Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Visiting Kalighat Temple, Calcutta

The Kalighat Kali Temple is one of the four 'Adi Shakti Peethas' of India.

The Shakti Peethas are places in the sub-continent where the Goddess is worshipped.

Kalighat Temple, 1887
All major temples in India have sthala-purana or sthala-mahima, which explains the legend behind the temple. For the Kalighat temple, the legend is here: 

King Daksha was one of Brahma's sons. One of his daughters was Sati or Dakshayani, who wished to marry Shiva. Daksha forbade it, but Sati married Shiva anyway. Daksha disliked Shiva intensely, calling him a dirty, roaming ascetic with a cohort of goblins and ghouls. Once Daksha announced a great yagna (religious sacrifice) and invited all the Gods. Although she was not invited, Sati visited her father, only to have him ignore her and insult Shiva. In great sorrow and rage, Sati immolated herself in the sacrificial fire. 

When Shiva learnt the news, he let loose his goblin armies and they wreaked havoc on the yagna and killed Daksha. Later Shiva revived Daksha, by attaching a goat's head to his lifeless body. He then picked up Sati's body and in his grief began to wander the world. Another version of the story is that Shiva took Sati's corpse and began to dance the Tandava. To relieve Shiva and to end the grief, Vishnu spun the Sudarshana chakra (a discus) and sliced the body of Sati into many parts. These parts fell to the earth, forming the Shakti Peethas.

The right toe of Dakshayani is said to have fallen here, at Kalighat, imbuing the ground with the sacred presence of the Goddess. Originally Kalighat was a ghat (landing stage) on the old course of the Hooghly river. It is believed that the name Calcutta is derived from the word Kalighat. The Hooghly river has moved away from the temple, and the temple is now on the banks of a small canal called Adi Ganga which connects to the Hoogly.

Pilgrims bathing at the ghat, about 60 years ago. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kalighat_1947.jpg
Here are three photos of the temple which I clicked a couple of years ago. The bazaar below has many shops selling religious items and souvenirs. The path to the temple is lined with flower-sellers, offering hibiscus garlands.

Visiting the temple is rewarding for anyone who is culturally and spiritually curious. However the experience is marred by the aggressive hardsell that you experience from the priests (pandas). There are often long queues for darshan at the temple. While the pandas offer short-cut queues for a fee, they will also insist you purchase puja offerings from shops that they recommend, and they will also ask for fees for doing some instant pujas and mutterings. It is really a pity that such a sacred site is abused by the priests, making it impossible to visit it in a peaceful state of mind. To add to the priests, there are also beggars who come up asking for alms. Overall, unless the state of things improves, this is not a temple I would recommend for a first time overseas visitor to Calcutta. The Kali temple at Dakshineshwar is a much better experience.

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