Kali temple, Kolkata

I experienced something really wild in Kolkata, maybe it was the wildest experience of my life. There is a Kali temple in Kolkata which is one the 52Shaktipeeths and is one of the most important temples for Hindus. According to Hindu mythology when Parvati died, Lord Shiva became so angry that he put her body over his shoulder and started doing Tandav. He also opened his third eye which started destroying the whole universe. All the gods were so concerned about it that they went to Vishnu to help stop Shiva’s Tandav.

Vishnu used his weapon to cut the body of Parvati into 52 different parts. The places where these body parts fell are called Shaktipeeths now. So the Kali temple of Kolkata is also one of those Shaktipeeths. I had heard a lot about this temple and was really excited to go there. I had a very busy schedule in Kolkata but I still took some time to go to this temple. I also asked Seranna to come with me and she also said that she wanted to visit some Hindu temple. Both of us were so excited for visit to this temple.

There is one very famous thing about this temple- the priests. I had heard that they are really thieves and looters. They usually target outsiders of Kolkata and I was a little bit concerned about it. I had already dealt with some other Hindu temples where priests were thieves so I thought that I would be able to deal with these also. I had already warned Seranna to not entertain anyone at the temple. At the time when we reached there, a bunch of people jumped at our taxi and were looking at us through the window.

I knew what they were waiting for. We got off the taxi and found ourselves surrounded by 5-10 people who were dressed like priests and wanted to take us to the temple. I told them that I did not want to go with them, but they did not want to hear anything. They just wanted to take us at any cost. They were telling that it was some very important day of the temple therefore there was too much of a rush in the temple. They were asking for Rs. 50 for each of us to take us inside the temple without facing the rush. I was pretending that I was not hearing.

I was looking for some policeman to ask him the way to the temple. And suddenly one of the priests came in front of me and showed me an alley and said that the temple was inside that alley. I could easily see other people going straight, not towards the alley he was mentioning but he kept telling me that the temple was in that alley. After I did not entertain him, his voice turned loud and it seemed like he was getting angry now and he started yelling at me. He just wanted me to go with him but I had already decided that I would not go with him.

I usually look for police at these kinds of places and it always works. He held my hand and wanted to take me forcibly to that temple. Now it was enough, and enough was enough, I also turned loud and I turned kind of rude with him. By this time I could see a few policemen. I went to them and asked the way to the temple and they told me that I was on the right way to the temple. Those priests wanted to take me to some wrong place for whatever reasons. I wonder what would have happened if I would have gone with them.

Somehow I reached the temple after dealing with all those crazy priests. Now again I was surrounded by some priests who were asking for Rs. 20. I had decided that I would go to the temple on my own but after watching thousands of people lined up, I gave up and decided to hire one of those priests. I had chosen a fifteen-year old guy because I thought he was a new player in the business and must not be as big of a looter as the others. He was nice at first, took me through some secret gates and finally I was in front of the statue within three minutes.

And here wild things started. The priests standing near the statue were real looters. The whole atmosphere was wild there. There were too many people pushing each other, and shouting. It was very noisy out there, the priests were shouting, kicking people out who did not want to pay and take in new people who seemed rich to them. Seranna had fell down from a wall 5 feet high while coming to the statue place. She was also in pain. The whole atmosphere was wild. The priests were shouting at me. They wanted me to give them whatever I had.

I gave them Rs. 20 but they wanted more. I just wanted to get out of there but they were not letting me go out. More and more people were trying to come in but a few other priests were pushing them out, shouting… oh my God. I had never experienced such a thing before. I lost my mind, I did not know what was going on. One of the priests was trying to take my walletout of my pocket, one of them was holding my hand, he was shouting at other people at the same time… it was crazy. I gave him Rs. 50 but still he was not happy. He wanted more and more.

