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The “Self-Animal” and Divine Digestion: Goat Sacrifice to the Goddess Kālī in Bengal

  • Suchitra Samanta


Kālī, the Hindu goddess ‘Time,’ is a ubiquitous presence in contemporary rural and urban Bengali life and occupies a historic place as Calcutta's patron deity. Her prototypes go back to pre-Vedic India (Kinsley 1977:90; MacKenzie-Brown 1985:111). Kālī was incorporated into the orthodox Hindu textual tradition in the myths of the Devī-Māhātmya, or Candī, as this sixth-century A.D. text is known in Bengal. She subsequently became the chief divinity as Female Principle (Śakti, ‘Force’, ‘Creatrix’) in the esoteric Sākta Tantra cult, which was especially prevalent in eastern India around the sixteenth century. By the seventeenth century, Kālī's worship moved to the public sphere. The Kālī saints Rāmaprasāda (eighteenth century) and Rāmakrsna (late nineteenth century) were especially responsible for popularizing the devotional (bhakti) conception of Kālī as Mother, the prevalent perception of this deity among Bengalis today (Gatwood 1985:174; Kapera n.d.:71; Kinsley 1977:93, 117; Kinsley 1986:116, 125; MacKenzie-Brown 1985:118–19).



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