This time I shall devour Thee utterly, Mother Kali!

by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Original Language Bengali

This time I shall devour Thee utterly, Mother Kali!
For I was born under an evil star,
And one so born becomes, they say, the eater of his mother.
Thou must devour me first, or I myself shall eat Thee up;
One or the other it must be.

I shall besmear my hands with black
and with black my face;
With black I shall besmear the whole of my body.
And when Death seizes me,
with black I shall besmear his face.

O Mother, I shall eat Thee up
but not digest Thee;
I shall install Thee in my heart
And make Thee offerings with my mind.
You may say that by eating Kali
I shall embroil myself
with Kala, Her Husband,
but I am not afraid;
Braving His anger,
I shall chant my Mother's name.
Come what may, I shall eat Thee up —
Thee and Thy retinue —
Or lose my life attempting it.

-- from Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, by Elizabeth U. Harding

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Ramprasad's poetry to the Mother Goddess Kali is playful, petulant, blissful, rageful -- and sometimes shocking. His poetry shows the whole tempestuous relationship between a child and his Mother, between the soul and God. He doesn't just show one face to the Divine Mother, he doesn't just pretend to be 'the good little boy;' he communicates everything to Her nakedly. And, in doing so, he achieves a profound intimacy with the Divine.

Though many may find this particular poem disturbing, honestly this is one of my favorites. You could say it is a tantrum of devotion. Ramprasad gives the Mother Goddess an ultimatum: Consume me utterly, or I will consume you! "One or the other it must be." Consider that for a moment: What does it mean to eat God? What does it mean to be eaten by God?

Then he gives us this haunting image of covering himself completely in black. "With black I shall besmear the whole of my body." What does that mean?

To understand this, it helps to know more about the imagery associated with the Goddess Kali. Kali is depicted with black skin and she is naked, symbolic of the Eternal Void with which she clothes herself. So when Ramprasad says he is besmearing his hands and face and whole body with black, he is declaring that he is making himself like her, clothed in the purity of the Void. He is intentionally erasing himself, removing all separation between himself and the Divine. This sounds so deliberate, that it may actually be part of a ritualized Tantric visualization used in meditation.

Ramprasad even says that when death comes for him, he will blacken death's face, as well. He is saying that he will turn even death into representative of the Eternal. Death will no longer be death, but simply one more expression of Kali.

In the Hindu pantheon, when Kali is depicted with her male aspect, with her "husband," that husband is Shiva, the white-skinned representation of God as the Eternal beyond manifestation. But sometimes the name Kala is used to represent her husband, in counterpoint to Kali. Kala means 'time.' So when he states, "You may say that by eating Kali / I shall embroil myself / with Kala, Her Husband," he is saying that he might get caught up in time, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. But he proclaims, "I am not afraid; / Braving His anger, / I shall chant my Mother's name." When the mind is securely fixed on the Divine Mother, on God, what does it matter whether you're caught on the wheel of life and death or not? If you have God, is there anything to fear?

We are all consuming God and, in turn, being consumed by God. To lose one's life, to become completely "black," by throwing ourselves fully into that process -- well, that is the goal.

Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
More Books >>

This time I shall