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12/03/2014

Kali - The Creator, The Destroyer, The Dancer

If page views and ‘likes’ are anything to go by the most popular post on this site by far is ‘Aleister and Augustine – morality through love‘. It is the only one with more than 1000 hits, outpacing the ‘About’ page by more than four to one and the next most popular cluster of posts by about ten to one. Doubtless being Freshly Pressed helped.

But my second most popular post has been slowly gaining on it – except it is not really my post at all. Every week since I posted it last August it has received a steady trickle of views and it’s the target of more search engine generated hits than any other. It’s also the one post on this blog I have ‘liked’. I think my taste has been vindicated.

I posted Swami Vivekananda’s poem ‘Kali the Mother for many reasons. I have long admired Vivekananda himself. For his sensitivity, his scholarship, his politics and most of all for bringing Vedanta to a Western audience. I would be a very different person today were it not for him.

I am incapable of judging poetry objectively. I have no training in doing so and doubt its validity anyway. I’m one of those who knows nothing about art but knows what he likes. I suspect ‘Kali the Mother‘ is not rated highly in the bastions of literary academia but that is irrelevant. It is a great poem. To me.

By all accounts Swami Vivekananda was a gentle man, a man of peace, someone dedicated to trying to show others the great beauties and truths he had found through his own studies and exertion. But there is no denying ‘Kali the Mother‘ is a poem of violence and insanity. In it Vivekananda professes his devotion to a primal destructive force that would have horrified the churchmen who applauded his presentation at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Many in the West are incapable of seeing Kali as anything other than a demoness and the poem outs its author as a Devi(l) worshiper.

Kali the Mother‘ speaks to me in many ways beyond the undeniable power of its language. I too like to think of myself as a man of peace but have always been drawn to places of untamed violence. Huge surf, wild storms, the mosh pit; all have the power to pull me into their ecstatic fury, leaving me battered, exhausted and temporarily sated. It was in 1987 at Dashinkali near Kathmandu that I first began to see this behaviour as more than just therapeutic release of the tensions within or giving in to my own lunacy. While whirling to the hammering of the puja drums, slipping, falling and covering myself in the blood of sacrificial goats, joining the doctors, accountants and chai stall attendants as they set aside their day to day identities to become channels for something far greater than themselves I realised it was not a desire for self destruction I was surrendering to, but the impulse to worship. If it was insane it is because the Universe Herself is insane. Beautifully, wonderfully insane.

It is the subject of Vivekananda’s poem that cuts through to my core.

Kali is more than special to me. She is not just my Goddess. She is my world. I mean that more literally than I could begin to explain, though I gave it my best shot here and in the comments beneath Vivekananda’s poem.

Like Vivekananda I see myself as a jnani. Someone who tries to make sense of himself and his universe through the power of mind. But like him, when faced with The Mother I am a bhakti, stripped of my reason, able to respond only with awe, devotion and unmediated love.

I was in two minds about posting ‘Kali the Mother‘ to my blog. It is not my poem. Who am I to adorn my own site with the words of one far wiser than me about something I cannot begin to comprehend? But I’m glad I did. Vivekananda’s words have now flowed from my blog to more than 160 readers, many of whom specifically sought them out. I would not presume to second guess what She Herself would think of this; nor even if She thinks at all. But I like to imagine it would have pleased the gentle genius who revealed to the world the Goddess in his heart.

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