Kali Puja, also popularly known as Shyama Puja in Bengal, is a religious festival dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Know about its rituals, customs, legend, and dates.
Kali Puja, also popularly known as Shyama Puja in Bengal, is a religious festival dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali-the first of the ten incarnations of Goddess Durga. Some of her other names are Tara, Chamundi, etc. Kali Puja (Kali worship) is celebrated in states of east India especially Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, and Assam on the new moon night (Amavasya) of the Hindu month Kartik which normally occurs in the month of October or November every year. 'Amavasya' translates to dark moon lunar phase in Sanskrit; the moon remains invisible on this night. It is the first night of the first quarter of the lunar month and holds great importance in Hinduism. It is believed that the evil spirits are more prominent on this night. Since the frightening Goddess Kali is the destroyer of all things evil-both within and outside us-she is invoked on this dark night to help protect her devotees and usher in goodness and righteousness in this world. The dark coloured Goddess is represented with a furious face, long black hair, four arms, and wearing a garland of skulls. She carries a detached head in one of her hands, her bloody sword in another, and has one of her foot on Lord Shiva's chest. Kali Puja coincides with Diwali-the day Lakshmi Puja is celebrated across the rest of India.
Goddess Kali is the fearsome form of Goddess Durga. In Hindu mythology it is believed that once upon a time the demons, Shambhu and Nishambhu perturbed the peace of Indra, the King of the Gods, and his abode-the heaven. The Gods in heaven fought the demons with all their might but failed to defeat them. Fearing that the demons would overpower them, the Gods took shelter in the Himalayas, the holy abode of Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati. They sought protection from the Goddess of Shakti (power) i.e. Goddess Durga (an incarnation of Parvati). It is said that in order to save the Gods, heaven and earth from the growing brutality of the demons, Goddess Kali was born from the forehead Goddess Durga. Kali then set out with Dakini and Jogini, her two attendants, to end the war and kill the devils. The embodiment of eternal strength and cosmic power, Kali killed the demons effortlessly. She then made a garland of their severed heads and wore it around her neck. During the massacre, she lost control in a fit of rage and began destroying and killing everyone in sight. The Gods sensing trouble and fearing the worst went to seek protection from her husband, Lord Shiva. Shiva was well aware of Kali's destructive power. Hence, he came up with a plan to safeguard the world. He threw himself in the path of the bloodthirsty Goddess. When Kali stepped on him unintentionally, she was pushed back to her senses. She immediately repented her action and the mass destruction was brought to an end. The popular depiction of Goddess Kali with her tongue hanging out is a representation of this moment. Though the legend of Goddess Kali finds mention in the 'Devi Mahatmya' text of 5th-6th century AD, the festival itself is not very old. A late 17th century religious text by Balram, 'Kalika Mangalkavya', mentions an annual festival dedicated to Goddess Kali. It was in the 18th century that King Krishnachandra of Navadvipa in Bengal introduced the festival in its present grandeur. He instructed everyone in his kingdom to worship the Goddess. Over time it became a huge festival, initially sponsored by the royal family of Navadvipa and later by the wealthy landowners of Bengal. Along with Durga Puja, it is now one of the biggest festivals of Bengal.
Customs & Rituals
Although Goddess Kali is worshipped daily in many Bengali families, the main festival of Kali Puja is always performed on the night of Kartik Amavasya. The main purpose of the Puja is to seek the help of Goddess Kali in destroying evil that exists both inside and outside us. It is also performed to pray for universal happiness, health, wealth, and peace. On the day of the Puja, devotees honour the Goddess in the form of clay idols placed in 'pandals' (temporary shrines). The Puja is also performed on large Hindu cremation grounds where Goddess Kali is believed to reside. The Goddess is worshipped with 'Tantric' rites and mantras at midnight. She is offered garlands of red hibiscus flowers, sweets, rice and lentils. An animal is also ritually sacrificed on this occasion and offered to the Goddess. Devotees maintain a fast throughout the day and have food only after the Puja is completed past midnight. They then visit different pandals to celebrate with their friends and family. Houses are decorated with lights to ward off evil; children and adults get together to burst crackers in the evening and there are plenty of fireworks on display for everyone to enjoy. Although Goddess Kali is worshipped throughout the year at various dedicated temples in east India like the Kalighat temple in Kolkata, the Dakshineswar temple near Kolkata, and the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, prayers offered specifically on the night of Kali Puja are considered most auspicious and the greatest form of her worship. In spite of her frightening appearance, devotees share a very loving and affectionate bond with her.