Finally I had to borrow some money from Seranna. I don’t remember how much money I gave him but when I came out and checked my walletI found that I had nothing left in my pocket and Seranna had also lost something like Rs. 200-300. Right after I got out of the statue building, I was still inside the temple premises, and I saw people lined-up and all of them had goats. I was shocked and then the priest helping us explained that these people were waiting for their turn to sacrifice an animal. I knew that Kali temple of Kolkata is one of the very few temples of India where animals are sacrificed but I did not know that that much of people do it. A lot peoplebelieve that Goddess Kali becomes happy if you sacrifice a goat in her temple.

There was a priest who was slaughtering the animal. I saw many people washing their goats, putting flowers on them, offering them food, showing incense, repeating mantras for them and finally bringing their animals to the priest who slaughters animals. After the animal is slaughtered, they would bring the body to the other priest who was supposed to cut the meat into small pieces and then finally this meat is distributed as a blessing to other people. I saw many people who were going to the temple with a goat and they were playing drums also.

I talked about this animal sacrificing to some priests in Benares and they said that according to Hindu mythology there was a demon named Rakhtbeej ( Rakht means blood and beej means seed) which means his blood would work as a seed. He had a boon that if his blood ever touched the ground, it would grow a new body of that demon. He started taking benefit of this boon by killing people, doing anti-religious activities and doing all sorts of bad work. Finally Goddess Durga had to come to the earth in the form of Kali to kill this demon. But the problem was that as Durga would cut off his neck, a new fresh body of this demon would appear because his blood would fall on the ground and create a new body.

So he would get new body every time Goddess Durga tried to kill him.Finally Goddess Kali (incarnation of Durga) cut off his neck and collected all his blood in a pot and drank it. She did not even let a drop of blood reach the ground and this is how she was able to kill this demon. Priests told me that since most of the Kali photos show Kali killing this demon and drinking his blood, and she has body parts wrapped around her body, a lot of people think that she likes the blood which is not true according the priests I talked to. Priests said that these body parts are of the demons, not of some innocent people or some innocent animal. They said that she had to drink the blood only because she wanted to kill this demon, not because she likes the blood.

They said that it is the most important reason behind this belief of the people that Kali likes the blood and it makes them sacrifice an animal sometimes when they pray to Kali. I don’t know to what extent this reason could be true but it made sense to me. I talked to my friends also about the animal sacrifice in the Kali temples just to get the idea of how strong this belief is and they said that if you have any wish and if you sacrifice an animal in the Kali temple, then your wish would come true for sure. There would be no onein this whole world who could stop your wish from coming true.

They gave me the example of the ex-captain of Indian cricket team who was kicked out of the team because of internal politics in the team. He tried everything for almost two years to get back in the team. He performed very well in the domestic cricket but he was still not selected. Finally he went to the Kali temple and sacrificed an animal and within the next fifteen days he was selected back in the team and this time his performance was also better than the previous times. This shows that idea of sacrificing a animal is very strong in people who have belief in it.

According to the Hindu mythology offering a coconut and breaking it in the temple is also a sacrifice which what I usually do. Once I was reading a Tantra book that said that in ancient times mixture of a certain kind of lentils and curd was called mans which literally means “meat” in present Hindi. And this book says that in ancient times it was a very good thing to offer meat to the God and Goddess but now people think that thismans means meat and they sacrifice animals in the temples or use animal meat for the rituals. Whatever the reason maybe behind sacrificing animals for rituals or making the wish come true, a lot of people do not believe in it and personally for me, I would like to sacrifice a coconut better than a animal.

After watching animal sacrificing, and facing all the looter priests I was completely out of sense now. I was not able to even talk. I had helped Seranna coming inside the temple but now I was not able to even move. Seranna held my hand and took me out of that temple. I went outside, sat somewhere for twenty-thirty minutes and when I got my sense back, I just wanted to run out of there. I knew that there was a Mother Teresa home somewhere nearby. I asked a police about it and found that mother Teresa home was just the next building to the temple. I immediately moved to that home and sat there for a while.

It was something very nice. Mother T’s organization does awesome work all over the world. I love their work. I was just sitting there, watching the real social work and was trying to forget what I had seen earlier. After spending some time there, I was the able to move and talk properly. I just left that place and did not even look again at the temple. People say that priests of this temple have done only one good thing in their whole lives that they donated some land to the Mother T’s organization. In fact the land to open thier branch in Kolkata was donated to Mother Teresa by the priests of Kali temple.

