Demon’s Own God
by Geetashree Chatterjee
It was pitch dark!
Underneath an ancient peepal tree was placed the deity – a bust sculpture. The solitary diya, lit by a self-effacing priest, glowed energetically throwing off as much light as it could, though in vain, as darkness swallowed most of it, in a ravenous gulp. “It is the Daakate Kali Bari, the dacoits’ Kali Temple,” whispered my maternal uncle from behind. The hushed silence perhaps a show of awed reverence to the deity.“Years ago when this stretch was covered by thick forests, the dacoits infesting it, worshipped her before embarking on their daily nocturnal loot,” explained my Mamaji,”They even arranged human sacrifices to please the Goddess.” I looked up at the deity with greater interest. In the half light, her eyes seemed to burn with cruel vengeance and her lips, a smatter of crimson, curled up in a lusty,blood thirsty snarl. I could almost hear the horses’ hooves tapping on the cold asphalt, tearing the silence of the night, coming closer by seconds; the jubilant outcries of the robbers, piercing the star-studded canopy of the sky, victorious after a successful bout of vandalism.
It was the annual visit to my maternal uncle’s place – Delhi of the 70s – peaceful, quiet, aloof and indifferent to hospitality. Here day (with all its social life) ended by 7.00pm in the evening. This desolate place was the very heart of the city quartering the peace-loving, non-controversial, self-centred middle class – the Government servants. The dacoits had long vacated the premise or were rather overtaken by more suave and cunning criminal minds. But the temple still remained, in an obscure corner, with its almost palpable aura of power and myth belying its unassuming façade. “Bow down reverently to her. She listens to all whosoever surrenders to her unconditionally and fulfils prayers uttered with ardour and submission.” It sounded more like a caution, not to be irreverent and defiant in the presence of the deity lest one incurred the divine wrath, the path to eternal doom. I shivered.
It was a Saturday - an auspicious day to visit the Kali Temple. My Brother-in-law suggested the one situated on a certain busy boulevard. Excitement reigned high as the anticipated visit triggered nostalgia. “You mean to say the Daakaate Kali Bari?” I reconfirmed knowing fully well that my hunch was right.
Yes, it was the dacoits’ own temple. But as we approached my spirit of adventure suffered a setback. The old mystique of a lesser known and infrequently visited, almost deserted, Temple was replaced by a sprawling structure hideously extended and irritatingly over-crowded, with incongruous appendages of brick and mortar sticking out or rather clinging to the ancient sanctum, which now housed more popular Gods and Goddesses wooed by the public. The desperados’ own Goddess was still there but somehow overshadowed by the relatively newer members of the family. The old, raw, untamed charm of the jungle had evaporated like effervescence. It was like one of those innumerable ugly sprouts, dotting the urban landscape, an eyesore for those who loved to reside in their uncivilized,medieval past.
However, the legend still continued…
One of our acquaintances, a regular visitor to the Temple, had once landed at the sacred site, mid-afternoon, hungry and tired, thinking that he would surely get a packet of prashad at the deity’s court. However, to his utter disappointment, the Temple was closed. Yet surprisingly a packet of sweetmeats lay close to the collapsible gate at arms’ reach which could be easily pulled out by the ardent devotee!!
Our same, old acquaintance, once in a hurry, had absentmindedly, carried his plate of offerings outside the Temple, forgetting to place it before the deity. As he was about to leave the place, a dusky girl appeared from nowhere. Extending her arm, she asked, ”Won’t you give me my dues?” Our dazed friend could not recall clearly what happened thereafter. But of course the offerings were gone!!!
There can be many explanations to these happenings - a fertile imagination, a superstition ridden mind, a tendency to concoct, subscribe to and perpetuate myths and even a commercial ploy (though our friend did not apparently have any share in the Temple’s commercial glory) are a few of them. But how to explain the huge speed-breakers ostensibly constructed by the Authorities to avoid the fatal accidents that take place right in front of the temple each year? A mere coincidence or is it her insatiable blood thirst that impels the deity to engineer the long abolished ritual of human sacrifice by her own devious means?
A far-fetched hypothesis albeit one that gives goose bumps.