Kali Puja, also known as Shyama Puja, is a festival dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Celebrated on the new moon day of the Hindu month of Ashwin in Bengal, on the night of Kartik Amavasya according to the Bengali calendar, Kali Puja coincides with the festival of Laxmi Puja or Deepawali in the month of October or November, a few days after Durga Puja. Born from the forehead of the Goddess Durga, Kali, also known as Mahashakti, was the first of her 10 avatars. The avatar of Kali came into existence for the purpose of destroying the demons that had been troubling the Gods. Such was the havoc caused by the demons that the Gods were forced to hide in the Himalayan Mountains for survival. To serve the purpose, Kali started killing the demons in a rage but got completely carried away. As a result, anyone who came in her way died at her hands. To put an end to this destruction, Lord Shiva, her consort, threw himself in her path. Accidently stepping on the chest of Lord Shiva, Kali stopped then and there, with repentance.
This image of Goddess Kali, wearing a garland made of the heads of demons she slain, with one foot on the chest of Lord Shiva, has been depicted time and again in many images and been made into idols. Across the country, there are many shrines and temples with the same image that is worshipped by the devotees. The Kali Puja, just like Durga Puja, is a ritual performed by the devotees in their homes and in the pandals (open pavilions), particularly at every corner of Bengal. It's with tantric mantras and rituals that the clay idols and images of Goddess Kali are worshipped. It's a custom to make offerings of red hibiscus flowers, sweetmeats, rice and lentils. Animal sacrifices used to be a common practice that, though lessened in extent, has not completely vanished yet. It's also a tradition that the worshipper should meditate throughout the night, till dawn.
It is believed that for the first time, Kali Puja was ceremoniously started by the Maharaja Krishnachandra of Navadvipa, somewhere around the early 18th century. The tradition was taken forward by his grandson Ishwarchandra. Over the period of years, Kali Puja became one of the famous Goddess festivals in Bengal, along with Durga Puja and Laxmi Puja. On the day of Kali Puja, customs like fireworks, magic shows, and theatre have also gained popularity. Off late, a new custom to drink wine has also emerged. On this day, millions of people visit the temples and shrines dedicated to the Goddess Kali; some of the famous ones being the Kalighat Temple and Dakshineshwar Kali temple in Kolkata. A day before the Kali Puja, homes are decorated with 14 candles or clay diyas and on the day of Kali Puja, homes are adorned with beautiful lightings: artificial and candles. It is believed that the ritual, if performed with dedication and reverence, frees the mankind from all evils: inside and outside, and bestows eternal blessings and happiness to the worshippers.