Kali – and Dakinis , striding forth from the Smashana (Cremation Ground).
We would, perhaps, suggest that this is a ‘Smashana *krewh₂-‘
As in a ‘Crew’ … but using that particular Proto-Indo-European term which stands for ‘Cold Blood’ (in contrast to *h₁ésh₂r̥ – ‘hot-blood’, ‘alive-blood’).
This informs Sanskrit ‘Kravya’ (क्रव्य – ‘raw flesh’, as of a corpse) and ‘Kravyada’ (क्रव्याद -‘devourer of Kravya’ … a predator, a ‘carnivore’ (this is a cognate, as is ‘carrion’), and interestingly – the Funerary Pyre Himself, Who, after all, does most definitely ‘devour’ the Corpse (yet not the Spirit)).
It also informs, via PIE *kruh₂rós (‘Bloody’), both Sanskrit ‘Krura’ ( क्रूर ), as well as modern English ‘Cruel’.
Indeed, the Sanskrit is (as we have come to anticipate), rather more expansive in its field of definition – encompassing not only ‘Cruel’ and ‘Bloody, but also ‘Wrathful’, ‘Pitiless’, ‘Savage’, ‘Formidable’, ‘Frightful’, ‘Violent’, ‘Aggressive’, ‘Harsh’, and rather ‘Barbaric’.
Fitting, one would have to say, for the quite literally ‘Terrific’ (for They beget Terror) facings to Deifics such as Rudra – and, of course, His Wife. Who is quite directly hailed as ‘Krura’ (or ‘Krurayai’) in various scripture oriented toward Her (see, for instance, Agni Purana 146; Devi Bhagavata Purana VIII 24; and, of course, the famed Sri Durga Ashtottara Shatanama Stotram [‘Great Durga 108 Name Hymnal’] and in similar fashion in the Kalika Sahasranama Stotram – in both the latter instances, occurring in sequence to read ‘Ameya Vikrama Krura’ … Limitless (Ameya) Power / Valour / Heroism (Vikrama) – and, we may infer, also ‘Krura’-quality : judiciously meted out towards the justly-reviled foe).
Given the context, we are also reminded of the invocation of ‘Krura’ 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’ (‘Swift-As-Thought’) that is Death.
There, the Salavrkas [‘Temple-Wolves’, or ‘Wolves of the Boundary’] and the Ancestors (with which the Wolves may be co-expressive/co-identifiable) are called upon to devour the malign Yatis (‘Sorcerers’, ‘Demon-Worshippers’ – adversaries to the Gods and troublers of the religion) that might seek to intrude upon and disrupt the rites of the pious … in particular, in later scripture, via stealing the Wife of the Priest via subjecting His Beloved to a pernicious mental “influence”.
Interestingly, the Shatapatha Brahmana version of the same rite [SBr III 5 2] has, in the place of this invocation to the Salavrkas, the saliency for Vak Devi in Wrathful, Devouring (indeed, Lioness) form. We would suggest that the Goddess becoming Furious, Terrifying, and with the razor-inescapable Maw (and Roar) of a (female) Lion … has clear ‘resonancy’ for our perspective upon Kali Devi.
Wolves, as we have already demonstrated elsewhere, we ought expect in cohort with the Avenging Form of the Goddess – as attested in relation to Kali’s Nordic cognate, Skadi, quite directly; and, of course, in terms of an ‘Underworld’ Goddess, with Hekate, as well.
Although even in the absence of the overt mentioning for the Wolves in the SBr’s rendition of the Rite – we can quite understandably observe that both Wolves and a Lioness are ‘Kravyada’ creatures.
And, in any case, the Army of the Ancestors (dare we say – ‘GHOST DIVISION’ ) is pointedly hailed and propitiated in both iterations of the rite … in the South, the customary ‘Direction of Death’ of the mesocosmic ritual enclosure space and the macrocosmic world (our world) that it is intended to ‘resonate with’ and to represent.
(However, it is worth noting that this is not, contrary to what one might anticipate, the ‘Sinister’ direction … indeed, quite literally the opposite – it is the ‘Dakshinah’ direction. The ‘Dexter’ (a cognate with दक्षिण , as we should not be surprised to observe) direction. The right side, quite literally (where the Altar-space faces East), and also the ‘direction of righteousness’ when we consider the saliency of Yama (Dharmaraja) in that particular quarter.
Which tracks also with Kali, the Black and Avenging form to Devi, being similarly the ‘Law’s Ultimate Enforcement Clause’ – where (Vak) Devi’s saliency as the ‘in-universe’ highest expression/expressor of Cosmic Order (Rta, Orlog) as Absolute (Brahman, etc.) is exhibited pointedly also via Retribution, Sanction, and Wrathful, Ultimate Destruction against the would-be usurper and disparager of same.
No World Beyond HER Rule – No Enemy Beyond HER Wrath.
Nowhere can ever truly be (‘metaphysically’) ‘Lawless’ for long! ).
We might further expand upon this rather intriguing observance of Vak Devi being found in that South dimension through situating this within its broader Indo-European typological context.
And, to phrase that more directly – what I’m saying is that Vak being offered to in baleful aspect in the direction that connotes the Underworld reminds me of something. Freyja rules Folkvangr. The Hittites had their Underworld Sun Goddess. Persephone (co-identified with Hekate, in particular via the Diva Triformis conceptry) reigns (indeed, ‘Reigning Death’ is a rather fitting translation to Her Theonym – ‘Raining’, rather than ‘Reigning’, perhaps, notwithstanding Despoina, but we digress) in Hades. And Aditi, as it should happen, per SBr VIII 4 3 7 – where She is hailed as the Adhipatni of the Pitrs. Adhipatni, we have to say, is a most intriguing terminology to deploy there – as with a slightly longer initial ‘A-‘ sound (आधि vs अधि), we would have, instead of ‘High-, Over-‘ Queen … a term referring to Punishment, Pain, and Oaths. A ‘Dread Queen’, we might say (and yes, ‘Dread’ is part of the meaning-field).
