A ROARING COMES ACROSS THE SKY – FOR IT IS (SRI/MAHA) KALI JAYANTI ; THE KAALASHTAMI NIGHT OF SHRAVAN MONTH
JAI MAHAKALI ; KALISMRITI – REMEMBER DEATH
So what is this observance of Kali Jayanti? Well, the Sanskrit term “Jayanti” has multiple simultaneous meanings. In one sense, it is an auspicious and religiously important birth-date. In another sense, it refers to a Victory (you may be familiar with the “Jai”/”Jaya” that is somewhat akin to “Hail!”) – and in a third, it can refer to a flag, the ensign thereof of the Joyous Triumph, and the Existence which has come into being.
As applies Kali Jayanti, the appropriate interpretations are *all three*.
For this observance commemorates, celebrates, honours and *exalts*, the appearance of the emanation, the *ascendency* of Devi Durga upon the Battlefields as this most mightily Destroyer form.
Yet “Destruction”, and “Incandescently Angry”, and Against Whom None Can Withstand … these are terms and consequent characterizations that are often misunderstood by a non-Hindu audience. It is not, or at least not entirely, the result of that ineffably pernicious poison, the inveterate difficulty of providing apt, accuracy in translations.
But rather, the fact that in the absence of the surrounding mythic context, and the more *appropriate* figurative and theological understandings of the Goddess in question, we hear *just* those terms. And then overlay our own unthinking perspectives and biases upon them. That a “Destroyer” might be axiomatically malefic, say; or that a furiously angry embodiment of Divine Wrath Made Manifest, must be something of a heedless, and un-thinking being.
Neither are true – and, as any bhakt, and more than a few otherwise woeful Wiccans may tell you, the MA in Kali Ma, is an important further element which helps to display how these vigorous attributes of annihilation and anguish are actually deployed. In a *protective* manner, so that life and light may yet go on.
That, in short, of the Mother Who is all that stands between dire peril and Her Family; And Who attains the superhuman capacities of strength, alacrity, and adamantine will in concert with the immense surging of adrenaline within Her veins that is necessitated by the situation.
But let us go back to some of the mythography, in order to illustrate a portion of these points better than me abstractly ranting perhaps can.
I shall quote from some of my earlier work; in this instance, briefly detailing the climactic phase of the conflict that had taken place against a succession of demonic foes operating under the overall aegis of the would-be usurpers of the universal sovereignty, Shumba & Nishumba. Earlier phases of this war included several attempts at abducting Parvati (including one of full-on *army* sized strength turning up outside Kailash), eventually building up to a decisive battle between the forces of the demons under the brother-generals Chanda & Munda, where the latter perished at the onslaught of the Charge of the Matrika Aspects of Devi.
And then, the demon Raktabija [‘Blood-Seed’] took to the field.
“However it transpired, the nature of the Boon which Raktabija had acquired was fairly uniquely well-suited for withstanding the ferocious onslaught of the enraged Warrior Forms of Parvati. For his name was not coincidental – for every drop of blood spilled which hit the ground, another Raktabija ‘clone’ would spring up, in a manner perhaps somewhat akin to the ‘hydra head’ phenomenon encountered by Heracles/Hercules in Greco-Roman myth.
This presented a clear obstacle for the Devi-n(in)e Host, as Their customary approach of direct attack with Their flashing swords, wailing bows, and other such mechanisms of cutting and piercing the foe, had obviously produced quite the exsanguinate profusion, all across the field of war. And with it, after a short delay, any additional number of Raktabija warriors had sprouted into being … each of whom also possessed the blood-seed ability of their origin-demon. As can quite horrifyingly be anticipated, this thus meant that the Raktabija (and therefore, demonic) problem was growing at a pretty much exponential rate – the Devisena lacking other tools to keep the Raktabijas at bay than with Their Weapons … and yet worsening Their overall position every time They put them to their intended use.
