The Crows Of Kali

For Kali Jayanti – a Crow.

Now, of course, I am indulging myself here by presenting a Crow as Devotee to Her … yet there is actually a comparatively little-known suite of resonant conceptry for the Corvid in relation to Kali. She is, after all, Kakamukhi – The Crow-Faced One.

This is as we should expect. The Crow (or Raven) has a long and storied association with Her Husband – whether we know Him as Shiva (or Rudra – see AV-S XI 2 2), or as Odin.

We are therefore unsurprised to hear of Bhadrakali having the Crow as Her Vahana – Kakarudha, ‘Mounted upon a Crow’, in at least one scriptural source.

A situation also depicted rather prominently amidst the famed Sixty Four Yoginis of Hirapur – wherein Bhadrakali / Rudrakali is, indeed, carved standing atop a Crow.

The Crow continues its usefulness to Her in a folktelling of the installation of the Murti of the Bhadrakali temple near Kulangam in Kashmir in the 1800s.

So the story goes, Kali appeared in a dream to Tell a local Priest to take one of Her Murtis [‘Living Statues’] from a Temple at Srinagar to a site upriver which would be indicated via the presence of a Crow. There, a further Kali murti (assumedly a Shila-murti – that is, one of ‘Stone’) would be found embedded within a wall or escarpment. And there the place of worship should be.

The symbolism to this account – whatever its factual merits – is powerful.

It shows the Crow not only as ‘messenger’ of the Goddess, in a sense that is quite foundationally resonant with the Corvid’s appearances elsewhere within both Hindu and broader Indo-European mythic spheres (consider the Yamadutas – the Emissaries of Lord Yama – appearing in such forms; or the Crow Who appears to the young Kon in the Nordic Rigsthula in order to call him to his grand destiny of warfare and conquest – assumedly that intended for him by His Divine Father, upon Whose behalf the Crow must surely speak);

But is rather also engaged in directing our attention up to Her. In just the manner of a priest or a foremost devotee.

Now, at this point I must go ‘off-the-track’ somewhat and make a combination of observation and inductive theological reasoning. More so than usual, I mean.

“Crow” itself descends from PIE *gerh₂- – a term for a ‘cry’ or a ‘harsh, loud noise’. Some sense of it is illustratable via one of its Sanskrit descendants – Garjat … which means to Roar, to Thunder.

Persons who’ve followed our work for awhile shall, of course, have heard me speak of ‘Vacam Garjita Lakshanam’ – especially in relation to Devi. Effectively, Thunder (or Roaring, Indistinct Speech) ‘bearing the imprintings’ of Divine Speech.

We are also acquainted with fairly direct hailings for Kali within the Tantrika sphere that align with this – indeed, utilizing ‘Garjanti’ quite directly to express Her Roaring of the Great Sound.

Now, interestingly, assuming that Sanskrit ‘Kaka’ (Crow – काक) is, in fact a cognate of the similar ‘Ka’ occurrent in the Germanic sphere and of identical meaning … then per Pokorny’s dictionary, the Lithuanian ‘Gauja’ for a pack of wolves should be similarly derived.

And point to another PIE root (Pokorny’s has “gō̆u-, gou̯ǝ-, gū”; Rix’s favours *g⁽ʷ⁾eH, although of uncertain ‘h’ sounding), meaning ‘to cry’ or ‘to sing’. In the former case, this also produces a few terms for ‘weeping’ … and also for ‘song’ in the more ecclesiastical sense (for example, ‘Gita’ and ‘Gayati’)

Why do we mention these elements? Well, as applies the former – as with the ‘Thunder’ of *gerh₂- , it points toward a situation commensurate with that most famous of ‘Roarers’ … Her Husband – Rudra. And not least due to the ‘Wailing’, ‘Weeping’, ‘Lamentation’ (c.f ‘Corvid”s PIE *Ker cognate कृपते – ‘Krpate’ – ‘to lament’, ‘to implore’) more aptly conveyed via PIE *HrewdH- (hence why it also turns up in relation to Storms).

And as applies the latter (i.e. ‘singing’) … well, we did put forward the notion of the Crow in that Kashmiri folktale acting as something of a ‘priest’ ; something which makes some significant measure of sense when we consider just what it is that a priest actually does.

And I do not (necessarily) mean in terms of bringing ‘offerings’ (shiny or otherwise).

Instead – it is ‘Speaking’ … and yes, ‘Singing’. Vocalizations, in other words.