However, given the context for Vak here – as being offered to not only in the area correlate to the Gates of the Underworld … but that where there is an Army of the Wrathful (Protective) Dead also awaiting and having been, Themselves, offered to just a few ritual steps earlier : well, we are instantly reminded of those situations wherein it is the Wife of the Sky Father Who commands the Wild Hunt. Frau Holle / Frau Woden (‘Mrs Woden’) in the Germanic sphere, for instance.
So therefore – just as Lord Shiva is famed for His BhutaGana (the aforementioned ‘GHOST DIVISION’), Odin with His Einherjar and Wild Hunt, we are unsurprised at the prospect of the Wife of the Sky Father having similar coterie. Although trust us when we say there is quite a lot more to the Army of Kali in its cohort-coherency with the Army of Rudra that we are yet to directly address.
Yet let us return to the ritual itself, most directly.
She (Vak) is then either propitiated and satiated through a further share of offering so as to appease Her Almighty Anger … or, an option is given to ‘Exorcise’ (SBr III 5 2 8).
That is to say: the Sacrificer , instead of endeavouring to appease and to calm the Goddess – states the name of his foe, and directs the Roaring, Extirpating Force that is Her to instead seek the antagonist out and send him screaming into the Gates of the Underworld. A most ‘Cruel’ Maw, indeed!
Furthering our archaic Kali parallels for Vak in this context, She is described as becoming ‘Ashanta’ (‘Opposite-to-Shanti’ – opposite to ‘peaceful / tranquil’, ‘wild’), and as having an element of ‘Shocati’ (‘Shucha’). The latter term being particularly interesting to our purposes, as its effective sense is eminently … funerary.
शुच् (‘Shuc’), its root, refers at once to ‘grieving’, ‘mourning’, ‘being in a state of clear (and loud) emotional distress’ … and yet also to ‘burning’, ‘consuming’, and to the gleaming, shining, radiance of fire.
The former sense instantly reminds us as to Her Husband, Rudra – a theonymic that, quite directly, means ‘The Wailer’, ‘The Howler’ (from Proto-Indo-European *Hrewdh – a term for ‘Weeping’, and with the sense effectively resonantly-reinforced via consideration of its descendant, Old English ‘Reotan’, which is also utilized to refer to (thunder)storms … which do, after all, involve the ‘(tear)drops’ of the Sky (Father), and rather loud ‘roaring’ or ‘howling’ noises from both thunder and high winds, in earnest (amsha Manyu)).
The latter, of course, remembers to us the Funerary Pyre – that most ‘Kravyada’ form of Agni (Rudra) that dwells , via very definition, at the heart of the Cremation Ground as its major defining feature. A situation that, we may say, therefore should seemingly ‘resonate’ also with the Vedic Sacral Fire of the Altar – wherein there, too, we find Agni … and yet also Vak … co-dwelling there within, Together.
We are also reminded of the term’s utilization in Shiva Purana [II 1 4 54], wherein it is the iniquities pertaining to sin and impurity that characterize the world that are invoked via the term. That is to say – those who take proper refuge with Shiva and are protected by Him, are thusly inured against the damages and the depredations of these caustic forces.
Indeed, two verses earlier in that aforementioned Shiva Purana [II 1 4 52], as a point of perhaps interest (I find it pretty cool, anyway) – it is said that the “Axe (Kuthara) of Shiva’s Name” is able to ward against same.
We mention these Shaivite Pauranika elements, of course, because the converse is also true – namely, those who are opposed to the Gods and who revel in malefic (and maleficarum-laden) conduct … well, Flame (and that Axe) is the Cleanser.
It is just that instead of the ‘general’ “background radiation” level of fire and grief that suffuses an ordinary existence through the universe at large … these other sorts earn for themselves a rather more dramatic ‘Personal Touch’.
Hence the situation aforementioned in the SBr [III 5 2 8], wherein Vak Devi – and more directly, Her Fiery, Howling Displeasure are invoked in order to have these ‘reach out’ and ‘grasp’ (assumedly about the neck – hard) the demon-praising interloper.
A most helpful ‘Illumination’ (of the sort that renders one ‘warm’ for the rest of one’s life) for What Not To Do for all those watching from the relatively safe distance away of the other side of the moral spectrum.
This Shaivite Pauranika perspective also occurs in the RigVeda – RV I 97 opens with just such an entreaty to Lord Agni – and then utilizes the concept as the ‘refrain’ to each verse (‘apa naḥ śośucad agham’). As Jamison & Brereton note, it’s a construction rather difficult to properly render in English – although I must say, I am actually rather taken with their effort: “blazing away the bad for us”. “Bad” lacks the appropriate gravitas, of course, but “blazing away” handily replicates the meaning through the (deliberate) ambiguity as to whether it’s a noun or a verb.
Hence, it can both be ‘blazing away’ (verb), as in ‘expurgating with fire’ the situation of sin afflicting the ‘caller’ (‘invoker’); yet it can also be the noun – in the sense that the ‘blazing’ (of iniquitous infliction under which the invoker is labouring in pain and turmoil) that is exhorted to go ‘away’.
Both, as we can see, are clearly co-aligned under the dominion of Lord Agni (Who is also Rudra – and, funnily enough, Durga, too, is invoked in coterminous terms as Agni for Her famed Hymnal, the eponymous Durga Sukta, wherein She is asked to provide peaceable protection against worldly travails in a not entirely dissimilar fashion to both this RV Hymnal, or the aforementioned Shiva Purana suite of conceptry).