Yet if Devi is infinitely powerful, She is also infinitely clever – and therefore, the Kali Form was called upon. KaalRatri thus appeared upon the battlefield, with all the immense majesty and stature of Night, and all the annihilative power of quite literally Apocalyptic Fury. Perceiving instantly the problem that had thus lead to the swarming hordes of swiftly reproducing demons sprawling across what was supposed to be the killzone, She took action – furling out Her immense tongue and utilizing Her greatest deft and dexterity (as well as the speed of Darkness, of Night – it’s always there *just* before Light is …) , She proceeded to catch with Her tongue each drop of blood as it was shed and before it could touch the ground (Thus helping to explain why She is customarily depicted with a pronouncedly long tongue, and a mouth that is surrounded by blood – . This, at least, brought a halt to the *worsening* of the situation – but how was She to vanquish Raktabija and eliminate this most recent ADharmic threat?
One solution was to simply ‘bleed them dry’, quite literally – hoping that sustained blood-loss and other such grievous wounds would incapacitate the Raktabijas, while Her darting tongue continued to intercept any blood thus shed, so as to avoid reinforcing the adversary in so doing. Another, perhaps, might be the Noose – suffocation, after all, would present a bloodless means to exterminate the foe, albeit subject to the difficulty of catching them and then deploying the strangulation without letting any blood touch the earth.
KaalRatri, however, chose a much more expansive course. Utilizing the supreme and all-enveloping power of the Night, She proceeded to simply envelop and devour within Her darkness, the ravening horde entire.
This, then, is the awe-inspiring potency of Mother Kali – to encompass all, just as Time and Night (can) touch all things; to envelop even the mightiest host and the strongest foe(s), in exactly the manner that the departure of Day covers everything within Her Shroud; to *end* anything – for nothing can stand against the relentless March of Time, “in the end”, and everything which has a beginning also possesses a Death.
The fact that this is all done with intelligence, creativity, and perspicacity, clearly demonstrates the supreme sapience and clarity of thinking which can oft-only be found (for me, at least) amidst the Night; while also carrying out that much needed disintegration of the lamentable misperception of Her as simply an unthinking, onrushing tide of doom and devastation akin to the automatism of an earthquake-triggered tsunami. She may indeed be a most powerful and all-consuming Inevitability, with the Inexorability and Implacability of the heat-death of the Universe … but that most definitely does NOT mean that She is anything less than superlatively Wise.
After all, have not Death, and Time, and Night, and the Presence at both Beginning and End of Creation, seen (and digested) just about everything between them?
Having said that, though – I maintain that the Lesson of KalaRatri Contra RaktaBija is (appropriately enough) a deceptively simple one, not least due to its ‘dual nature’:
Namely, that there are indeed some situations and some seemingly severe obstacles to which an absolute, even ‘All-Consuming’ Anger is *exactly* the right element to bring to the table.
But also, that even at its apex of intensity, one should never discard intelligence – for to do so, particularly in the high-pressure environment of (and perhaps added to, invited by) a furiously aggressive response : is to invite your problems to multiply until they might even be able to overwhelm you – or, at the very least, maybe leave you battling with them for an eternity!
Therefore, it is the essential *unity* of these elements – of the ‘Hot Head’ and the Brain Within, elements that we often rather artificially consider to be innately separate (as well, it must be said, with the adroit tongue to express these fundamentally important faculties’ reach and grasp) – which makes for the *most* fearsome and formidable combatant.”
The above cited Raktabija-slaying Myth also provides one of the more frequently cited iconographic explanations for the ‘lolling’ tongue of Kali. It is, in fact, a reflex of the ‘broader’ sense in which this is to be understood – as connoting the All-Consuming, All-Devouring Nature of ‘Kaal’ : one of my favourite words in *any* language, as it simultaneously connotes Time, Death, Blackness, Destiny/Fate, Iron, as well as the central point of the eye [which is black, but also peers through the ‘veil’ of the iris – a point to which we shall return in a moment] (Interestingly, with a slightly longer “A” Sound at the end, it becomes a term of Art); this Consuming, Devouring, Destroying Tongue having Vedic precedency amidst the Seven Flame-Tongues of Agni, also.
