In 2016, I travelled to Calcutta in search of Kali on the night she is celebrated the most. As dawn approached the city was in full fervour to take on the no moon night in celebration of Kali. The familiar orange glow of sodium lamps, strong aroma of burnt crackers, roads chock-a-block, Calcutta was at it’s chaotic and energetic best. It was my first visit to Kumartuli. It is the gods and goddess factory of Calcutta. Last minute shopping ensued. There were the unsung who tirelessly went about their night. The narrow, winding path led to the banks of Ganga. As we took a moment’s rest at the Ghat, immersion of goddesses from last year took place. Letting go of the old and heralding the new. It was pretty late in the night but business was on as usual. The ‘jhalmuri’ seller, barber, ferry ticket collector, unperturbed by the time making sure Calcutta does not let her people down. We hopped on to a ferry and crossed the river. Onward we went to Halder Bari in central Calcutta’s Radhanath Kabiraj Lane where the puja supposedly dates back over 250 years. I was keen on visiting this place not only to experience an old charm ‘Bonedi bari’ Kali puja but because I had heard that the main ceremony takes place in candle light only. The family was very welcoming and the atmosphere warm, bathed in old world charm. Such a rarity these days. The only change that has happened is in the sacrifice. Instead of goats, the Halders switched to vegetables since 1942. Animal sacrifice used to be synonymous with Kali puja. It is not so common these days but it still happens. I wasn’t entirely expecting to see one but Calcutta does not falter in springing up old worldliness on you. The cremation ground is said to be Kali’s dwelling place and the puja takes place there with much pomp and show. As we made our way through the crowd, a heady smell took us by surprise. Then there was blood. Headless goats were being jostled. There was a stampede of sorts to get one’s hands on fresh blood from the place of sacrifice. They smeared it on their foreheads half chanting, half delirious in their devotion to Kali. It was in your face but so is all things Kali.
In her primordial nakedness, Kali is free from all nuances of illusion. She screams ‘Devi’ like no other.
CALCUTTA | INDIA | 2016