And, if one is being unrighteously afflicted by the ‘sin’ (congealed, we might suggest) that is a Yatudhana … well, it makes entirely logical sense to beseechingly request that his karma catch up with him. He can even ‘burn it all off’ at once! (figuratively speaking)
Yet we can go still further.
AV-S [the Atharva Veda in its Śaunakīya recension] XII 5 48 features a figure that may be familiar to us (She certainly is to me, at any rate) – the Keshini. This effectively means ‘She of the Wild Hair’.
In AV-S XII 5 48, we find the Keshini appearing in troupe. Or, perhaps more aptly (given these are the Retinue-members of Rudra and His Imperial Household) – in ‘Gana’ (‘tribe’, like ‘genus’ – a group oriented by a characteristic, and in this case also Divine Service).
These Women are described at several points in the Roudran liturgies of the Vedas – the salient terms involved include “Ghosini [’Powerfully Voiced’], Keshini [’Wild-Haired’], Sambhunjati [‘Eating-Together‘], Namaskrta [’Worshipped‘], Namasvati [’Who Worship’], Jayamanayai [’Daughters’], and others. Elsewhere within AV-S XI 2, we also find the Vikesi [’Distinctively Haired’], who are similarly engaged in loud howling [’gharudo’]”, to quote myself upon the subject.
Roaring (or Howling), Devouring, furious figures with Wild Hair.
Sound like Anyone you might know?
It should. Two Figures, in fact – Lord Rudra, and also His Wife. Various of those terms we have just conjured are feminine (and plural) forms for particular of His Theonyms and well-hailed qualities; and, for that matter, His Wife’s.
The ‘Hair’ element is particularly intriguing – as not only do we find ‘Vikesi’ directly as Rudra’s (and also Agni’s – but, then, I repeat myself) Wife and Mars’ Mother … but also Kali’s Hair as being ‘resonated’ with or by Yama (i.e. ‘Death’), and the situation of Chamunda (Chamundi) as well as the (Sapta)Matrika warrior clade as being produced from the Hair of Devi upon the ground.
Something that also characterizes particular ‘Warrior / Avenger / Executor / Executioner’ figures that are emanated by Rudra from His Hair placed upon the ground in a similar fashion. These include not only the fearsome Veerabhadra , but also in some perceptions the armies of devoted warriors who marched with Him, as well.
We might also make mention of the Uganas and Vividhyantis [female figures ‘With Weapons Raised’, ‘Who Pierce’] of the Sri Rudram, not least because the Uganas, in particular, were fairly directly identified by the great Vedic commentator Sayana also with the SaptaMatrikas prominent in later Hindu (and particularly Shakta(-Shaivite) devotional understandings.
Although to return to speak more broadly of those ‘wild-haired’ women immediately aforementioned … these are the fearsome ‘Rudraganika’ – the ‘Daughters of Rudra’ (‘RudraKanya’) that are correlate with the Maenads of Dionysus (and we quite definitely, pointedly mean both the ‘mythic’ Maenads, as well as the human emulators and embodiments as to same).
Some might think of these as being akin to the Devadasis so unfairly maligned by various European commentators in terms that we shall not repeat here; although perhaps succinctly (if incompletely) referred to in relatively ‘neutral’ terms as ‘Temple Dancers’.
However, the Rudraganikas, whilst also being that (and the ‘that’ includes, to demonstrate the shortcomings as to the English labelling there … riding on horseback, fully armed, as a procession of war (indeed, a ‘Wild Hunt’ – Mrgayatra) in accompaniment of an equestrian representation of Rudra – and demonstrating that they actually were able to use the weaponry in question by assaulting and devastating Muslim forces that had sought to interrupt the Roudran rite in question on at least one occasion during the Vijayanagara era) … might be quite sensibly linked to the Yoginis; again, pointedly both the human and the mythic sort (although there, the ‘line’ is, indeed, an almost entirely immaterial one in actual functional practice).
Which we mention because, of course, we find Kali accompanied by just such a retinue of Yoginis (and Dakinis), Herself.
With Her being the ‘archetype-and-apex’ that these women (again, both ‘human’ and ‘sidereal’ as well as ‘mythic’ and ‘divine’) both are ‘patterned upon’ as the very fact of their natures – as well as actively seeking to consciously emulate.
Why do we mention all of this? Well, in part, it is because we are, it would seem, discussing the Army of Kali – which is significantly coterminous with the Army of Rudra, for reasons that ought be abundantly resounding.
These female figures form a significant part of that – both, to again invoke this dvandva, in terms of the mythic figures that we find detailed within the scripture and the supernal … and also in terms of salient of Her particularly (if specifically) blessed human female disciples.
We say ‘both’, because the ‘institution’ in question is one that is ‘mesocosmic’, in a sense – it is ‘liminal’, and transcends easy limitations into either sphere. Persons ‘down here’, ostensibly amidst the Sidereal, can also find themselves (in multiple senses to that terming) part of the same institution as that which operates saliently ‘Up There’, within the more pure ‘Realm of Myth’.
It’s not simply one group acting to copy – acting in imitation – of the other; it’s the more (humanly-)tangible clade acting acting as the ‘local form of’, the ’embodiment to’ , the ‘comrades of’, and perhaps we may also say the ‘training phase of successfully initially-inducted aspirants’ for the Mythic one.
All of which brings us back to that situation we had branched off from discussing, found within the Atharva Veda.
AV-S XII 5 is a Hymnal of Outrage. It sets out just what, exactly, is intended to happen when some foul and cretinous interloper attempts to steal ‘The Brahmin’s Cow’.