And this is why I felt it important to point to the Crow as being rather more than ‘just’ a ‘sending’ – in the sense that certain creatures being sent by the Gods as an Omen might be imputed to be. Even though there is, of course, also ample scope for observing the Corvid ‘as a bird’ and in its flight (or calls) as an attested practice of Augury (indeed, the circumstance of Romulus & Remus’ divinatory ‘competition’ rather pointedly featured Birds associated with Death for reasons we have commented upon elsewhere).

Because the Corvid is , almost uniquely, a ‘Speaking Bird’. That circumstance from the Rigsthula that we had aforementioned earlier – it’s not a case of the young Kon ‘observing’ the Black Bird and then coming to his own conclusions. It’s presented as very direct communication in the form of clearly understandable words.

Which, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual not of Kon’s esteemed ‘essence’ may have been similarly able to understand them, of course. The ability to comprehend the ‘Language of the Birds’ is quite the metaphysically-enabled Gift, after all, as seen in that certain other Nordic suite of texts … those pertaining to the similarly Royal and Odin-descended Sigurd (a figure who, per my reading of the Sigrdrífumál, appears to have been in receipt of the Nordic equivalent to a Tantrika initiation from a Valkyrie-Yogini).

Meanwhile, the wisdom – often decidedly hidden wisdom – and ‘technical competency’ which the Corvid is in possession of correlates also to the general observed high intelligence (and even tool-using ability) of the birds. Some secrets can only properly be beheld, much less communicated, at Twilight – or in ‘midst Night’s Dark Embrace.

This, assumedly, helps to explicate the suite of associations for Chandi / Chandika in relation to the Corvid – most pertinently as applies certain medieval manuals of esoterica that bear Her Name in combination with that of the Corvid as their theonymic entitling; as well as certain of those occasions wherein it is the beak of the Crow that is pointedly meant via relevant hailings and invocations of the Goddess in Corvinus terms.

So, in addition to dispensing what we might perhaps somewhat loosely term and refer to as ‘pastoral care’ and guidance (literally and morally) – it should stand to reason, then, that the Corvid ought also be able to pray, to praise. To not only ‘communicate’, but also to ‘recite’ if you follow my meaning. How else to play their blessed role in immanentizing to our reality the Rachana – the Divine Plan that only She truly Knows?

As applies having a ‘Voice of Thunder’ – the Corvid is, therefore, acting in emulation of Her (and also of Her Husband – He).

As applies that other major association for the Corvid … being found amidst dead bodies (whether upon battlefields or charnal grounds) – well, once again, this is exactly where we find Them (that being Kali and Mahadev).

‘Emissaries of Death’, and figures rather prominently in view once that Death has already ensued. Which reminds one of the various Celtic language terms which sound like ‘Crow’ … and yet are, in fact, terms for ‘Blood’ (or ‘Harshness’) descended from that PIE term for ‘Cold Blood’ (i.e. blood outside the body – not ‘alive blood’), *krewh₂-.

Which also, of course, supplies us with the ‘Krura’ ( क्रूर ) epithet and quality that is Rudra’s – and seemingly deployed in Krishna Yajurveda VI 2 7 in relation to the (howling) demesne that is as the Gates of the Underworld and the Dominion of the Pitrs [‘Ancestors’ – ‘Pitr’ is a cognate for [Fore]Father] under the command of the ‘Manojavah’.

This term, ‘Manojavah’, translates as ‘Swift-of-Mind’ – and in the aforementioned situation probably (per Sayana and Mahidhara’s commentaries on the SBr) occurs ostensibly in reference to Lord Yama (He also of the Corvidae Emissaries).

The same term is also applied in a closely related formulation to that certain avian form (Suparna / Shyena – a form of Agni/Rudra .. or Gayatri (as a form of Vak), per Sayana’s RV commentary) encountered at various points in the RigVeda. This most magnificent of Birds is depicted engaged in the business of bringing from the supernal realm of (or even beyond) the Firmament , the Soma and/or the Thunderbolt … something which I include here as a tangential reference due to certain Tantrika conceptry I shall not further elaborate upon here.

But to bring it back to our branching-off point (that being the situation extolled in KYV VI 2 7 – or, in somewhat different form, SBr III 5 2), what chiefly interests us therein … it is that situation of the Pitrs and Their (directed) marauding forth from the Afterlife in order to protect Their descendant(s) and co-religionist(s) from the depredations of Sorcerers and the malign influence of the demonic.

