Why did Sri Ramakrishna choose Maa Kali? What is the significance of Worship Kali?

Who is Kali?

Is she the woman God of death and destruction? Or is she just a symbolic representation of the deadly force that emanated in fiery feminine form from the brow of the goddess Durga, to slay the demons? Is she just a God of folklore who carries the souls of the slain soldiers from the war front, as depicted in Mahabharata? Is she a great warrior of the Santal tribe who waged many bloody battles and by virtue of her heroic deeds, raised to the level of a God, or is she “Kotravai”, the blood-thirsty God found in ancient Tamil literature?

Or is she the Shakti of Shiva, who is really the “arta-nari” – the woman-half of Shiva? If so, how come she is depicted to be standing on the seemingly dead and inert body of her husband Shiva? If she the all benevolent and lovable “Lokha mata”, the universal mother who is worshiped in many pleasing and adorable female forms as Parvati, Meenakshi, Kamakshi, Raja Rajeshwari and so on? If so, why is she depicted in such a fiery form of Kali – dark skinned, bloody and protruding eyes, tongue hanging out, her two canine teeth protruding out like a carnivorous animal, body smeared with ash, wearing a garland of human skulls, just wearing a skirt made of human arms and standing over the corpse-like body of her husband Shiva?

Is she simply a representation, in woman form, of the all pervading Brahman, who is beyond form and formless, who is both the manifest and un-manliest, who is behind creation, sustenance and destruction and consequently, the Ultimate Reality, from whom the three Prime Gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Rudra) arise and disappear like bubbles from the sea, as eulogized in the “Nirvana-tantra”?

To grasp Kali by any such inquiries is too difficult and too daunting a task! But the best way to grasp her true import is to surrender to her unquestioningly and unconditionally like the great Bengali Saint Poet Ramprasad had done. He declares “I have understood that Kali is Brahman and thus have gleefully renounced both Dharma and Adharma”.

In the recent history, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886) is one great sage, who was an ardent devotee of Bhavatarini – the Kali of Dakshineswar temple (near Kolkotta). Sri Ramakrishna had the divine vision of Kali and he was virtually on a never-ceasing divine communion with her.

It is very difficult to say whether Sri Ramakrishna chose Maa Kali or Maa Kali chose Ramakrishna to express Her divinity through him! It looks to me that the later was more true.

Worshiping Lord Raghuvir (Ram) and Sitala Devi (A form of Durga) as family deities was in vogue in Sri Ramakrishna’s family. But there doesn’t seem to be any specific instance of Sri Ramakrishna’s ‘attachment’ to Sitala Devi for worship in his early years.

Sri Ramakrishna’s first “encounter” with Maa Kali seems have happened when he took a pilgrimage as a boy along with local women to Anoor Visalakshi Temple. As he was walking with the women singing bhajans on Divine mother, he suddenly went into a trance – attaining bhava Samadhi and getting immersed in overwhelming emotions on Devi.

Later, in his late teens, he went to Kolkata to assist his elder brother Ramkumar, who was earning the very livelihood through practicing purohitam (priesthood) for the family stricken with poverty at Kamarpukur. Ramkumar got appointed to to Dakshineswar Kali temple as the priest and Sri Ramakrishna too shifted to the temple premises only very reluctantly. Interestingly, the orthodox Brahmin mindset he had in those days made him decline to eat Kali’s Prasad!

I believe it was gradually afterword that Dakshineswar Bhavatarini Kali started Her divine play of ‘possessing’ the reluctant Village Brahmin teenager and making him her own and finally making his Self her own divine abode!

The rest is history.

Sri Ramakrishna was a great lover of Ramprasad’s songs on Kali. He used to interpret the profound meaning behind Ramprasad’s songs, based on his own personal and intimate experience of Kali.

He says “What Vedas call as Brahman, he (Ramprasad) addresses as the Mother. He who is attributeless also has attributes. He who is Brahman is also Sakti. When thought of as inactive, He is called Brahman, and when thought of as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, He is called the Primordial Energy, Kali. …. Brahman alone is addressed as mother. This is because mother is an object of great love. One is able to realize God just through this love.”

Kali worship, Tantra and Sri Ramakrishna

Regarding significance of Kali Worship, Shaktas will give lots of reasons based on Puranas and Tantra Shastras about the superiority of Kali worship over other sects. In my opinion, Shakta was a very strong sect, (like Gaudiya Vaishnavism) in Bengal existing in those periods, thanks to the widespread practice of Tantra amid Bengalis.

It may be pointed out that Sri Ramakrishna practiced Tantra under the methodical and strict guidance of Bhairavi Brahmani and attained the pinnacle of divine experience as per Tantra Shastras. But during his days, Tantra Shastra had attained quite a bad reputation because it was conveniently misunderstood and practiced by many to enjoy drinking and sex. Leaving behind the core idea of transcending those meaner pulls to attain divinity (Unity of Shiva and Shakti) through enjoying and overcoming, Tantra in practice had considerably degenerated those days.