Which, we should probably clarify … isn’t (necessarily) a cow (in the sense of the animal). How can we tell? Because the Hymnal itself does it so for us. It sets out in reasonably apparent terms that this Cow is, in fact, a most important female figure to the priest.
In a sense (as seen, for example, in SBr III 2 1 19-22), She is His Wife – certainly, it is only through Her Love (per RV X 125 5 – and yes, the active verb, in Devi’s Own words there is ‘Kama’) that the man is able to accomplish his mighty deeds within the spheres both mythic and religious.
She is his Shakti – and it is immediately pertinent the fashion in which this quite clearly ‘resonates’ with the developments so prominent within the later (and Tantrika) Hindu sphere.
This Cow, to make things more directly apparent – is the Goddess Herself; and Vak, in particular, we may say – hence the ‘cattle-rustling’ resonating as it does with the demonic conduct that forms a recurrent ritual mytheme of metaphysical combat within the SBr, etc.
As you may recall … we had earlier met this, in terms of the post-Vedic presentation of the story, wherein the Yatis manage to malefically ‘mentally influence’ the Wife of the Priest – thus leading to these supernatural scoundrels being fed to the Wolves and fought by the Ancestors, as we have covered rather more capaciously elsewhere.
Yet how is this relevant to a discussion of Kali?
Well, take a look at how the relevant Hymnal speaks about this Cow when She has been improperly absconded with by an over-mighty infidel.
“Terrible is She this Brāhman’s cow, and fearfully venomous, visibly witchcraft.
In Her are all horrors and all death.
In Her are all dreadful, deeds, all slaughters of mankind.
This, the Brāhman’s cow, being appropriated, holdeth bound in the fetter of Death the oppressor of the Brāhman, the blasphemer of the Gods.
A hundred-killing Bolt is She: She slays the Brāhman’s injurer.
Therefore the Brāhmans’ cow is held inviolable by the wise.
Running She is a Thunderbolt, when driven away she is Vaisvānara;
An Arrow when She draweth up Her Hooves, and Mahādeva when She looketh around;
Sharp as a Razor when She beholdeth, She Thundereth when She Belloweth.
Death is She when She Loweth, and a Fierce God when She whisketh Her Tail;
Utter destruction when She moveth Her Ears this way and that,
Consumption when She droppeth water;
A missile when milking, pain in the head when milked;
The taking away of strength when She approacheth, a hand-to-hand fighter when roughly touched;
Wounding like an arrow when She is fastened by Her Mouth, contention when She is beaten;
Fearfully venomous when falling, Darkness when She hath fallen down.
Following him, the Brāhman’s cow extinguisheth the vital breath of the injurer of the Brāhman.”
[AV-S XII 5 12-27; Griffith Translation]
Now, of course, it is perhaps important to observe that this isn’t ‘only’ the Goddess – as we might think of a Goddess in our modern terms; but is also the Vedic Liturgy, the Sacred Speech, the Ritual enactments and Their empowerment (i.e. ‘Brahmana’ in the older Sanskrit sense) … hence, in part, the whole thing also serves as a bit of a ‘cautionary tale’ and/or curse toward those who might try and ‘meddle’ or ‘appropriate’ forces they do not understand and have no legitimate claim towards.
After all – in perhaps the most prominent exemplar of the mytheme I am thinking of, that of the Ritual Combat (as in Combat Via Ritual (Invocation)) between the Priest of the Gods and the Demons (usually represented by a ‘Priest of the Demons’) in order to win Vak Back from their reprehensible clutches … one of the major reasons things go the Gods’ way – is because the Demons are unable to quite properly perform the rituals in order to match Agni (and His human embodiment / resonancy), and therefore ‘lose control’ of the forces they have sought to improperly harness and hold ‘bound’ to them instead of Her Righteous and True Home with He.
And, as we have also explicated elsewhere – the situation of such violation effectively constitutes an ‘undermining’ of Cosmic Order. Certainly an attempt at ‘transgressing’ against various of its more immediately tangible deyk-tats.
Which therefore produces the proximate, temporal cause for the Black Avenging / Destroyer form of the Goddess to take to the field and hound down the violators – that ‘Ultimate Enforcement Clause’ we had spoken of some (many) paragraphs now above.
Now, as a further point of, perhaps, arcanely illustrative interest:
“Loss of power while sacrificially presented, humiliation when She hath been offered;
Wrathful Sarva while being carved. Simidā when cut up:
Poverty while She is being eaten. Destruction when eaten.
The Brāhman’s cow when eaten cuts off the injurer of Brāhmans both from this world and from the world yonder.
Her slaughter is the sin of witchcraft, Her cutting-up is a thunderbolt, Her undigested grass is a secret spell.
Homelessness is She when denied her rights.”
[AV-S XII 5 35-40; Griffith translation]
Why do I mention these verses ? Because what we see here is also remarkably important when it comes to understanding certain Devi forms as a fact of general principle.
If one read carelessly, one could think that this Goddess was, in essence, ‘Poverty’, ‘Loss of Power’, ‘Humiliation’, ‘Homelessness’, and any number of other decidedly undesirable qualities.
Rather than – as is more aptly understood here … the infliction of those negative qualities and statuses upon the transgressors of the Gods’ Law, without being … well … negative and malignant, Herself.
Although that having been said – this also does not render the Goddess (at least – in particular Forms and Facings) entirely non-hazardous for the (literally) uninitiated to seek to approach. Particularly not if one is going to attempt to do so in a manner that is ‘improper’ – for reasons that ought be, by this point in proceedings, quite obvious.
What does all of this lead to? Well, the next line of AV-S XII 5 is quite … illuminating:
“Having become Flesh-eating Agni the Brāhman’s cow entereth into and devoureth the oppressor of Brāhmans.
She sunders all his members, joints, and roots.
