Ever-blissful Kaliby Kamalakanta
English version by Rachel Fell McDermott
Original Language Bengali
Bewitcher of the Destructive Lord,
for Your own amusement
clapping Your hands.
You with the moon on Your forehead,
really You are primordial, eternal, void.
When there was no world, Mother,
where did You get that garland of skulls?
You alone are the operator,
we Your instruments, moving as You direct.
Where You place us, we stand;
the words You give us, we speak.
Restless Kamalakanta says, rebukingly:
You grabbed Your sword, All-Destroyer,
and now You've cut down evil and good.
|-- from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott|
To more fully appreciate the meaning of this poem, it helps to know a little about the iconography and symbols associated with the Goddess Kali.
Kali is the spouse or feminine aspect of Shiva ("the Destructive Lord"). In the male-female dichotomy of Indian metaphysics, the masculine aspect of the Divine is the seed, that which is potential but unmanifest and at rest, whereas the feminine form of the Divine is that potential gestated and then made manifest and active. For this reason, Kali, the active principle is often portrayed in the midst of a wild, ecstatic dance of creation and destruction, while her husband, Shiva, rests prone at her feet, eyes fixed on her movement, "bewitched."
Kali dances for her "own amusement" because this dance of manifestation and destruction is done purely out of divine delight. It is considered "lila," divine play.
There are several other important symbolic elements in this poem, but let's look at one of the more shocking details: She is wearing a "garland of skulls"! Why would Kali be wearing a necklace of heads? The story is told that an army of demons threatened creation, and only Kali, the Great Goddess, was powerful enough to destroy them in her ecstatic dance. She slew them all, restoring the universal balance, and made a garland of their heads. On a more esoteric level, each head represents a sound of the Sanskrit alphabet. Each sound is considered a pure vibration, and it is through pure vibration that manifestation occurs. Thus Kali's garland of heads is created from the destruction of evil and, at the same time, it makes possible the harmonious manifestation of everything.