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Indian Mythology

Krsna Kali: The Inseparable Divinity

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Krasnaya Kalirupaya, Kalirupaya Krsnave

This can be controversial for many if we unite Kali and Krsna. These two divine personalities are united in eastern India, especially in Bengal region. This form is being worshiped by Shakti Sadhakas of eastern India for past 500 years. This is also seen as a unity of two cults one of Vaishnavism and Shaktism. However, Kali has been strongly associated with Shiva as the Shakti. But the Bengali text not only associates the goddess with Krsna but also unites the two. This can spark a huge debate as to if we see the lifestyle of Vaishnavism and that worshipers of Kali that alone are like ends that can never meet. The Vaishnava school prohibits Alcohol, Meat, even onion, and garlic; on the other hand, Kali is offered meat and alcohol as an offering. All the other faith within Indian culture, including Vaishnavas, consider crematorium and the dead as impure, but Kali is called ‘shamshanvasini’ or one who resides in a crematorium, she also adorns garland of skulls ‘munda mala vibhushitam’. If we go on comparing Krsna and Kali it will seem impossible to unite the two.

Why in Bengal?

In the late 14th century AD Chaitanya Mahaprabhu made the whole of Bengal and other parts of the country to sing dance and chant Hare Krsna . Chaitanya Mahaprabhu founded the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and he popularized the worship of Krsna and love for godhead. Mahaprabhu also spread his teachings throughout the country keeping his base in Bengal and Orissa. Mahaprabhu also popularized the congregational chanting of Hare Krsna Mahamantra.  In the modern period, the worship of Shakti became prominent especially in the 18th century, and Bengal became synonymous with the worship of Kali. Goddess Kali became a crucial part of the Bengali devotional literature.  Devotees like Ram Krishna Paramhansa propagated the worship of Kali and influenced many. The Dakshineshwari Kali temple, a Shaktipeetha has also been a center of attraction for ages. Thus, Bengal had an influence of Kali and Krsna both. The Vaishnava Bauls of Birbhum worship the Krsna – Kali form.

Kali and Krsna two sides of Kaal.

Kaal is a Sanskrit term for time, an even death in some cases. Time is that element that governs the universe, it is eternal and ever existent. The time is merciless and waits for no one. Time is the unborn, uncreated, undying reality. The living entity is trapped in the cycle of time in the form of Birth, old age, disease and death, the universe is also trapped in a continuous cycle of creation and destruction.  The cycle continuous and never stops it is always in motion, therefore, the root ‘Kal’, means ‘to count,’ ‘to measure,’ or ‘to set in motion,’ hence ‘time.’ The name Kali is the feminine word for time, and its masculine is Kala.  Kali is the Goddess who symbolizes this never-ending cycle of time. We generally relate Shiva as the male counterpart of time ‘Mahakal’, Shiva is Mahakal as per Tantrik texts and Shaiva Puranas, but according to Vaishnava texts such as Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagvatm, the Kaal is Krsna. Krsna himself declares in Bhagvad Gita that he is the Kaal. In Bhagavad Gita (10.33) Krsna says ‘aham evākṣayaḥ kālo’ he is the Kaal, He repeats this in the (11.32) where he again confirms that he is Kaal the great destroyer of the worlds, kālo ’smi loka-kṣaya-kṛt pravṛddho lokān samāhartum iha pravrttaḥ. The 10th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam is dedicated to Krsna and his pastime and in this canto  Krsna is glorified as ‘kāla-rūpasya’ (10.37.21), ‘kālātmanā’ (10.24.31) ‘kālasyārūpiṇas’ (10.71.8), ‘kālam īśvaram’, (10.84.23), ‘kālaḥ pradhānaṁ puruṣo’ (10.59.29), kālo bhagavān (10.10.30-31). Thus we can establish Kali being the feminine counterpart of masculine Kala or Krsna. 

In the Vedas, it is said that the supreme lord originated form Shakti and the Shakti the supreme potency originated from the supreme Purusha Rig-veda ‘tasmad viradajayata virajo adhi purushah’ (10.7.90.1-16). The Purusha and Prakriti are inseparably united, the Shakti and Shaktiman are also united, thus if Kala and Kali are united it should not be a surprise. Kali is also referred to as Shakti of the supreme Purusha or the Shaktiman. Also, Kali and Krsna share a similar complexion, Kali is called ‘shayama’ and Krsna is called ‘shayam’.

We have a story to support.

In the Bengal folk tradition, we have a story of where Krsna takes the form of Kali for Radha. Every night Krsna would play his flute in the forests of Vrja and Radharani would slip out of her house to meet Krsna. Radharani’s Husband Ayan was unaware of this and thanks to the Villains, Radharani’s sister-in-laws Jatila and Kutila who informed her husband Ayan of what was happening.  This Infuriated Ayan, and he went to catch Radharani, but Krsna knows all. Krsna asked Radharani to collect wildflowers and fruits and sit down as if she was worshiping. As Radharani did what Krsna asked her to do so, Krsna took the form of Kali, the family goddess of Ayan. When Ayan came to the woods and saw Radharani he saw her worshiping Kali and was very pleased to see Radharani worship Kali.

The Tantric Interpretation

The Tantrik texts of Bengal gives much more mentions of this inseparable from. In the Tantrarajatantra’s 4th chapter that glorifies Lalita, it is said that Lalita enchanted men and to enchant women Lalita took the form of Krsna. The Bengali text of Kalivilasa Tantra mentions Krsna to be born as the son of Devi who was golden and turned black when he was excited by passion.

In the Brhadyoni Tantra, Krsna is said to be the manifestation of the goddess Kali. She descended to Earth, placed her yoni (vulva) in the eye of the peacock’s tail feathers, and then incarnated in the womb of Devaki, Krsna ’s earthly mother. One day, when Krsna was in his divine play with the Gopis and Radha, He recognized the yoni in the peacock’s tail feathers, plucked one feather, and placed it on his head as a reminder of his divine femininity. This symbolic union of the divine feminine and masculine within is a powerful reminder of our own quest for divine balance and completion within.

Just has Hari Hara Murti is a divine unity of Shiva and Vishnu the same way Kali and Krsna is divine unity. The unity may have happened due to many reasons such as the transformation and co-existence of faith form Vaishnavism to Shaktism, The visual similarities,  adoption of Kali into Vaishnavism or Krsna in Shakti worship. Whatever the reason being we have a divine form of Krsna Kali in one.

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