By the strength of his divine experience, Sri Ramakrishna strongly warned against those practices of Tantra; he pointed out that the chances of falling were rather more than succeeding by the secret practicing of indulgence in the Pancha Makaras — madya (wine), sa (meat), matsya (fish), mudrā (parched grain) and maithuna (sexual intercourse) of the Tantra.

Sri Ramakrishna prescribed Bhakti as the best means for woshipping divine mother Kali. For him, Maa Kali and what Upanishads call Brahman are one; Maa Kali is Brahman and Maya rolled into one and inseparable.

In the path of Bhakti on Kali, again, Sri Ramakrishna recommended a relationship of a child with its mother (Santhana bhava) as the best and detested a relationship as a lover (Madhura bhava).

Kali is depicted in several sub-forms too for worship and also for grasping her different attributes by people of different tastes and temperaments. These classifications have their origin mostly in Tantra practice.

Once, based on a request made by Kesab Sen, Sri Ramakrishna explained to him some forms of Kali:

“Maha-Kali & Niya Kali: These two forms are mentioned in the Tantra philosophy. When there were neither the creation nor the sun, moon, planets and the earth, when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the formless one, Maha Kali, the Great Power, was one with Maha-Kala, the absolute.

Syama-Kali: She has somewhat a tender aspect and is worshiped in the Hindu households. She is the dispenser of boons and the dispenser of fear.

Raksha-Kali: She is the Protectress; people worship her in times of epidemics, famine, earth quake, draught and floods.

Smasana-Kali: She is the embodiment of power and destruction. She resides in the cremation ground, surrounded by corpses, jackels and terrible female spirits. From her mouth flows a stream of blood, from her neck hangs a garlant of human heads and around her waist is agirdle made of human hands.”

Sri Ramakrishna also gives a unique explanation to the dark complexion of Kali. “She appears black because she is viewed from a distance. But when intimately known, she is no longer so. The sky appears blue at a distance; but look at it close by and you will find that it has no color”.

Yes. It is the intimacy with her that matters – to know the true nature of Kali.

However. we should not make the mistake of compartmentalizing Sri Ramakrishna to be a Shakta. He was a vaishnava amidst Vaishnu Bhakts; he was a Shaivite amidst Shiv Bhakts. He was an Advaiti amidst Jnanis. He was a yogi amidst Raja yogis.

We must also remember this: Sri Ramakrishna, when he practiced Nirvikalpa Samadhi under the guidance of Tota Puri had to mentally severe his emotional dvaita relationship with Maa Kali; as per Tota Puri’s instruction, he had to cut and get rid of Kali’s form from his mind (by using the sword of jyana) before he experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi where the experience of God is beyond name and form.

However, for the sake of ‘coming back’ and teaching the world his all-encompassing divine knowledge, Maa Kali instructed him to remain in Bhava Samadhi (in a state where he could be in communion with God with name and form only).

(Sources: Wikipedia, “The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna”)


How to see God – Part 1

Most of people have faith in the existence of God and trust that the creation and sustenance of the cosmos is under the command of that supreme power. Can that God be seen? 

Hinduism permits worship of God with name and form. Hinduism offers a variety of God forms suited to the taste and temperament of the worshiper, and the various forms, in reality represent one Supreme God. At the same time, Hinduism accepts God, at its ultimate reality, as one beyond name, form and attributes, beyond description, as Para Brahman.

Since God is attributed with name and form, can you see God in one of His glorious forms that Hindus worship? If, on the other hand,  God is perceived to be formless, can you in some way unequivocally feel His presence? If you are a Christian and you believe that Jesus is the son of God and believe his words that the father and the son are one, can you see Jesus?

Sri Ramakrishna “Yes, my son. I have seen God just as I am seeing you…”

“Have You Seen God?” : Vivekananda’s Poser to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

For the 19 year old Narendra (later, the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda) this question – can one really see God – was an ever-nagging one at his heart. Whenever he got a chance to meet any saint, monk or any holy person he was never hesitant to put forth his question point blank: “Have you seen God?”

At Dakshineswar Temple (Kolkotta, India), as he was seated in front of the seemingly madman-like middle-aged Brahmin saint – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, (some time in the year 1885) he put forth the same question: “Swami, have you seen God?”

For the first time in his life, Narendra got the straight-forward answer from Sri Ramakrishna: “Yes. I see him just as I see you here, only in a much more intense sense.” He continued: “God can be realized. One can see and talk to him as I am seeing and talking to you. But who cares? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children, for wealth or property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for him, he surely manifests himself”.

That impressed Narendra at once.

In the above conversation, Sri Ramakrishna throws an important clue as to why people are not able to see God. It is their attachment towards the world, their beloved ones, money and wealth.