She cuts off relationship on the father’s side and destroys maternal kinship.”
And just what is the term in the original Sanskrit that we find here presented as ‘Flesh-Eating’, and in relation to Agni, no less?
‘All-Consuming’, and ‘Fire’ – we do not even need to observe one of those pervasive Tongues of the ‘Carnivorous’ Agni (indeed, Agni all-up) is named ‘Kali’ in order to see the coterminities of concept with our earlier points of resonance, here.
However, my main purpose for bringing AV-S XII 5 into proceedings is, in fact, quite a different one … by which I mean it is exactly the same one, carried out by a different (or, rather, “different” – yet remarkably ‘recognizable’) suite of specific awe-ful Executors.
To quote, once more, in the Griffith translation:
“Quickly, when he is smitten down by Death, the clamorous Vultures cry:
Quickly around his funeral fire dance Women with dishevelled locks,
Striking the hand upon the breast and uttering Their evil shriek.
Quickly the Wolves are howling in the habitation where he lived:
Quickly they ask about him, What is this? What thing hath happened here?
Rend, rend to pieces, rend away, destroy, destroy him utterly.”
[AV-S XII 5 47-51, Griffith Translation]
[As a brief side-point – I prefer the Dr Tulsi Ram rendition for line 49:
“Soon after, Wolves rush into his homes and secret vaults and raise a deathly howl of loot”]
Now, what is useful to note here is that each of these three groups – translated by Griffith as ‘Vultures’, ‘Women with dishevelled locks’ [i.e. ‘Keshini’ – or ‘Vikeshi’ in some cases, etc.], and ‘Wolves’ – is a prominent Roudran clade.
Indeed, the rather magnificent Atharva Veda hymnal dedicated to Rudra via Sharva (Sarva or Śarva) and Bhava, AV-S XI 2, explicitly calls upon two out of the three – the Keshini and the Vultures (inter various alia as applies ‘carrion birds’ – perhaps unsurprisingly, our friends the Corvid are also mentioned, if often glossed over and unnoticed by various translations of the verses in question); whilst I suspect rather strongly that ‘Wolf’ would form the archaic origination for the Canine companions called to mention in the same lines … and Sarva and Bhava as Wolves Themselves (indeed ‘Wolf-Sons’ of the Sky Father) is also prominently attested (see Shankhayana Shrauta Sutra IV 20, and my work leading in from thereupon).
We might further observe that the same word – Ailaba – is utilized to refer to the harsh cries of the Vultures, the roaring and/or wailing vocalizations of the Keshini, and the Howling of the Wolves.
Clearly, the intent is to overtly establish the fundamental coterminity and comradeship of correlate saliency and symbolism for all three of these Death-associated groups.
We should also note, as applies ‘unifying characteristics’, that two of the three are quite expressly ‘Kravyada’ in dietary habits.
And the third (the Rudraganikas) … well, let us put it this way – not for nothing did Manasataramgini translate the ‘saMbhu~njatI’ (‘Sambhunjati’) that occurs in the relevant Roudran hymnal of the Atharva Veda’s Paippalāda [AV-P] recension in direct hailing and descriptive reference to those female forces of His, as communicating that They “devour their targets”. I’d instead just gone for the rather less grand translational phrasing – They that Eat Together.
We are reminded, of course, of the Sparagmos & Omophagia practices attributed to Dionysus’ furious (or, we ought more properly say ‘furor-infused’) Maenadic female cultists. However a most important co-expression of this which usefully sheds light upon just what, exactly, is meant by the phrase – is provided for us via the much-storied and also much-feared figures of the Yogini.
Now, a Yogini is often thought of as a ‘nymph’ – and, strictly speaking, this is not entirely inaccurate … if we allow for the fact that what gets classed as a ‘nymph’, in archaic Classical contextual referencing may in fact be a very angry female figure armed with a spear – and, indeed, unmistakably of a ‘Spear Essence’, considering that They are the ‘Meliae’ (Μελίαι – quite directly related to the μελίᾱ that is both the Ash Tree, and the Spears that are most famously made of exactly that wood).
Indeed, it might be intriguing for our ‘Yogini’ comparanda to observe that the Meliae, too, seem in some texts to have an important association with the Empowering Elixir that the Sky Father has such a linkage to; not least due to the ‘Honey-Dew’ associated with the specimine(s) (and c.f. μέλῐ – ‘Meli’ – for ‘Honey’ , for a further point of mytho-linguistic interleavening with what is found in other IE spheres upon the Mat(t)er). But we ought not dwell too much upon that here.
What we would say, however, is that the situation of the Meliae (Who are, of course, also of pointedly Dionysian linkages – inter alia, as we have detailed more expansively elsewhere), the ‘Ash-Nymphs’ being also Spear Nymphs resonates rather interestingly with the situation of Yoginis as , effectively, Shaktis – certainly, when in a bonded relationship, Their chosen Man’s Shakti, They in various manners become.
Why? Because the word I’ve just used there – often rendered as ‘Power’ – is exactly the same word as the ‘Shakti’ that means ‘Spear’. शक्ति and शक्ति, in case you were wondering (or thought I’d misread something via utilizing only anglicization or something).
And we are also rather enthused to observe in the AV-S XII 5 excerpts I had posted above, the situation of the Cow as such an Arrow or Bolt – a Divine Weapon, as well as an Empowerment – as well.
Yet why I felt it important to here invoke the Yoginis (other than general point of ecstatic principle) – is because They are said to ‘Devour’ wrongdoers. More specifically, persons that attempt to violate the bounds of the Tantrik Kaula.
