Friday, 30 January 2015

Myths of Shiva, Kali, Krishna & Radha

Before coming to Assam in the north-east of India, I had never thought of Shiva and Kali as a couple and I had also never thought of the two couples, Shiva & Kali and Krishen & Radha, as having any common stories. This post is about understanding an aspect of Hinduism - the Shiva and Kali relationship, and the myths connecting them to Krishna and Radha.

Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Radha myths - Images by Sunil Deepak


Kali belongs to the Hindu traditions of the north-eastern parts of India, especially Bengal and Assam. As a child, I had been to the Kali temples in Delhi but I had never taken a good look at the statues of this goddess, probably because I found her a little frightening and intimidating - her red tongue coated with blood, the garland of skulls around her neck and the bleeding cut head she holds in her hand, seemed to me the stuff of nightmares!

I had often wondered how Bengal and Assam can have traditions of two such contrasting goddesses - Saraswati, the peaceful goddess of learning, and Kali, the goddess of vengeance and death. I had always preferred Saraswati.

I found an article of Devdutt Pattanaik explaining the Kali tradition in Hinduism, according to which Kali was initially seen as a demonic force but who was later included in the Hindu mainstream as a "slayer of demons":
“Kali-like goddesses were worshipped by agricultural communities, who were probably matriarchal, who came to be feared by patriarchal nomadic communities… Between the 2nd century BC and 3rd century AD, Kali appears unequivocally for the first time as a goddess in the Kathaka Grihyasutra, a ritualistic text that names her in a list of Vedic deities to be invoked with offerings of perfume during the marriage ceremony. Unfortunately, the text reveals nothing more about her.
In the Mahabharata and Ramayana which were being composed around this time, goddesses, including Kali, are given more character: they are usually independent and (hence?) wild, appearing as manifestations of divine rage and embodiments of the forces of destructions. In the Mahabharata, for example, the nocturnal bloodbath by Ashwattama at the end of the 18-day war, when the innocent children of the Pandavas are slaughtered rather dastardly while they are asleep, is seen as the work of “Kali of bloody mouth and eyes, smeared with blood and adorned with garlands, her garment reddened, — holding noose in hand — binding men and horses and elephants with her terrible snares of death.”
In the Devi Mahatmya, dated roughly to 8th century AD, Kali became a defender against demonic and malevolent forces and by the 19th century, Kali was a goddess of mainstream pantheon, a symbol of divine rage, of raw power and the wild potency of nature. The one who was once feared as an outsider had made her way right to the heart of the mainstream.” 

During my travels in Assam over the past few weeks, I saw many statues of Kali, where the goddess is shown standing with one foot on a lying down Shiva. When I saw those statues, I was confused. I had never noticed before that Kali stands with her foot on Shiva!

Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Radha myths - Images by Sunil Deepak

During my stay in Bologna (Italy), I had seen the Durga statues during the annual Durga Puja organised by the local Bengali community, where she is shown standing on the demon king Mahishasur. So when I saw the Kali-Shiva statues, I asked myself, if  Shiva was seen like a demon, to be killed by Kali?

Searching for information about Kali and Shiva, I discovered another story on the internet. Another article of Devdutt Pattanaik, “Krishna as Kali”, explained that the foot of Kali on Shiva is part of a love game between the two, “When you dance atop me as Kali, naked with hair unbound, unafraid to be yourself, unafraid to be powerful and vulnerable and unafraid of being judged and mocked, I feel love.

Thus, Shiva and Kali relationship was part of Shiva and Shakti relationships that explored different forms of love. As Kali, Shakti expresses herself without inhibitions or need of male approval, and Shiva loves this expression of the female power. 

After reading this article, I looked at the Kali and Shiva statues once again and this time I could see that Kali is not trying to kill Shiva. Rather, Shiva is shown awake and a little thoughtful, with his eyes open, while Kali seems to be tickling his chest with her toes.

Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Radha myths - Images by Sunil Deepak

However, this article of Pattanaik also touched on another aspect – the story of how Shiva and Kali decided to come down to earth and be born as Radha and Krishen respectively. This meant that Shiva was born in female form as Radha and Kali was born in the male form as Krishna.

Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Radha myths - Images by Sunil Deepak

Pattanaik concludes this article with the following words:
“Just as Kali had made Shiva give up his autonomy and understand the value of the not-so-autonomous other, the pining beloved, Radha helped Krishna understand the limitations of society, the struggle between faith in divinity and fidelity for the husband. Radha was demanding, as Kali once had been. Radha sat on Krishna as Kali stood on Shiva. The two thus mingled and merged in roles and thoughts and feelings. But there was one crucial difference.
Kali had made the wandering hermit, Shiva, into a rooted hermit, Shankara. Radha did the opposite. She remained a flower stuck to the branch of a tree while Krishna became the bee that moves on after getting enriched with nectar. And so fulfilled by Radha’s love, Krishna left Madhuban for Mathura. Kali had revealed love through shringara, romance, as only Krishna can. Radha revealed love through vairagya, renunciation, as only Shiva can.”

I am glad that my curiosity about the Shiva and Kali statues led me to these articles of Pattanaik and learning about explorations of gender relationships and human sexuality in the Indian myths. Probably most persons when they learn about these myths, even without knowing about the psychological explanations given by Pattanaik, still internalize an intuitive understanding of the complex and infinite variety of human diversity.

I think that this Shiva-Radha and Kali-Krishna myth is a good example of the traditional Indian way of thinking. These myths are complex and they seem to be telling a truth about gods and human relationships in ways that require an intuitive understanding rather than a rational understanding.

Kali, Shiva, Krishna, Radha myths - Images by Sunil Deepak

I like the way Pattanaik illustrates these myths in the Indian way of thinking and understanding the world and ourselves. This Indian way of understanding is the way of subjective truths, non linear thinking, where things can have many simultaneous meanings, often contradictory!

P.S. My friend Harjinder (Laltu) was surprised when he read that I had never seen the Shiva-Kali statues before. He had grown up in Kolkata.

He has shared another story about these statues that he had heard as a child - When whole earth was terrified of the anger of Kali who wanted to destroy everything, the gods asked Shiva for help. Shiva lied down in front of Kali and when she put her foot on him, she put out her tongue in a gesture of repentance, "Oh, look what have I done now!" These statues tell that story.

I love Harjinder's story - it makes her look less intimidating!


Monday, 12 January 2015

Delhi Metro Walks: Pragati Maidan

“Delhi Metro Walks” are my way of discovering the city places around the metro stations. This post is about the places to visit around the “Pragati Maidan” station on the Yellow line of Delhi Metro.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak

Delhi Metro network must be one of the fastest growing metro networks in the world. It came to Delhi only about 10 years ago and is already a complex web of lines covering large parts of the huge and growing city of 16 million persons, to which new lines and stations get added every year. It is a convenient way to discover hidden corners of the city.


The Blue line is one of the longest lines in the Delhi metro network – it connects Dwarka in the south-west part of Delhi near the international airport to NOIDA and other satellite towns in the north-east. NOIDA in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh is part of the New Capital Region (NCR), the metropolitan area of Delhi .

So let us start our walking tour from the Pragati Maidan metro station. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes and keep a wide-brimmed cap or an umbrella to cover your head from the strong sun light. This is a long walking-tour and if you wish, you can spend many hours for this visit. As you come of the station, turn left and follow the boundary walls of the Trade Fair grounds on the Mathura Road.

The map below shows the different places to visit during this walking tour. The path on Mathura Road is shown in blue dots, while the sites are marked in red numbers.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak


The trade fair grounds of Delhi called “Pragati Maidan” (literally the words mean “Progress Grounds”) give the name to the metro station. If there is an on-going trade fair, be prepared to tackle huge crowds at this station.

As you walk along the walls of the Trade Fair grounds, on your left you will encounter different entry gates. Pragati Maidan has different eating places, theatres and open-air cultural places that function only during the different trade fairs that take place throughout the year, especially between October to February.

I personally prefer the trade fairs concerning books and traditional crafts of India, though the fairs dealing with electronics, furniture, etc. and especially the international trade fair, attract a lot of visitors. There are numerous opportunities to see plays, films and dances during the trade fairs, especially in the evening. The quirky modernist architecture of the buildings is also an attraction.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak


If you continue along the outer walls of the trade fair, near the crossing with Bhairon Singh Road, on your left you will find the dargah of Matka pir. “Dargah” denotes the prayer place of a Sufi pir (saint). Sufi pir are Muslim holy persons in the syncretic religious traditions of India and usually have followers from different religions. Usually the saint is buried in the same dargah and people visit it to ask a mannat (favour).

In this dargah, persons asking for a favour offer a matka (a round terracotta vase, traditionally used for storing cool water) to the saint. Thus on the different trees around this place, you will find hundreds of these vases hanging from the branches. Because of them, the saint is known as Matka Pir.
Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak
Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak

The earthen round matkas are used to offer roasted grams and jaggery at the dargah, because there is a story that the saint had once transformed iron balls and mud into these edibles. At the dargah you can also listen to qawali prayer songs.