The other folkloric explanation for this protroduing tongue, concerns the alleged aftermath of this aforementioned conflict – wherein, it is said, Divine Mother Kali had become so incredibly enraged with the state of proceedings, and the seemingly endless waves of demonic deployment around Her, that Her Flame burned too hot, as if it were the End of Time Itself [wherein the world is so overrun by the forces of the archenemy that it must be expurgated, cleansed via the Pralaya so that a new and more virtuous world can spring up in its dying, embersome place], and so She began to dance that most mighty Dance which shall End the Universe; only becoming stopped when Lord Shiva Himself thew Himself down upon Her path, and was slain in the process. Realizing that She had done this to Her Own Husband in Her perhaps overzealous-for-that-instance Fury-Conduct, She expressed Her Contrition, regret and embarrassment by sticking out Her Tongue in a traditional gesture of acknowledging error and wishing to correct it. As She was Calmed by this, Shiva resurrected, and both the situation and the Wrath and Wrathful Form of Devi de-escalated in consequence of that.
This other ambit of meaning for the (shorter) extended tongue is “something which places in an interesting light the utilization of said tongue to undo the demonic army earlier in the episode, as it suggest that Contrition is the natural antidote and destroyer of the Arrogance and other moral failings personified by the demonic there.” [again, I am quoting myself, from an earl iyer work upon this subject]
In any case, I earlier mentioned that “Kaal” can refer to the part of the eye which is black, and which pierces with its sight, its vision, through the ‘veil’ that is the rest of the outwardly visible iris and eye structure. This ‘Veil’ concept is also quite integral to our understanding of Kali, of why it is that this one word of Sanskrit has come to have such a seemingly broad array of intended and definitely understood meanings. [I say “definitely understood” meanings – when it is phrased with that word, that is; when Oppenheimer quoted his famous line at Trinity Sands out of context either literary or linguistic, he omitted that in the relevant portion of the Bhagavad Gita, detailing the Darshana-encounter of Arjuna with Vishvarupa, the ‘Omniform’, it is in fact *Time* that ultimately shall kill all of those arrayed against him, and, indeed, the eventual worlds entire. I mention this also because today is Krishna Janmashtami, and therefore this inciency is additionally relevant for the day and its piece.]
I shall elucidate in more detail via these quotes from my KaalRatri piece, prepared for our NavRatri series late last year:
“To situate KaalRatri within the overarching NavaDurga mythic context, then, it is clear to see how She represents the continuance of Katyayani. For whereas Ma as Katyayani is the Supreme, the Solar Warrior – the Force of Creation emanated down to this plane to dispatch and destroy threats to the realm and to the Gods … Ma as Kali is the Supreme, the Nocturnal Annihilator – the Force of Cosmic Destruction brought into being to handle even more intractable threats (and therefore also the Destroyer of (A’Suric) Darkness, so to speak – as well as the embodiment of the Divine Night), and even to unmake reality itself when it can be no more corrupted, in order that the whole cyclic process of cosmogenesis might start all over once more. At once, then, She is both the Elevation and the Antithesis of much in the NavaRatri Cycle which has gone before. The continued escalation of Devi’s furious Anger and prowess at conflict from the birth-pangs of Skanda through to the victorious blades of Katyayani, and on to an incandescent rage which burns so far beyond “white hot” that it appears to our eyes to be blackness – like the invisible cutting blade of a plasma-torch which can unmake virtually anything it touches in an instant.
Yet in another sense, which looks forward also to the next Form – MahaGauri, the Great White One, Who is ‘Peace’ – KaalRatri represents both Death, which is the natural fruit of Katyayani, the Warrior’s efforts … as well as the pathway of transcending *through* Death [I daren’t say “overcoming”] so that the further ascension of the soul may occur [to the state represented by MahaGauri – the situation *beyond* Death, both in the context of the NavaDurgas and in, to phrase it perhaps ironically, “life” in general]. ‘The End Yet Which Is Not ‘Final”.