Why so? Because we are, of course, well aware of the situation of the Pitrs coming forth into our world as Crows – hence why one must always ‘feed the Crows’ during the proper times of the year for Ancestor-worship (something that, as a brief note, we had a rather amusing case of ‘cultural (mis-)translation’ upon with one of my Brahminical associates only a few weeks ago … he had referred to ‘feeding the crows’, I think perhaps in a martial sense and Nordic context … where, of course, it means to kill adversaries.. A pious action, to be sure – but quite a different one from ‘pleasing the ancestors’ through nourishment of a more .. peaceable offering nature).

We are also aware of various of the Ancestors constituting a Retinue of the Glorious Dead – Odin’s Einherjar, Lord Shiva’s BhutaGana (‘Company of Ghosts’ – or, as we have so often termed it … the GHOST DIVISION ), or the Guhyakas (which include spirits of fallen warriors – and pointedly Crow-like visages).

As in so much else – this, too, is an element wherein Husband and Wife are strongly, commensurately conceptually equally matched. Frau Woden (‘Mrs Odin’) is spoken of as leading the Wild Hunt also, in Continental Germanic tradition particularly; Hekate has Her Ghostly ganas; and Kali possesses an equally sepulchral and , in a word , ‘spooky’ (Latin ‘Obscuras’ does not translate easily into English) command accompanying Her likewise.

Indeed, in Shivapurana II 2 33 we observe these ‘Hidden Ones’ (Guhyakas) and other such figures accompanying a rather pointedly ‘Kali’ themed ‘alternative’ troupe of NavaDurgas to war , with MahaKali Herself in the lead.

Yet all of this is, perhaps, moving through territory that is rather ‘abstract’ and ‘indirect’ in terms of Crows for Kali – even if it makes eminently logical sense for the Crow as a Charnel (‘Kravyada’ ?) Creature that is otherwise co-expressive of the Spirits of the Dead … to be found alongside the Goddess (and also God) Who is the Lord of such in that uniquely ‘subjunctive’ sphere-between-spheres which is the Cemetery, the Cremation-Ground (Smashana), the space that is simultaneously (barely) within the Realms of the Living, yet also inexorably drawing forth also into the Realm of the Dead.

A ‘Liminal’ demesne – just as with the ‘Veil of Death’ connoted linguistically by ‘Kali’ Herself.

But let us bring things back to primary texts.

An archaic version of the Skanda Purana makes for most interesting reading. Here we find detailed one of the various myths on the origination of Kali – this being the ‘Kaushiki’ that is the dark patina of Parvati that is shed by Her as (She becomes again) Gauri [‘Fair’, ‘Beautiful’, ‘Light / White’] … a Warrior Form (inter many alia) that is identified with Kali. The ‘Shadow’, we may suggest, to Devi’s Light (i.e. also in the sense of being the tangible form to Her Presence … even where She may not be immediately directly apparent) – and just as inescapable (Adrasteia) as the Night or one’s own.

Soon after this, War with the Demons Shumba and Nishumba ensues. Indra is defeated, and the Demons set up an iniquitous regime in the place of the Divine one. An emissary of the Demons then encounters Kaushiki alone in the mountains of Vindhya surrounded only by wilderness and wild animals of ferocious caliber – and beholding Her remarkable beauty, reports this back to his masters. Who do as demons so often seem to … and make a proposal of marriage.

She replies that She shall only consent to marry one who can beat Her at War. Which, as one should probably expect (as this happens with some frequency in the mythology) … induces the demon-lords in question to fairly immediately commence preparations to attempt to do exactly that. It works about as well for them as it does for every other would-be claimant to Her.

The reason this narrative is of interest to us is due to one of the (numerous – perhaps Thirty) Emanations of Kausiki (Kali; although interestingly Kaushiki is identified (likely for obvious reasons) as Daughter of Devi in this text) that appears in the initial deployment of Her preparations for War.

This is Vayasi – with a theonym that is, quite directly, ‘Crow’ … and at some point we do intend to delve more seriously into the rather energizing likely etymology as to this term. What we can say for now is that it’s cited as being ostensibly from Sanskrit ‘Vayas’, as in either ‘Long-Lived’ (perhaps ‘[Ever-]Youthful’) or ‘Bird’.

We would contemplate PIE *wéyh₁os as likely underpinning both Sanskrit senses – with the *weyh₁- (‘Chase’, ‘Pursue’, ‘Hunt’, ‘Persecute’, ‘Exert Force’) at its root being turned into a noun via the -os suffix.