So, for example – gaining improper access to the rituals of the Tantrika clan (or ‘circle’) as an outsider and then attempting to perform them similarly improperly … places one at risk of being ‘Devoured by the Yoginis’. Violating one’s Oath and disseminating improperly the information that is supposed to be kept within the Kaula alone … places one at risk of being ‘Devoured by the Yoginis’. You get the idea. And you can immediately see how that connects to the circumstance outlined above viz. the ‘Brahman’s Cow’.
To bring things back to AV-S XII 5 – Whitney’s translation of line 48 reads as:
“Quickly, indeed, about his place of burning dance the long-haired women, beating on the breast with the hand, making an evil din.”
Which, as we can see, has the elements we ought expect for the ‘Smashana *krewh₂-‘ – namely, figures in a cremation ground (it’s a *funerary pyre* after all – although I am not exactly sure that the offensive interloper is supposed to be dead before he gets put into the ‘Kravyada’ Flames) that are both ‘expressively’ resonant with the Great Goddess (hence the ‘Wild Hair’, the frightening sound, the dance, the environs, and the quite literally furious chest-beating) … as well as being ‘functionally’ resonant, as well.
That is to say – it isn’t just that these Keshinis might look like Kali Devi … it’s that they’re doing these things for the same (sort of) purpose, as well.
In essence, Hers, they would be “Kaliganikas” – meant in the sense that the “-ika” (-इका – ‘doer’, feminine) suffix construes a noun or a concept so as to refer to the ‘operationalizer’ or ’enactor’ thereof. (for example – Śikṣā (teaching) becomes Śikṣikā (female teacher), as one is taking the ‘teaching’, indeed ’embodying’ the teaching in the sense that it is in one’s head : and then expressing it out into our world through the conscious acts in question pertaining to its transmission). Something, obviously, quite different to the homophonic yet conceptually unrelated ‘Ganika’ which connotes, we may say, a ‘public woman’ (‘of the Gana’ – as in ‘polis’). Even though I have little doubt that some would (foolishly) wish to slander the Yoginis in exactly such terms, as has been done with the Rudraganikas.
And, as applies the human (and sidereal-ly situated) members to this ‘tribe’ (‘Gana’) … it should therefore be a case of ‘multi-layer mythic resonating’; as the (‘sidereal’) human contingent are effectively enacting / emulating / embodying the ‘mythic’ grouping of figures (i.e. the Keshini, etc.) … who are themselves ‘following in the course’ (‘Vartani’ in Sanskrit) and demonstrating their coterminity of essence (as well as expression) with Her.
One final point we ought make viz. AV-S XII 5 concerns the next few lines:
“51 Rend, rend to pieces, rend away, destroy, destroy him utterly.
52 Destroy Angirasi! the wretch who robs and wrongs the Brahmans, born.”
“51 Cut thou, cut on, cut forth, scorch, burn (kṣā).
52 O daughter of An̄giras, exhaust thou the Brahman-scather, that takes to himself [the cow].”
Why do we mention that? Because of the hailing for this Wrathful form of the Divine ‘Cow’ as being ‘Angirasi’ – a ‘Daughter of Angiras’.
What does that mean? That this Devi-Form has been invoked, and ‘called into being’ down here on our plane by a Priest (an Angirasa) – something exactly concordant with the conceptry outlined elsewhere within the Vedic ritualine metaphysics for Gods ‘summoned’ via such rites to be here amongst Their People.
What does this fairly instantly remind us of? That occurrence elucidated in SBr III 5 2, wherein the Priest can choose to call upon Vak in Wrathful and Fiery ‘Roaring’ and ‘Devouring’ quality – which we had earlier suggested to present a clear ‘resonancy’ also for Kali Devi in later-prominent Hindu perspective. The Priest invokes and calls forth the Goddess – in a manner, we may surmise, that is quite like the situation of Katyayani (a Fierce, Roaring War-Form of the Goddess – Mahishasura Mardini, Herself!) being presented in some (but not all) Pauranika accounts as the ‘Daughter of Katyayana’. A perspective that, as applies Her (and Her ‘fiery’ associations of ritually contextualized rage expressive through Vak), we have explored at grander length elsewhere and so shall not delve into again herein. Except to note that the hailing for Her as ‘Vaishvadevi’ in line 53 of AV-S XII 5 makes for an interesting point of potential comparison with that situation of Katyayani being formed from ‘radiance’ from all the Gods in order to go and fight the demons.
Instead, we shall simply quote the words attributed to Her (as Katyayani) in the Devi Mahatmyam of the Markandeya Purana (well, an English rendition of these, at any rate):
“Thus whenever trouble shall arise caused by the Dānavas, at each such time I shall become incarnate and accomplish the foes’ destruction.”
[Markandeya Purana 91 – Pargiter translation]
And perhaps we may imply a slightly ‘broader’ perspective upon just what it is for Devi to ‘become incarnate’ in order to win enduring victory over the demonic foe. Perhaps it is a situation akin to that of the high worshippers of Rudra – stated, in that prominent verse of the ShivaDharmaShastra to be “no ordinary men. They are Rudras who have come down from Rudraloka”; [ŚiDhŚ 1.16 – Nina Mirnig translation] with an ensuing verse [ŚiDhŚ 1.24] also quite pointedly maintaining that only Rudra can worship Rudra in such a manner – and so therefore, these high devotees are, evidently, Rudra Himself in humanly embodied (‘divinely invested’) form.
So, as for where we are going with all of that – our major subject and pervasive (my)theme for this (A)Arti-cle has been the calling upon Kali (and Her Forces) to Protect.
This is also, incidentally, part of the reason I had opened with ” finger-snapping intensifies “. Which, on the surface, is simply what it sounds like – a reference to the well-known bit from West Side Story wherein a gang advances upon their opponent whilst clicking their fingers both nonchalantly yet menacingly. And with quite the dance-number then involved too, aptly enough given the Deifics we have been speaking of herein.