This interpretation (and, for that matter, our others, as mentioned above) is further substantiated via the linguistic analysis which we have carried out on the likely Proto-Indo-European roots of the term “Kali”. For it appears plainly obvious that “Kel”, meaning “Cover” (that is to say – to obscure, to shelter, but also to protect, to hide), lies at the heart of it. Descendent terms from this stem in Western Indo-European languages include the Germanic “Hall” as well as “Hell” (the sense here, as applies the former, is a covered place -a shelter; and as applies the latter, in addition perhaps to the “under” part of “underworld” (c.f “Hole”), something more properly rendered figuratively and idiomatically – “Beyond the Veil”, beyond the ken of Mortal comprehension, particularly in the post-life; for such is Death … both the ‘transitive moment’ of demise (i.e. The Veil), as well as the journey through it and the ongoing persistent state and/or place ‘beyond’/’after’ .), “Helmet” (that is to say, a protective covering for the head), “Skeleton” and Skull” (the idea being that something which *was* covered … now isn’t – a grim sign of mortality); in Latin, words such as “Clam” from which we get “Clandestine” (thus, protecting secrets in order that they may be transmitted only to those appropriate), “Cilium” (meaning the lid of the eye), and “Color” (which means exactly what you think it does – especially as applies an external appearance, a tincture); and in Greek, “Koleos” – a Sheath (this is of particular relevancy given the array of Kali mythology wherein the black skin of the Goddess is discarded to reveal Parvati once more in all Her fairness having been all this time (so to speak) within), as well as “Kelyfos” – a Shell (particularly of an Egg .. which to my mind recalls the identification of Devi, particularly as Kushmanda, with the HiranyaGarbha – the Cosmic Egg. Not so much because eggs have shells, of course – but rather because something so precious as the womb of all life, quite clearly, requires *protecting*. Indeed, to quote a maxim of Winston Churchill … “in war-time, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Gosh, I didn’t even have to change the gender! Although I am, of course, not meaning to conflate the Aspect of Devi with “lies” – only with occlusion and vastly necessary concealment).
In terms of the mythology surrounding KaalRatri, we can see all of the above in beautiful, whirling, violent motion. The instances wherein She is invoked by The Gods to devastate this or that demon invasion by destroying its animating commanders, clearly show Her as Protector; while those occurrences wherein this takes place pretty much at the gates of or even*within* the Divine Realm itself, further show Her as an active manifestation of that principle of Refuge, of Home – although ‘Hearth” is perhaps less accurate than ‘Cremation Ground’ for obvious reasons pertaining both to the fate of those would-be invaders, as well as Her more usual preferred demesne.
On a more figurative level, with the demons taken as symbolic of delusions and impurities of thought or action, Kali’s role as the unparalleled Destroyer thus connotes Her ability to assist the Devotee in a similar manner – by removing said impediments toward righteous conduct and enlightenment. Additionally, the characterization of a number of these prominent demons – wherein they have this or that overbearing weakness of character, such as arrogance, the heedless and headlong (shortly to be head*less*) drive for power, or their being dominated by their appetites (and, of course, almost by definition, impiety), which ultimately leads to their undoing at Her Blessed Hands – provides an ample set of exemplar lessons in the ways in which That Which We Ask Kali To Destroy In Us … can, if left unchecked, easily destroy *us* instead!
However, due to Her total mastery over that which is contained within Her, She is not restricted merely to the ‘removal’ of illusions, and the conveyance of Wisdom to Her Devotee. Rather, She is also most adroit at the craft and construction of beguilements, ensnarement of the mind and will which shroud truth (and thus, in the manner of a burial shroud, enwrap their targets), misdirect adversaries, turn allies against each other, and the enemy’s own strengths and powerful attributes against them. Just as She can roll back the ‘night’ to reveal things to you, to provision the guidance along the less-treacherous path through the illumination of, if not outright envelopment and removal of obstacles … so, too, can She re-cover that which had otherwise become apparent, darken the way of the foeman, beset the Night’s Terrors upon him, and leave him stumbling off a cliff he could not see in front of him , (allowing him to send himself) plummeting through the Night Sky – into Her Eternal Embrace.
