कृष्णाय कालीरूपाया कालीरूपाया कृष्णवे

Krishnaya Kaalirupaya, Kaalirupaya Krishnave

It was a lazy afternoon in Kolkata. The cabbies and cycle rickshaw guys were more interested in a nap than a short trip. While walking on the road in  Kalighat area A temple caught my attention – “Krishna  Kaali Mandir”. I was quite confused and curious too,  as how can a temple be named “Krishna  Kaali Temple”. The combination makes no sense Krishna and Kaali are pole apart. Krishna  is tranquility personified whereas  Kaali is fierce, always on destruction mode. Krishna is  always in a pleasant setting surrounded by Radharani, Gopis, Gopas, cows and birds, Krishna looks all attractive dressed in bright clothes, carrying a flute and adorning garland of fragrant flowers. Kaali, on the other hand, is generally in a terrifying ~setting like a cremation ground or battlefield surrounded by dead and demons. She carries a deadly weapon, severed skull, bowl of blood, and is in her Ugra or fierce form. The Vaishnava school prohibits alcohol, meat, even onion, and garlic; on the other hand, Kaali 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 Kaali is called ‘shamshanvasini’ or one who resides in a crematorium, she also adorns garland of skulls ‘munda mala vibhushitam’. If we go on comparing Krishna and Kaali it will seem impossible to unite the two.

I went inside the temple and to see a deity of Krishna in Kaali form. The deity was about 4-5  feet tall in bluish complexion, in four handed form, In one hand the deity held the Khadaga, the weapon of Kaali and the other was in Abhaya Mudra showering blessings onto  the devotees. The remaining two hands held Krishna’s flute. The deity stood in the Tribhanga posture, the way Krishna stands. The face was bright with protruding red tongue. The appearance was truly magnificent and mesmerizing. When I spoke to the priest there, he said that Krishna and Kaali are one, Krishna is Kaali and Kaali is Krishna. His statement made me think, is it really possible? Intrigued by the revelation I started investigating the matter more. I was trying to understand if there was any literary evidence to support it. I found an interesting story from Krishna Leela where Krishna took the form of Kaali.

In Vraja, every night Krishna would play his flute in the forests and Radharani would slip out of her house to meet Krishna. Radharani’s husband Ayan was unaware of this and Radharani’s sister-in-laws Jatila and Kutila informed her husband Ayan of what was happening. This infuriated Ayan, and he went to catch Radharani red-handed. Krishna being aware of the future asked Radharani to collect wildflowers and fruits and sit down as if she was worshiping. Radharani did what Krishna asked her to do. Krishna then took the form of Kaali, the family goddess of Ayan. When Ayan came to the woods and saw Radharani he saw her worshiping Kaali and was very pleased to see Radharani worship Kaali.

I found out that this united form of Krishna and Kaali is being popularly worshipped by Shakti Sadhakas and the Vaishnava Bauls of Birbhum for nearly 500 years. This strange combination is not only a confluence of two beliefs but also two sampradayas, the Vaishnava and Shakta.

The worship of Kaali in Bengal has a great prominence in the cultural history of the region. Bengal has always been a center of the mother goddess worship, having prominent shakti peetha like Dakshineshwari Kaali temple and Tarapith. The presence of Vaishnavisim rose to prominence only in the  late 14th century AD. Due to the grace of  Chaitnaya Mahaprabhu’s preaching, which significantly introduced Vaishnavisim to Bengal and the parts of the country with the Santana movement. Mahaprabhu popularized the worship of Krishna a and love for godhead influencing many people to embrace Vaishnavisim. Chaitnaya Mahaprabhu founded the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a school of thought within the Brahma Madhava sampradaya of Vaishnavism.

The worship of the mother goddess in Bengal was revived in the 18th century with devotees like Ram Krishna Paramhansa propagated the worship of Kaali and Bengal once again became the center for the Shakta cult. Goddess Kaali became a crucial part of the Bengali devotional literature. The Dakshineshwari Kaali temple, a Shaktipeetha has also been a center of attraction for ages. The Tantrik texts of Bengal gives much more mentions of this inseparable form. 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 Krishna. The Bengali text of Kaalivilasa Tantra mentions Krishna to be born as the son of Devaki who was golden and turned black when he was excited by passion.

Krishna Kali

In the Brhadyoni Tantra, Krishna  is said to be the manifestation of the goddess Kaali. 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, Krishna  ’s earthly mother. One day, when Krishna  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.

The intriguing stories made me more curious and I went on to understand more about Krishna  and Kaali. I started by understanding who is Kaali and who is Krishna. The name Kaali is the feminine word for time, and its masculine is Kala. Kaal is a Sanskrit term for time, and 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 ‘Kaal’, means ‘to count,’ ‘to measure,’ or ‘to set in motion,’ hence ‘time.’ Kaali is the goddess who symbolizes this never-ending cycle of time. We generally relate Shiva as the male counterpart of time ‘Mahakal’, Shiva is Mahakaal as per Tantrik texts and Shaiva Puranas, but according to Vaishnava texts such as Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam, the Kaal is Krishna .

Krishna  himself declares in Bhagavad Gita that he is the Kaal. In Bhagavad Gita (10.33) Krishna  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 Krishna  and his pastime and in this canto, Krishna  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 Kaali being the feminine counterpart of masculine Kala or Krishna.

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

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

– Mehul Vora