I still have high respect for the Hindu philosophy and feelings of the people but I did not like the way I was treated by the priests. The thing that disturbed me most were the looter priests. They were crazy and jungly people. I again got an opportunity to visit that temple after few days with the camera crew and I went to the temple but I did not find myself brave enough to go inside the temple again. I stayed out of the temple premises and did not go inside. I have been to several temples where priests try to loot visitors but I had never been to such a temple like this one. I was so shamed to bring Seranna with me. She said that religion is the same everywhere- the religion loots people-which is not true, but I had no answer because of the incident which happened with both of us.

Italian guest visits Aghori society

I worked with a Italian guy named Giona Peduzzi. He contacted me first on couchsurfing asking to meet for a drink. We sent a lot of emails to each other discussing about tour of India and finally he told me arrange his tour of Banaras. He lives in Rome and works for Channel 5, the biggest private TV channel of Italy. He is a show designer and writer. He said that he writes two shows and both of them are Saturday night shows.

He arrived Benares on 6th of August and stayed until 9th of August. I had arranged his accommodation at my guest house. We went to Mother Teresa Home, Aghor monastery, Maths (where people live to wait for their death), Sarnath, Tulsi Manas temple, Sankat Mochan Temple (monkey temple), BHU, Durga temple (Ram nagar) and we visited Lali Baba also.

He was most impressed by meeting and talking to people. We went to Machali Bandar Math and talked to

I and Giona at Assi ghat

I and Giona at Assi ghat

one Sadhu who had been living there since more than 30 years and just waiting for his death. He accepted Sanyasa when he was only 50 years old and now he was over 80. Giona was shocked to see a person waiting for his death since more than 30 years. It was not shocking for me because I had already met this people while working with Sophia, an anthropology student from University of Berlin.

Giona liked Lali baba a lot. He said that Lali baba was the most fascinating character he had ever seen in his life. He liked the way Lali baba dresses himself for evening aarti, his garlands, skulls and lali baba using computer to chat. We went to Mother Teresa Home also. This is the place where I don’t want to go but cant stop myself by going. I don’t want to go because there are lots of mentally retired and sick people who cant even talk properly.

But I cant stop myself by going there because I want to do something for those people. I asked Nun about what do they have for entertainment of the sick people and she said that they have some music but occasionally like on festivals. I wanted to give a television to the monastery but she didn’t accept it because it was never used in past and she didn’t want to start anything new. I don’t understand what is bad about having a television to entertain sick people.

We went to Aghor monastery also where we visited their hospital, school and library. Giona was surprised to see their Guinness Book of World Records certificate which they have got for treating most number of leprosy patients in the world. I like this place a lot, I visit that hospital every time I go there. Giona wanted to go to Bodh Gaya for a day and then to Mumbai. He wanted to see a movie or TV serial shooting in Mumbai. I called Yogesh, who is a production manager in Bollywood, to show film city to Giona. He got agreed, I hope Giona will enjoy Mumbai with Yogesh.

Research on death in Varanasi

A German girl named Sophia wrote me on couchsurfing for meeting. She asked me about Hindi classes in Varanasi. At the same time I had a tenant named Dave from Fresno who was learning Hindi with Professor Virendra Singh so I introduced Sophia to Dave. She was doing anthropology research from University of Berlin and was interested in the people who come Varanasi to die. I took Sophia to one of the places where Sadhus stay to die and translated the interview.

Sophia was so happy to understand people because I was translating the interview. She asked me if would work for her as translator for next few days. I was happy to get a new job but was worried about work with Amanda, other student from Yale University, who was to visit Benares after few days for her research regarding Coke issue and I had already promised to work with her. I told Sophia about this problem and we decided that I would work with Sophia first and if Amanda comes, then I would go with her.