For such is the Unrestricted Power of Kali. Not least due to the potentiality that within the Night of space and the Space of night is to be found everything and its opposite.
Further, it is worth noting that the Unmaking of Reality at the End of Time, the Pralaya unto Maya (‘Maya’ interestingly means both ‘Illusion’ and ‘Reality’ – in the sense of our material reality as we perceive it being quite the illusion), directly shows the ‘unravelling’ of the Veil which shrouds us (and not always entirely unarguably so) from the Absolute (that is, in Shakta theology, Shakti-As-Brahman, Ishvari As She More Truly Is . well .. above “is”). Not only is this clearly correlate with the role *inside* the Devotee’s psyche and life – wherein Mother Kali is asked to dissolve delusions and illusions that stand in the way of our enlightenment and pious spiritual progress … but it *also* suggests a further interpretation for the theonymic title of “KaalRatri” – The (Inevitable) Death Of The Shroud; and thus the Death of Time (for Time comes to an End with the passage from existence of the Universe entire); as well as, subsequent to this, the End of Emptiness – for amidst the setting of space (quite literally – She is described in scripture as possessing the beauty of not just the Night Sky, but the glittering tableaux of what we would perhaps refer to as ‘Outer Space’, the [not exactly empty] Void Between Worlds – this last phrase *also* describing Her role *between* and *above* Creation(s)), will occur the grandest possible Revelation In Darkness – that of new ‘dawn’, of the unfolding, unfurling truth of the new reality in the space vacated by the old one, which can only then begin.”
You can see why I have placed such emphasis, earlier, upon the concept of “Veil”, and also of the Insight which is visible and emanates through same. And, as a point of interest, this very principle may further be illustrated through Devi Durga/Parvati projecting out Kali *through* Her Third Eye, in some of those instances wherein She ’emanates’ the Destroyer Form rather than unitarily assuming It directly.
In any case – indeed, in *every* case, ultimately – the term “Kali Jayanti” is eminently appropriate. For in the final analysis, Death is victorious over All.
‘Surround yourself with the greatest warriors at your command, or cower in the deepest and darkest hole you can find. It matters not.’ To stand against Her, is to invite the Ultimate Sanction.
And one which shall be pursued with the cold implacability of a cosmological inevitability, just as Night follows Day – even as She cares for, caresses, and cultivates Her (chosen) Devotees, with all the warmth and compassion of a cherishing, loving Mother; the oncoming of Night there taking on the sentimental hues of an enrapturing Sunset, perhaps; while the radiance and beauty and comfort of the bright stars and moon shining more brightly, visibly, vidya-bly amidst the Night[‘s] Sky, demonstrate also that there is amidst death, beauty – indeed, that the death [kaal – darkness] in expanse in question, can be and *is* beauty Herself.
And speaking of the Night’s enfolding embrace – ‘ If you can see us, we are dangerous indeed. But that is nothing to the peril you face if you cannot see us, and all you can hear is our laughter.’ Or Her tremendous, terrific [for it begets Terror], Universe-rumbling, Apocalyptically-resonating, Almighty Thunderous ROAR.
That, o reader, is the Sound of Inevitability.
Veer-y Wise, indeed, was the man who coined the phrase “Time And I, Against Any Other Two”.
I had phrased my own maxim-alist aphorism thus :
“You often hear it said – “Time is on our side”.
Well … This is Time. She is On My Side.”
Victory Incarnate. And Beyond.
नमो नमो दुर्गे
रूप कराल कालिका धारा
जै माता कालि जै माता दुर्गे।
कालि दुर्गे नमो नमः॥
ॐ क्रीं कालिकायै नमः॥