Hinduism states that God is Satchidananda — Existance-Knowledge-bliss. Seeing God gives unequivocal bliss — million times more pleasurable than sexual pleasure, according to Sri Ramakrishna. To acquire such a bliss, the effort one has to put and the sacrifice one has to make are also the greatest.

Sacrifice – in Worldly Pursuit and Godly Pursuit

Take a simple worldly pursuit for example. A girl wants to become a celebrity model. Think of the extent of sacrifice she has to make and the rigor she has to undergo to achieve her goal. She can’t eat what she loves; sometimes she may have to go starving; she has to do her exercises very regularly which may prove to be tough and taxing; she has to spend hours over hours in putting up and removing make-up, in her haircare, skincare, etc.

Assuming that she becomes a super-model and a world renowned celebrity one day, does the status give her permanent happiness and bliss? She had to toil a lot to maintain her figure; As she ages, she has compete with upcoming and much younger models and perhaps lose out in competition one day; she may fade away one fine day from the limelight and exit the halls of fame. Later at life, she may even regret having wasted her youth in an unworthy and transient pursuit.

If such an ephemeral pursuit itself involves so much of sacrifice and hard work, think of the Godly pursuit, which Hinduism says is the greatest goal and the very purpose of life.

Sri Ramakrishna prescribes three things as essential for having a God vision. One is sacrifice, the second is yearning and the third, divine grace.

Need for Sacrifice for God Vision

The quest for having vision of God involves a two-fold sacrifice. First comes sacrificing of all sensual pleasures and the desire for money. “Kamini-Kanchana”. This ‘twin’ is the most oft-quoted one by Sri Ramakrishna. It means woman (sexual pleasure) and gold (money). (It is needless to say that in case of a woman seeking God, she has to shun her sexual yearning for a man). Kamini-Kanchana in a nutshell represents Maya at its gross.

Even if one were to get free from the clutches of this duo, the next one is too subtle to identify and get rid of. It is egotism. It is an uphill task to get rid of ego-centric cravings for recognition and fame, to dominate and control others, to do charity, to teach knowledge to the world and so on.

Need for Yearning for Seeing God

Added to these two greatest sacrifices, one has to have an intense yearning to see God. What is the extent of intensiveness needed in this yearning?

Sri Ramakrishna gives the benchmark: If one’s yearning to have vision of God is as intense as a miser’s love for his wealth plus a mother’s love for her child plus a chaste woman’s love for her husband — when the force of yearning existing in all these three are added together, then one can have the vision of God.

Another frequent example by Sri Ramakrishna is this:

Once a disciple asked his Guru: “Sir, how can I see God?”. The guru took the disciple chest deep into the river and suddenly pushed his head into the water. Though the disciple struggled to get out, the Guru did not loosen his grip for a while. Then he released his grip. The disciple swung his head out of water and was panting heavily. The guru asked him “How did you feel?” “Oh! I was so desperate to get my breath. I though I would die!” The Guru now replied to the disciple’s original question: “If you long for God the same way you longed to get your breath, then you will get a vision of God!”.

Which one is more important? Yearning for God or sacrifice? Sri Ramakrishna says that if the yearning for God is intense, then the sacrifices automatically follow suit. One who is desperate for God will lose attraction on anything else. Sri Ramakrishna says that the Path of love for God (“Bhakthi marga”) is best suited for the majority of aspirants.

Lord Krishna appearing before Surdas to hear his devotional singing

For some aspirants, sacrifice and yearning for God may progress hand in hand. For some, sacrifice may precede the arrival of intense love on God.

When the search for God takes sufficient momentum, at that point one gets his Guru who will guide him in the right path to achieve his goal.





Worshiping God with name and form is an accepted practice in Hinduism. When a devotee longs to see his God at the exclusion of everything else, God grants his vision. 

When an earnest seeker leaves behind all his cravings for sensual pleasures and other worldly pursuits, single-mindedly yearns for his only goal in life, namely to attain God, and his yearning is so intense as though he is gasping for air to breathe, he gets his divine vision, by the grace of God.

Lord Rama with his consorts giving darshan to Saint poet Thyagaraja

In Hinduism, God is attributed with name and form. The one and only God, who is omniscient and omnipotent, whom the Upanishads call the Brahman, who transcends all name and forms but who is the in-dweller in all the names and forms of His creation, will present himself as the personal God of the earnest seeker.

Some Popular God Forms in Hinduism and the idea of Personal God

Hinduism offers multiple God forms to suit the varying tastes and temperaments of the worshiper. ThusVaishnavites (the worshipers of Lord Vishnu, the God of protection) worship him as Narayana in his glorious form, lying reclined in his bed of 5-headed snake Adisesha, at his abode Vaikuntha, with his divine consort Lakshmi. He is also worshiped in standing posture. Vishnu is also worshiped in any of his popular forms of Avatar — Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and so on.