You need to remove your shoes/sandals and cover your head with a scarf or a handkerchief to enter the dargah. Persons wearing shorts or skirts should not enter the dargah.


Just across the sanctuary of Matka Pir, on the other side of Bhairon road, you can see the walls of the Purana Qila or the old fort of Delhi, built in the 16th century.

Many kings of Delhi had preferred to built their own forts, shifting each time the imperial city that settled around the king’s fort. Since 1000 AD and over the next 500 years, the imperial city of Delhi had been in Mehrauli, then in Hauz Khas, then in Tughlakabad and finally to the areas around Lodhi gardens. In the 16th century came the Mughals from Western Asia – in 1524 arrived Babar who defeated the Lodhi king and became the new king of Delhi. However, Babar’s reign lasted only a few years and he died in 1530. Hamayun his son became the king but in 1540 he was defeated by Sher Shah Suri and forced to go back to West Asia.

After becoming the king, Suri decided to build a new fort, that is now known as the Purana Qila, some kilometres to the east, in an area known as Indraprastha, where the legend said that the ancient city of Pandavas from the Hindu epic Mahabharata was situated. Hamayun came back and attacked Delhi in 1555 and defeated Suri. Hamayun decided to live in Suri’s fort and constructed some new buildings inside the fort, including a round library.  A year later, Hamayun died, falling down from the stairs of that round building, and his 14 year old son Jalaluddin Mohammed (Akbar) became the king. As Akbar grew up, he decided to shift to Agra and along with him the imperial city also shifted. Suri’s fort was abandoned and was covered with plants and trees, and a village came up inside it.

For the next 100 years, the Mughal kings - Akbar, followed by Jahangir and Shahjahan continued to live in Agra. In 1658, Shahjahan’s son Aurangzeb became the king and he brought back the imperial city to Delhi, where his father had built a new fort to the north-east of the Delhi (Red Fort).

With this glimpse of the history of Delhi, you can visit the old fort. Its outer walls are surrounded by a small lake, a popular place for paddle-boating during summers. Inside the fort, some buildings including a mosque and the round shaped library of Hamayun are in good condition.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak
Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak
Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak

The old fort is the venue of some important cultural activities. For example, each year in November, the Ananya dance festival is held here.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak


Just across the road from the old fort is Khair-ul-Manazil (literally “The most beautiful building”), the house of Maham Angah, the wet nurse of prince Jalaluddin Akbar. This building was built in 1561-62.

Maham Angah was supposed to be a very powerful figure for many years in the court of the young king Akbar. However, for conspiring against the king, her son Adham Khan was killed and she was exiled, while Akbar shifted to Agra. If you have seen Ashutosh Gawarikar’s film “Jodha Akbar”, you will certainly remember Maham Angah, played wonderfully by Ila Arun.

The mosque of this building is quite well preserved, while the ruins of other buildings of this complex (probably a madrassa or an Islamic school) are worse off.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak


The Delhi zoo is next to the old fort and is one of my favourite places in Delhi. It has wide open spaces where most animals are housed. It includes a small lake where a stable colony of painted storks, grey necked storks and cormorants lives. In February when the baby storks are there, it can be a really noisy place. The zoo also has lot of peacocks flying around.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak
Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak

The gardens of the zoo have a wide variety of trees and each tree is labelled with a short description. Thus, the zoo is an excellent place to learn about Indian trees.

Unfortunately, the persons visiting the zoo, especially adolescent boys, can be very noisy and thus, probably the animals are very stressed. Weekends are usually very crowded here. The zoo also has some antiquated laws regarding cameras so you are supposed to pay extra if you are carrying a camera, even if it is an old simple camera. However, you can take pictures or even shoot videos with your smart phone without paying anything extra.


After you finish the zoo visit, you can take an auto-rickshaw to take you back to Pragati Maidan metro station, because it can be a long walk (around 2.5 km)!

There are two more places to visit on this tour - both are on Bhairon Road, close to the Dargah of Matka peer - the crafts museum and the Bhairon temple. However, I did not visit them this time because I was too tired!

I like this walk because it provides very different kinds of experiences – historical, cultural, culinary, sacred and nature.

Places to visit around Pragati Maidan station of Delhi Metro - Images by Sunil Deepak

You can check the Travel page of this blog to see the other walks around metro stations of Delhi. I hope that you have enjoyed taking this walk with me.

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