedented. Life and death have walked hand-in-hand through eternity. Living beings die in thousands or millions, throughout the world on a daily basis. Diseases, accidents, old age, all are instrumental in the daily toll of life, just as millions are born. And yet, today, the numbers are being watched with hawk-eyed focus and trepidation, because death lurks in the name of a microscopic virus. It seems like the dance or the fury of the Goddess Kali. 

Maya Stands Exposed!

She is no longer the mystery that we struggled to understand. Swami Vivekananda says:

“Maya is not illusion as it is popularly interpreted. Maya is real, yet it is not real. It is real in that the Real is behind it and gives it its appearance of reality. That which is real in Maya is the Reality in and through Maya.”

He further reiterates: “Maya is a statement of the fact of this universe, of how it is going on. People generally get frightened when these things are told to them. But bold we must be. ….Animals are living upon plants, men upon animals and, worst of all, upon one another, the strong upon the weak. This is going on everywhere. And this is Maya. What solution do you find for this? We hear every day many explanations, and are told that in the long run all will be good. Taking it for granted that this is possible, why should there be this diabolical way of doing good? Why cannot good be done through good, instead of through these diabolical methods? The descendants of the human beings of today will be happy; but why must there be all this suffering now? There is no solution. This is Maya.” 

Today, Maya stands exposed! All this while humanity continued to rush and ‘progress’, at the cost of everything else. Nothing mattered besides one’s own trajectory of success. The rat-race was merciless. The quest for wealth, comfort, and success, all of which seemed to translate into happiness, was the single-point focus of each human being. Complacency riding on ego and arrogance, had swept aside all sensitivity and  compassion. Yes, we shook our heads very sagaciously as witnesses to the annihilation of the Amazon forests; as the oceans flooded, forest fires blazed, and nature stood violated; the race of the superior human race continued unabated. But, today, we are standing still in helpless despair. 

This will also pass, just as everything else does. But the world as we know it, will have changed.  The “taken for granted” certainty will have vanished. What was real yesterday, what is real today, and what we shall see as real tomorrow, are all now ephemeral and transitory. And this is Maya! Life will go on, for sure. Millions died before, so millions will die today and tomorrow. But millions will also be born. Jobs will be lost, homes will be destroyed, there will be starvation and anger. But at the same time there will continue to be hope and endeavour. Hopefully, after Kali’s dance and Maya’s play, we as human beings, will be somewhat humbled and ready to make a fresh start with faith and compassion. This is all that we have in our hands today, a universal prayer, a Shanti Mantra, for everyone, everywhere:

“Om! Sarve bhavantuh sukhinah
Sarve santuh nir-amayah
Sarve bhadrani pashyantuh
Ma kashchid dukkha bhaga-bhavet
Om! Shantih, Shantih, Shantih!”

(May all sentient beings be at peace and well; may no one suffer from illness; may all see what is auspicious, may none ever feel sorrow. Om! Peace, peace, peace).