We went to 3 monasteries and talked people. We went to Machali Bandar Math, Mumukshu Bhavan and Kashi Mukti Bhavan. All these monasteries are for people who come Benares to die. There was a little difference between all those. Machali Bandar Math only permits Sadhus and Sanysis to stay there, Mumukshu Bhavan had non Sadhus also like families, and Kashi Mukti Bhavan is a place for sick people for short stay. The people who are seriously sick and seem like going to die soon come to Kashi Mukti Bhavan becasue Kashi Mukti Bhavan doesn’t allow long term stay.

We talked to a lot of Sadhus and non Sahdus living in Mumukshu bhavan. I was shocked to meet a woman who was in Mumukshu Bhavan since past 30 years and waiting for her death. She came Varanasi with her husband and her husband died after 2 years but she was still alive and waiting for her death. We asked her if she was not worried about her death. But she seemed so happy replying that she wanted to die in Varanasi. She said that she prays to God everyday to give her death. She said that there could be nothing better than if she dies in Varanasi.

We visited two Aghor monasteries also, Kina Ram and Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram. Both of monasteries belong to Aghor society. Sophia was very much curious about the ash that Aghor people use. We asked about it to a lot of people and everybody said that they use it to save themselves from diseases and other problems. They said that ash only works if you have belief in it. They carry the ash when they travel so that they could use it everyday even when they are far away from the monastery.

There is a place in Kina Ram monastery where they have fire going on since hundreds of years, they say that it never got peace. They bring the wood from cremation place, I didn’t understand why they bring the wood from cremation place but there was some religious importance of it. Cremation place is very important for Aghoris. They perform a lot of rituals on cremation place. On the night of Diwali, a lot of Aghoris go to cremation place and do some puja for the whole night.

The second monastery we visited has its name in The Guinness Book of World Records for treating most number of leprosy patients. They have a hospital that uses only Ayurvedic medicines and treat leprosy. They have a school also for street children, a library, a research center and a press where they print Aghora books. They are involved in lots of other social work. This monastery was founded by a Aghor guru called Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram in the year 1962.

They organize group weddings also because they don’t believe in the idea of wasting money like a lot of other people do in weddings. They had organized a group wedding and we were also invited there. I really wanted to see a wedding of Aghor followers because their philosophy is different than general Hindus. The major difference is that they don’t believe in casteism. I was surprised to see that the priest was a Kshtriya, not Bramhan. I asked them about it and they said that anyone who learns religion or Sanskrit could be a Bramhan. I loved it, I really like Aghor society.

We went to Mother Teresa home also to interview people. They were really nice. I always want go there. They help poor and sick people. I saw a lot of mentally retired, sick and injured people. Even though the institution is run by Catholics but they don’t bother people to practice Christianity. People living there are free to practice their own religion. They get veg meal six times a week and a non veg meal once in a week on Thursday. I liked the devotion of the Nuns there.

We went to talk to few Doams also who work at funeral place. Sophia asked them about their job and feeling of people who bring the body there. They told us that babies, pregnant women, leprosy patients, Sadhus and snake bitten people are not cremated, they are drowned in the river. Usually Doams drink and smoke a lot. They asked Sophia also to buy them a bottle of whiskey. We asked them why do they drink all the time and they replied that it is hard to cremate a body when you are normal therefore they drink every time they work.

They told us the idea behind why people come Varanasi to die. They said that when Shiva left Varanasi, he made Vishnu promise him that he will come and tell the name of Ram in everyone’s ear, in the last moments of life, who die in Varanasi. Since people hear the name of Ram when they dieing, they get liberated and this is why people want to die in Varanasi. He said that Shiva has left the city and now resides on Kailash but the city is still situated on his trident. It was interesting.

We went to meet Lali baba also who is an Aghori baba. He is the most fascinating character of Varanasi. Sophia wanted to spend sometime alone at Lali baba’s monastery because she was very much interested to see Lali baba doing his daily routine. She was so happy to meet Lali Baba. Sophia said that even though Lali Baba is very commerical but it is still worth meeting him. I also like Lali Baba a lot.

Finally Amanda came and I had to go back work with her.