- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

The following is a meditation delivered during the weekend by Prodeep Chakraborty, the resident priest at Washington Kali Temple in Burtonsville.

On Friday, hundreds of Hindus from the Washington metropolitan area gathered here to worship our goddess Kali as part of the yearly celebration of Diwali — the Hindu “festival of lights.”

This autumn festival, also known as Deepavali, is observed on the dark night of the new moon in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik, which encompasses October and November. It is perhaps the most widely known Hindu social and religious event celebrated across India and in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. Bengalis observe this festival with a special worship for goddess Kali, who we consider the Divine Mother, the cosmic energy (shakti) and the support of the universe.

Our Kali idol has four hands, one containing a sword and another holding the severed head of a demon. She stands atop Shiva, even though Shiva is considered her consort. Although some label her a bloodthirsty goddess, we think of her as she who destroys evil, removes miseries and sustains life.

We are a mostly Bengali congregation of 400 regular devotees, but this festival draws many visitors. On Friday, we joined in a three-hour grand Kali puja (worship) and a big feast late into the night. The air in our temple hall was filled with the smell of exotic incense. Scores of flickering small lamps lit the intense, prayerful faces of devotees.

What is this worship? Our rituals begin with a series of purification rites, a time-honored Indian tradition known to calm one’s body and mind. It includes the symbolic bathing of the deity — generally done on a mirror image — along with an offering of new clothes, freshly made garlands and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetarian dishes. All this is done while mantras are being chanted.

Our purpose is to rouse in each devotee a feeling of profound holiness and awareness of the living presence of something greater than ourselves. The realization of our forgotten identity gives us greater insight to achieve spiritual wholeness, to cope with pains and problems and to live life to its fullest with profound feelings of unity, pure ecstasy and divine rapture.

To fulfill this mission, the Washington Kali Temple will leave no stone unturned. We ask people to become fully what they really are. This is not a sacrifice, but a way to a full life with love, hope and joy.

The final step of puja is called arati. For this, the priest waves seven items before the goddess in a slow circular motion while continuously ringing a brass bell. The seven items are a brass lamp holder with five small lamps, called pancha pradip; a small bowl of burning camphor; incense sticks; a conch shell filled with holy water; a piece of cloth; a flower — usually red hibiscus — and a fan called chamor.

After arati, we offer flowers to the deity and seek blessings. This is known as pushpanjali, where the priest narrates the general prayer in a slow rhythm allowing each devotee to repeat the chants before flowers are offered.

An ancient Hindu sacred book, called the Chandi, describes Kali as the Divine Mother who destroys evil sprits, offers fearlessness to devotees and gives blessings to all who sing her praises.

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