Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kali Puja Night

Although I saw homes and business place tealights and small oil lamps by doorways and in windowsills as part of Diwali, it was Kali who stole center stage in this Bengali city. At street corners, inlets, and in front of storefronts, temporary structures were built to display and honor the idols of Kali. Each had one to several statues of the goddess Kali, typically portrayed with blue skin, long (and often rather unruly) black hair, a garland of trophy severed heads around  her neck, and the signature tongue sticking straight down. Music blared from the speakers, making it easy for those in the vicinity to know that a puja stand was near.
Walking up to one display, I admired the statue that likely took many days to make, contained costly decorative elements, and yet would be drowned in the river a few days later. One person invited me to sit down. Seizing the opportunity, I asked him some questions about this goddess. He explained that Kali actually started out as Durga. According to a story, Durga was asked if she could help stop the rampant overrunning of demons. Soon she developed a taste for blood and began getting out of control. In an effort to stop her, Shiva (her husband) laid down in front of her. Just as she was about to step on him, she stopped in surprise and stuck her tongue straight down, aghast at the thought of what she almost did. (Cultural beliefs were that a wife’s feet should never touch a husband). When asking further questions the man smiled and apologized, saying that he was Muslim and was here to enjoy the festivities with his HIndu friends who had sponsored the display. The man next to him was also Muslim. Celebrating of Indian festivals definitely crosses religious boundaries!

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