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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Jan 9, 2009

Kali Puja

Last night was our last night at Amritapuri. I attended the Kali Puja. First let me explain to those readers who are not Yoga Nerds, that in Hindu Mythology there are 10,000,000 gods and goddesses. (just about as many bones as there are in the foot – that's an inside joke for Thine, Beth and all). I love the richness and depth of it all and, for me, each of the gods and goddesses represent aspects of ourselves or of life. They might be compared to Jungian archetypes. I am not a Hindu scholar – I've just have some good teachers who are. I credit any insight I have to those teachers and definitely have myself to blame for any errors or mis-interpretations.

With that preamble out of the way, let me get down to business. Kali is a fierce goddess. She is depicted wielding weapons and holding bloody decapitated heads. She has many arms so as to be able to hold more weapons and more bloody heads. Her tongue is protruding. She has a belt made of human limbs, and her foot is placed on a vanquished foe-of-a-man. Kali represents that aspect of consciousness that must be fierce, must destroy, must use even violence to drive away that which not in service to life, or is not in alignment with grace. She also represents the inevitability of suffering, loss and death. Kali is called MA Kali or Kali MA as she is an aspect of the Divine Mother.

I entered the Puja place – the same former cowshed in which I'd attended the Ganesha Puja – about an hour early to be sure to have a place to sit. These gigs are seriously crowded. I did find a place to sit. After some time, as the place was filling up, a British woman sat next to me. She seemed eccentric but then, who am I to talk!? The place continued to fill up while in the roped off center the Brahmin priests were finishing the elaborate preparations which involved incense and ghee lamps and and rose petals and so on. Then – oh my gosh – an “internatinal” (what they call us foreigners here on the ashram) walked straight across the roped off center, knocking over ghee lamps, and sat down in the section reserved for the male musicians who had not yet arrived – it was 100% obvious that this was an off-limits section. It was really a horrifying example of how self-involvement and self-concern can overturn the sacred. The priests motioned her to “get out of here” and she eventually did.

People continued to fill in the place. I had about 2 feet of space to my right which had not been filled in with a body because the priests had been keeping a basket of herbs there – but they took that away and when I saw a young woman looking for a spot, I motioned her over – and she gratefully sat down to my left. Very soon after that, the British woman on my right pushed me. I was startled! She said I had been very rude to invite someone to sit down and that it had crowded the space and I had therefore touched her knee with my knee and she did not appreciate that sort of intimate touch. If I wanted that sort of thing from a woman I should look somewhere else – perhaps to the friend to my left. I think I didn't say anything at that point. It was mostly impossible to not slightly and accidentally touch someone. And every available square inch was being filled in whether there was inviting going on or not. So I checked out my borders and decided I hadn't done any border violations, and tried to ignore her. But then she pushed me again – shoved me. And a third time. So I turned to her and said, in a seriously Kali tone of voice, “You are MAD! (I had to say “mad”, not “crazy” because, after all, she is British). She shoved me again and I said “Why on earth do you come to a Puja if you can't stand to be in close proximity to other people?! For that matter why on earth do you come to India? You are greedy and self concerned and selfish!!” Yes, I really said all that to a complete stranger. I spat it out in fact. I might have just as well added, “Back Off B. or I will cut off your head with one of my many arms!”
The woman on my left turned out to be a feisty Italian woman. Several time she leaned across me and hissed at the Brit – told her she should stop her nonsense or leave. At one point the Italian and I agreed that Kali was definitely present – like who would NOT show up at their own Puja after all!

Anyway, I remembered the teaching from Paul (Entering the heart teacher) about standing in the fire of transformation, not wavering, and I figured that for me – in this circumstance – it probably did NOT mean cutting off the Brit's head. I had been sitting with narrowly crossed legs (Sukhasna style) but decided to give way in favor of “adult spirituality”, so I folded myself up – knees to chest - small as a letter home to Mom (Hi Mom) and made sure not to touch the British Nutcase. And Then! She spread herself out further with wider crossed knees – and elbows jutting out. And she started shoving me some more. Oh I Really wanted to cut her head off now. The room was 110 F. and I was burning up with rage on top of it. So I had to call up some stronger medicine – I decided to pray and make it all “food for the divine” e.g. “offer it up”.
That went OK – and the British Psychopath kept up her psychopathy. The Italian woman then offered to change places with me so as to possibly get the Brit to settle down....we switched, but the Brit started in on her......said we were girlfriends (read “lesbians”) and why couldn't we get that sort of thing from one another and leave her alone?! Mind you, all of this time had not involved even a slight brushing of the British Bitch save for the first accidental brush from me.

The Kali Puja and our own little drama went on for over 2 hours. For the last 30 minutes as we were doing Kirtan (a call and response singing prayer form) I decided to dedicate my prayers and chanting to my mother (Hi Mom). And then, after a bit, I decided to also dedicate the prayer work to “the difficult one” - the British woman. Well, the minute I did that I became SO uncomfortable. I could hardly stand it. Mind you, I had been sitting, folded up the size of a postage stamp, for almost 2 hours. I was doing relatively OK with it until the moment I turned my prayer efforts towards “the Brittle One”. The minute I started to dedicate my efforts to that woman – I wanted to jump out of my skin. So there I had one more blast of Kali's heat to sit still for. I managed to act like an adult and not have a fidgeting fit.

I know one thing - if you are going to invoke Kali and her fierce energy, you had better be ready for some heat. I also have to report that after the Puja ended I felt amazingly – surprisingly - light and full of joy. So I am assuming that the whole circumstance was Grace in action – of course!


  1. High drama in Amritapuri!!! Wonderful writing, Karen.

    And, ummm, not that there wasn't a lot of Grace involved, but I think maybe the reason you felt "amazingly – surprisingly - light and full of joy" was because you were no longer folded up like a letter. Just a thought. :-)

  2. WOWOWOWOWOWOW!! This story makes my day too. I also find it difficult to offer up prayer to "the difficult one" when I am in the midst of struggle with "the difficult one" in that moment, but I have found that resisiting the temptation to cut off their head and offer up prayer instead is always more transforming to my authentic self aligned with Grace.

    but ohhhhhh.....I cannot tell you with certainty that if I had been in the Italian womans spot in that moment and she was shoving my teacher that I would have not cut off her head. I have found it much more difficult to offer up prayer to those that intimidate or hurt people I love. I can feel it in my guts way over here!!

    I have a wonderful elder in my life that gives me good advice. she said that people like this are our best spiritual teachers, and that it is completely ok to offer a prayer that simply goes "bless the bitch"....even if you don't mean it, do it anyway, lol.

    I love you!!!!