But also finger-snapping … in the sense of breaking somebody’s fingers.
And, because we like to do things in threes … it references the ‘Digbandha’ ritual operation – wherein, via a set of (en)actions pointedly including finger-clicking, the area within its bounds is ‘warded’, ‘protected’ against demons and other such interferences for what is (about to) take place within.
Now, as for the words along the base of the image – well, it did not seem quite right to go with the actual memetic phrase … and so instead : we have one rather simple identifying characteristic.
In part, this is a generalized perception. After all – as we have often observed elsewhere, if one is not at least a little bit ‘affeared’ when in the presence of a Divinity … then one has, quite probably, not stopped to consider just what this (and particularly ‘Divinity’) actually means, implies, and entails. This is before we get into the situation wherein particular Gods and Goddesses are, quite literally, ‘Fearsome’, ‘Terrific’ (as in, begetting Terror), and so forth – often with entire suites of theonymics and Aspects and emanations devoted to conveying this concept (and so many others). Bhairava and Bhairavi, for instance – again, quite literally ‘Terror’.
Yet when it comes to the Demonic – there is, again, a bit of a pattern … and that is decidedly insufficient Fear – followed up by tangible demonstration as to the reason they ought to have been more ‘God(s)-Fearing’ in the first place. Although in the other sense of ‘God-Fearing’ – that of being proper in one’s life and congruent with piety and the underlying order of the Universe … well, if they were that, then they would not be adversaries seeking to overthrow the Gods in the first place (and therefore not, in a certain sense, actually ‘demonic’).
However it is not only Her that those demons (and those so subversively aligned with same) have to fear. As we have seen, there are formidable forces also arrayed about and empowered by Her to fight alongside Her and upon Her behalf. Some of these are other Goddess-forms, quite directly. These include those Matrikas frequently venerated, as well as those Yoginis that in many respects may ‘straddle the line’ (or, indeed, dance merrily over it as if it weren’t there at all) that between Goddess(-forms) and more ‘human’ appearing combatants (er .. ’embodiments’).
They also include Shaktis in a more expansive sense – the “archaic” Skanda Purana, for instance, makes rather deliberate mention of Kaushiki (closely coterminous with Kali in many respects – not least as the ‘Dark Shadow’ of Devi’s ‘Gauri’ Form) proceeding to emanate a range of frequently bird- or animal-headed further Warrior Forms of the Goddess (for example – the Crow-headed Vayasi that we had detailed somewhat in the ‘Crows of Kali’ (A)Arti-cle of late) … Who then Themselves emanate further female warriors, of similar visage to the Goddess-Facings that these have been called by. In our previous piece in this direction, we had referenced the work of Manasataramgini to argue that, particularly around the aforementioned Vayasi, these divine soldiers were as akin to the Maruts Themselves. Not least due to this latter characteristic are we therefore unsurprised to find Them fighting also in the Armies of Lord Skanda. As we have said – the situation of the Divine Family and Their devotees, retinues and Favoured, is not as ‘separated’ out upon the basis of individual and exclusive allegiance as one might think.
Yet whilst it might feel tempting to relegate those glittering ranks of combatants to the exclusivity of the realms of myth and scripture … in truth, this is not the case.
Whether through proper and pious invocation – or, in some ways more marvellously, whether encountering individual members of Them in ‘incarnated’ human guise – ‘mythic’ and ‘sidereal’ reality can most definitely turn out to have been perhaps (un)surprisingly conjoined all along. That is to say – the ‘mesocosmic’ arena of which we had spoken earlier is not strictly limited to only the ritual enclosure of the ‘high religion’ and rites. It can also be encountered all around us – indeed, engaged through fairly actively – day-to-day. Most just don’t notice it, and so are limited to what they can subconsciously pick up upon – and in a similarly much more limited sense, what they can also ‘put out’ likewise.
Now, a properly pious individual is already at least one stage above that status aforementioned. Precisely because they are aware that their actions matter – even if they have not, perhaps, quite cottoned on to the notion of the whole universe entire as some form of grand and most illustrious ritual arena, ritual space … ritual ‘staging ground’, with the Old Norse Iðavöllr [‘Space for Motion’ – or, per Bellows translation, ‘Field of Deeds’], Divya Abhinaya-Mantapa, perhaps, in Sanskrit.
Those more aware of their potential contribution – are therefore, correspondingly, much more able in scope to make their contribution. After all – it is much easier to do something when one actually realizes that it is both i) a thing that can be done, and ii) a thing that one can, in fact, themselves do. Rather than simply relegating it to the half-forgotten tales of a prior age when men were greater and Gods seemingly much more ‘overt’ and ‘nearer’ in Their situation and enactions relative to us. Or, to speak perhaps more pointedly – auto-presuming that ‘Heroism’ is near-exclusively ‘something that happens to other people’.
Where am I going with all of this? Why, ‘back to the beginning’ – as ever !
We opened this piece with my indulging in a multi-linguistic stab at some perhaps less-than-totally-inspiring Proto-Indo-European-infused wordplay – the ‘Smashana *krewh₂-‘, in direct relation to the retinues of Kali to be found (Her ‘Crew’, in our modern vernacular) along with Her in the Smashana (Cremation Grounds), itself a Ritual and decidedly ‘Mesocosmic’ space in earnest. I then thought I should ‘explain the joke’ somewhat – and here we are a few thousand words later.
Yet where we took things next was to observe the situation identified in those Yajurvedic Rites, wherein the Baleful, Burning, Furious and Roaring Form of the Goddess was invoked in order to devour an invidious opponent. With, entirely uncoincidentally, Her being Called Forth from the Southern vector that also constitutes the Pathway into the Realms of the Dead – the fire-shrouded Gates of the Underworld Themselves.