This should render ‘Vayasa’ (and therefore, ‘Vayasi’) cognate with terms such as Latin ‘Vis’ (as in ‘Assault’, ‘Force’, ‘Vigour’), Ancient Greek ἱέρᾱξ (‘Hierax’ – a Raptor (a swift-moving hunting bird) .. interestingly potentially having semi-merged at some point with the other ‘Hier-‘ style term, ‘Hieros’ (ῐ̔ερός), as in ‘Holy’, ‘Consecrated’, ‘Divine’), Germanic ‘Hunt’ terms such as veiða, Irish Fían (‘Warband’, ‘Group of Warriors’), and an entire suite of ‘War’ terminology in the Slavic sphere (‘Voivode’ – ‘War-Leader’ – being perhaps the most prominent; although ‘Voi’ or ‘Voj’, as in ‘Soldier’, ‘Warrior’, is rather more foundational – as with ‘Voina’ or ‘Vojna’ for ‘War’ itself).

Now, Vayasi Herself is described as having the Head of a Crow … and also a truly fearsome retinue of similarly Crow-Headed female warriors. I say ‘truly fearsome’, in part because the pioneering work of Manasataramgini has pointed out that in various more archaic verses it is the Maruts that are described in ‘Vayas’ terms (and intentionally Avian connotation – “swoop[ing] down here, turbulently, to the mortal pursued by deadly weapons.”, to quote his translation of RV V 41 13). And thus, it should seem, once more Kali is accompanied by ‘matching’ counterparts to Her Husband’s illustrious forces.

Indeed, a ‘Household Troop’ in some respects, as elsewhere in the same text we find these (in amidst an array of similarly emanated formidable female fighters) integrated as the War-Host of Lord Skanda (‘Charger’ – Who is, after all, accompanied by the Matrikas as well; as, perhaps, befits His Mother’s and Father’s Son – Devi & Mahadev for those unaware, respectively).

Yet whilst all of this should prove interesting enough in and of itself – the relevancy for this goes much further. All the way to the European sphere, in fact.

How do I mean that? Well, as it happens, perhaps surprisingly directly.

The Skanda Purana (III 68 1, Yokochi translation) references Her (Kausiki) ’emplacing’ these Goddess-forms in various regions and centres.

Vayasi, the emanation of Devi with the Face of the Crow, is specified to have been emplaced amidst the ‘Yavanas’. That is to say, amongst the ‘Ionians’ (‘Yavana’ being a calque of this that became prominent as the Greeks moved eastwards, particularly around the time of Alexander). Although in a sense, with a lack of any other Europeans around in the Indian sphere at the time, it could just as well do for the European sphere more broadly.

Now, I shall say that again: this archaic Sanskrit text effectively describes the Yavanas as having a Crow-associated War Goddess.

One would be tempted to contemplate the figure(s) of the Morrigan and Badb of the later Celtic sphere’s saliency. Yet we can go rather more ‘direct’ – especially in terms of ‘Yavana’ as ‘Ancient Greek’.

We are instantly reminded of Athena. A Goddess – and most definitely a War Goddess – with a ‘Terrifying Face’ (the Gorgoneion – an etymological and in many ways functional cognate for the ‘Ghora’ facing to Shiva and Devi, particularly as Kali).

Who, as it is occasionally remembered, originally had a Corvid as Her favoured creature. The Corvid appears to have become displaced at some point, perhaps due to the Owls of Athens being simply more prominent – although the mythology of the Greeks relates an array of ‘narrativized’ reasonings for the alleged fall from favour of the Crow in order to ‘make way’ for the Owl.

The two birds are not entirely dissimilar, of course – particularly in terms of various of the associations for these. Classical commentaries thinking of the Owl as a creature associated with death and ill-fortune, the night and a harsh sound … well, you can see some of the coterminities. But we digress.

I have not delved in extensive depth (perhaps surprisingly) as yet into just what might have induced the Voice of the Skanda Purana to identify the ‘Yavana’ sphere as being the empowered dominion of a Warrior Goddess of Crows … but I rather like the idea.

And not least as it should therefore make, in a certain sense, the Corvid ’emblematic’ for the European.

But let us move forward. One last time – afore we, too, retreat off into the ever-welcoming Darkness following a fulguRitically emplaced night of our own ensconsed amidst these most Harrowing (in the older Germanic sense) Proceedings (*weyh₁, indeed).

Earlier in this (A)Arti-cle I put forward the inference that the Crow might potentially constitute not only a ‘messenger’ for the Goddess – but something more overt (and, in fact, possessed of a seeming-conscious agency in proceedings). Something in the manner of a favoured Devotee or even a Priest.

I based this upon, as I say – ‘inference’. My feeling when contemplating several elements of exemplars and the admittedly rather ‘imaginative’ attributions one might look to derive from the subtle sphere of ‘mytholinguistics’.

Call it an ‘instinct’ – or, perhaps, an ‘intuition’.

