Mother Kali, Mother Kali,
Mother of the world-transforming
O Mother, You are at once the destruction-flood
Of Concern-Light and Compassion-Ocean
For our heart’s aspiration-flame.
— Sri Chinmoy
We stand today on the threshold of the New Moon of Samhain, the doorway to the darkest time of our Northern Hemisphere year. From now until Yule, Winter Solstice, the days grow even shorter, and the night rules.
Yesterday I ruminated that perhaps our modern culture’s “jumping the gun” on the Yule season has something to do with our deep fear of the dark and, ultimately our fear of death as an endless night.
Such fears are universal, and are dealt with in similar ways throughout the world. For instance, tomorrow’s New Moon kicks off the festival of Diwali. Diwali is possibly the biggest holiday on earth, in terms of sheer numbers of participants. And it is certainly one of the most joyful. Celebrated by millions of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs across the globe, it is a “Festival of Lights,” where the lights or lamps dispel the darkness of evil, and goodness triumphs.
But it begins on a serious note, by honoring (instead of denying or demonizing) the Dark. At midnight on Amavasya, the night of the November New Moon, Kali Puja is held, the celebration and honoring of Kali.
Kali Maa is the fearful and ferocious form of the Mother Goddess Durga. She is often depicted as having been born from the brow of Goddess Durga during one of Her battles with evil. As the legend goes, in the battle, Kali became so involved in the killing spree that She got carried away and began destroying everything and everyone in sight.
To stop Her, Lord Shiva threw Himself under Her feet. Shocked at this sight, Kali stuck out Her tongue in astonishment, putting an instant halt to Her homicidal rampage. That is why the most common image of Kali shows Her as the Destroyer, holding a severed head (the demon Raktavera) and standing with one foot on Shiva‘s chest, with Her tongue stuck out. It is the moment of transformation, in which She ceases her violence.
Hers is a somber, serious tantric puja that is intended to diminish the ego as well as our negative tendencies that hinder spiritual progress and material prosperity. It is performed as an intense invocation of the fearsome Goddess to destroy evil – both in the outside world and within us. It is especially performed to seek protection against drought and war, for general happiness, health, wealth, and peace.
There is much that we can learn, as one of the world’s most ecstatic celebrations begins with a deep surrender, acknowledging that which we most fear – destruction, chaos, death, and the dark. For where there is fear, there is power.