This is also where we had earlier met the Salavrkas [‘Temple Wolves’, ‘Wolves of the Enclosure’], and alongside Them, the Pitrs [‘Forefathers’ – Shades of the Ancestors]. The former mentioned explicitly there alongside “That Which Is Cruel (‘Krura’)” in the Taittiriya Samhita and engaged in the victorious devouring of the Yatis (‘Sorcerers’, ‘Demon-Worshippers’) that are the enemy of both Gods and Priest (and His Wife, whether She knows it at that point or otherwise) – whilst it is Vak in the form of an enraged Lioness Who comes surging forth to annihilate the adversary in the Shatapatha Brahmana’s perspective upon the same ritual conceptry.
In either case, it must surely be stated that there is something incredibly, immensely powerful to the essence – the ghostly 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. A situation eminently comparable with (indeed, fundamentally coexpressive of) the ‘Wild Hunt’ we are perhaps more immediately familiar with out here in the (post-) European mythic sphere. And, of course, Lord Shiva’s fearsomely formidable forces of similarly sepulchral quality – the ‘GHOST DIVISION’, as we have taken to terming Them in Their pervasive Indo-European occurrences.
Yet we did not stop there. Speaking of Roudran Retinues, we then proceeded to invoke the Rudraganikas – the remarkable ‘Daughters of Rudra’ that are extant simultaneously within both the ‘Mythic’ and ‘Sidereal’ spheres … and Who are also resonant not only with Lord Rudra – but also with His Wife, Kali.
Our purpose to invoking the Rudraganikas was not simply to continue to ‘flesh out’ the clades comprising the blessed Army of Kali and illustrate just how far back into (pre-)Vedic (transcendental) antiquity that this institution should go. But also to observe that situation contained within AV-S XII 5, wherein the Keshini carry out a furious contribution to the obliteration (Deva-station? Devi-station!) of the Dhurta who would dare to try and steal away the (Priest’s) Goddess Immanent that is the (Brahman) Cow, Vak Incarnate.
There, we find both the Devi in question acting in decidedly Kali-resonant fashion – and, in accompaniment to Her, those familiar faces of Vultures and Wolves that we also encounter both in the Roudran suite of conceptry in specia (for instance – AV-S XI 2), as well as in eminently logical association with Death, Carrion, the Cremation Ground, and the Liminal Sphere with the Underworld / Afterlife more generally.
Yet these are not mere ‘passive’ ‘observational’ roles. At each step we find these figures engaged in conspicuous activity. In the case of the Keshini – this constitutes the ‘Dance of Destruction’ which They engage in through circling about the pyre of the cremation ground, beating Their chests and howling (and yes, this is pointedly and directly resonant with the clamorous actions of the Wolves in the very next line – the Wolf’s Female Match, we may declare these Keshini to, clearly, be … and not least as They, Too, are both ‘Howling’ ‘Devourers’ per the hailings for Rudra’s Hounds and Hosts of Female Warriors in AV-S XI 2 30 and 31 respectively !).
This constitutes an important ritualistic action – both in terms of its referencing, and also in its actual undertaking by the Daughters in question.
One which is carried out in direct support of the Wrathful, Avenging Goddess – and also, given the characteristics to these women (and Their actions) in direct resemblancy, direct resonacy, direct emulation of, to, and for Her, as well.
In this, we may succinctly say – as it is the Goddess (in a sense) that has been stolen, and as it is the Goddess that lies within these ferocious women who play their part in meting out dread sanction ‘gainst the thief … She is effectively engaged in liberating Herself.
And doing so via Her engaged enaction through seemingly more ‘ordinary’ (or, at least, ‘sidereal-adjacent’) creatures – whether human … or, for that matter, wolf, or vulture, or other specimines entirely.
This, then, is that which I feel to be at the ‘essence’ of this ‘Army of Kali’ concept.
That is to say – persons from a range of backgrounds and potential contributions, coming together ‘inspired’ by just such an ‘essence’ … to do what is necessary, as the active furtherance as to Her Will within the worlds.
And whilst it would, unquestionably, help if one were already of the requisite initiations, requisite capabilities – and, in the case of the Keshini, requisite gender and hairstylings – in truth, these are somewhat secondary to something far more foundational, far more fundamental … and which is not able to just be ‘picked up’ by anybody.
What is that ‘quintessence’ ?
Why, it is the simple ‘willingness to serve’ – in said Army, to Serve as Her Right Hand (or, for that matter, Her Left One). Finger-Snapping, All The Way.
Whether in Protection of that Demesne that is (of) Her when threatened directly; in forceful, intimidatory warding against the would-be violator or stealer of same; to Remind, where She has (seemingly) been Forgotten, just who and what We are; and, of course, in Far-Working (ἑκάεργος – or, perhaps, more (three) pointedly, ἑκατηβόλος) retribution and ultimate restoration should the former scenario of co-option have come to horrendous pass.
So, to speak towards that ‘Kruram’ quality on grievous (as well as ‘Grave’) display when She is roused to Wrath – and with it, Wrack and Ruin :
We can hardly do better than to quote the last few lines (in Griffith translation) of the Atharva Veda’s Hymn XII 5:
“With hundred-knotted thunderbolt, sharpened and edged with razor-blades,
Strike off the shoulders and the head.
Snatch Thou the hair from off his head, and from his body strip the skin:
Tear out his sinews, cause his flesh to fall in pieces from his frame.
Crush Thou his bones together, strike and beat the marrow out of him.
Dislocate all his limbs and joints.
From Earth let the Carnivorous Agni drive him, let Vayu burn him from Mid-Air’s broad Region.
From Heaven let Sūrya drive him and consume him.”
जय माँ काली ॥
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