Or, perhaps, this particular Corvine also gets ‘Told’ some things from time to time – when he is seeking to express through words the Glory of the Goddess, perhaps most particularly.

Because part-way through this rather furious writing process of the past night, I happened across a mention for the Choir of Corvids proceeding to do just exactly that.

It is found within the ‘Kadambari’ of Banabhatta (And Son), a great, sweeping, and heavily interwoven love story (perhaps more properly – love stories, plural) penned by the Bhojaka Brahmin(s) aforementioned in the 7th century.

The dating is, itself, rather intriguing – as, apart from the usual points around stating that this would make it one of the world’s first novels … it would seemingly suggest that Banabhatta would have been not all that long removed from the early generations of Bhojakas who had migrated in to India from the Scythian / Iranic sphere to India’s northwest (assuming one accepts a chronology placing the Bhojakas as arriving rather after the other ‘Maga’ Brahmin groups).

However, as interesting as a group (or series of groups) of Sun-worshipping Scythian-ish Exiled Priests somehow managing to make it all the way into India and in amongst the august stature of the Brahmin fold may be … their story is not (for the moment) our story of interest herein.

Nor, despite its impressive inter-locution is the Kadambari itself.

So we shall have to leave (for the moment) the exploration of the curious circumstances of the ‘Compressed Moon’ (‘Chandrapida’ – although as a Shaivite theonym, it is instead taken to mean ‘Moon-Wreathed’ akin to ‘Chandrasekhar’ (‘Moon-Crowned’ / ‘His Brow Adorned With The Moon’), albeit within the hair) and His forcible incarnation into a scenario of separation from His Love – Who bears the name of a certain ’empowered’ fluid (whether an addictive beverage or a sacred river – the Saraswati in particular) that is also the term for a bird renowned for its speech (the sweet-voiced black Indian cuckoo that presents the yardstick with which the beauty of Devi’s Voice may be compared … or the “preaching-Crow” that has a habit of ‘lecturing’ at some length and with heavily ‘internecine’ (dare we suggest – ‘digressing’ tendencies … ).

And, of course, the subtle assurances of a Goddess that – in essence – “it’ll all work out in the end … and if it hasn’t worked out yet, then it’s not the end”.

But again I digress.

Our salient interest in the Kadambari for the purposes of this piece comes in the episode wherein Chandrapida encounters a vision of the formidable Goddess Chandika.

Now, as it should happen – per the analysis of Oxford’s Bihani Sarkar upon the subject, it should appear that Bana’s presentation of Chandika here is not simply a work of ‘fiction’ (in the sense of being an imaginative artifice of the author’s own mind); but rather, is a direct and recognizably closely concordant development from earlier scriptural sources.

Why does that matter?

Because within it, we find the following – “ārādhyamānāṃ sarvataḥ kaṭhoravāyasagaṇena … stūyamānām”.

Aradhyamanam – ‘Being Worshipped’, Sarvatah – ‘All-About’ / ‘From All Sides’, Kathora – can be translated as ‘Old’ (as Sarkar and Layne do for this verse … or, for that matter, ‘Young’ – as the Kale translation does), however I would instead suggest “Cruel”, “Sharp”, “Harsh”, “Piercing”, “Hard-Hearted”, “Ruthless”, “Violent”, “Loud”, “Unyielding”. It’s a complex term.

Vayasa – is, of course, just as we had seen viz. the Vāyasī Devi-facing above, ‘Crow’; Ganena – instrumental case for ‘Gana’, as in ‘Flock’, ‘Tribe’, ‘Troop’, ‘Company’ (as of Retainers – i.e. ‘Retinue’), ‘Clade’ … a grouping united by a shared characteristic and particularly a shared purpose; hence the utilization to refer to the honour-guard of a God (particularly, as applies certain God(s) and Goddess(es), of the post-human / post-mortem variety, as noted above, many paragraphs ago now … ).

And finally – Stuyamanam : ‘Being Praised’. ‘Stu’, as in ‘Stute’ or ‘Stauti’ (viz. chanting or invoking – ‘praise’ is correct, but somewhat misses the ritualine and religious dimension to the term), from PIE *Stew-, which means much the same.


Aradhyamanam Sarvatah Kathora Vayasa Ganena Stuyamanam –

“Being worshipped from all sides by the Retinue of Crows both razor sharp and unyielding Who sang Her Glories”

What else can I say here that those fellow Crows have not sung to Her (and to the World) already?

Jai Mata Di !


One thought on “The Crows Of Kali

  1. Pingback: The Crows Of Kali – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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