Likewise, a saivite ( worshiper of Lord Shiva, the destroyer) may worship him in his glorious form wearing tiger skin at the waist, smearing ash all over his body, carrying a trishul at his hand and a snake adoring his neck. Or Shiva can also be worshiped in his form as Nataraja, the cosmic dancer or as Artanari, with half of his body taken up by his wife Shakti.

There are also devotees who worship Shakti (or Kali) as their personal God, who is considered the universal divine mother.

Likewise there are several options of God forms (refer An introduction to the various Gods in Hinduism) available to a Hindu to worship God in a form most lovable and dear to him. Though this may be baffling to non-Hindus, great Hindu masters however declare that this is one of the greatest practical benefits of Hindu theology. “When you see your father’s photo, you think of your father” says Ramakrishna. Your father is quite dear to you, though he could be a total stranger to a third person.The “form” of your father is quite useful to you in your remembrance of him and in your mental communication of your love towards him.

Your relationship with your father is thus personal and it is dear to your heart. In the same way, in Hinduism a worshiper of God establishes an Ishta, a specific God form that he can love and establish a personal relationship.

If we extend this concept to Christianity, then from a Hindu angle, Jesus, the son of the father in heaven and who is none other than the father, is the ishta of Christians. By loving Jesus, by worshiping him and by surrendering to him, they communicate with God.

Loving The Personal God all Out – Nishtha Bhakti

The earnest seeker loves his personal God with a single pointed, unwavering devotion. He treats his personal God virtually as the one and only true form of representation of the all pervading God, presenting Himself easy, amenable and available for his adoration and worship. He is not really concerned with questions or doubts as to whether God, who is considered omniscient, omnipotent, infinite and beyond the reach of mind and intellect, can truly be restricted to the single name and form that he personally adores.

A true devotee and lover of God, having such a mindset, has no use for intellectual analysis about God. Hinduism actually encourages this single pointed devotion (Ishta Nishtha) as one of the best ways of relating to God. “What is needed is a child-like faith” ascertains Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

This single-pointed love (nishtha) on the personal God (Ishta) can get gloriously narrowed down to much further and finer levels too. A devotee of say, Lord Krishna, might be simply overwhelmed by the enchanting form of Krishna as a small cowherd boy and may get enthralled to read about Krishna’s divine plays and childhood pranks.

His love for God in Krishna’s form could be restricted to “Bala Krishna” (boy Krishna) only and he may not find any joy in imagining his God as a grown up Lord Krishna who is such a mighty personality that delivered the great spiritual discourse Bhagavat Gita to his companion Arjuna.

Pure Love For God (Prema) – The Need Before Vision

When such a highly focused love on a personal God turns to a passion, the devotee forgets everything else, even the basic human instinct to take care of his own physical body; Such a state of love on God is called “Prema Bhakti.”

When Prema Bhakti arrives, the time becomes ripe for him to get a divine vision of his personal God in all His glorious form that can render the devotee speechless with wonder. Ramakrishna says, “Prema is the rope by which you can tether God, as it were. Whenever you want to see him, you have to merely pull the rope. Whenever you call him, He will appear before you.”

Pure Mind, Pure Intellect and Pure Atman

When a devotee’s words, thoughts and actions are entirely filled with his love of his personal God, his mind is no longer an ordinary mind; his intellect is no longer an ordinary intellect. His mind is the purest of the minds; his intellect is the purest of the intellects. “Such a pure mind and the pure intellect are one and the same as the pure Atman residing inside him,” says Ramakrishna.

“When a devotee of Rama always thinks of Rama at the exclusion anything else, he himself becomes “Ramamaya (embodiment of Rama),” Ramakrishna adds. At the heightened spiritual state when the devotee becomes purity personified, what is left with him is pure Atman, which is nothing else than Rama for a Rama devotee. And this is the vision of the personal God that the devotee gets.

A non-believer may ask at this juncture: Is there any history of any such “seer of Rama”, to cite an example? Yes. there are several Hindus saints who have had the vision of Rama. One of the most recent saints whom we can recall here is Papa Ramadas, of Anandashram. We shall see his experience elaborated in another hub in this series.

Can God be Seen with Physical Eyes?

At another occasion, Ramakrishna says, “God cannot be seen with the physical eyes. When a devotee is filled with Prema, he gets a “love-body” and also organs made of prema (love) – love eyes, love ears and so on. It is with this “love eye” that one sees God… It is like a person having jaundice seeing everything yellow… One who thinks of God day and night beholds him everywhere.”

Ramakrishna – One Who has Seen God in Various Forms

Ramakrishna himself is a standing example of a person who had vision of his personal God Kali (the universal divine mother) . We shall see in the next part of this series, Ramakrishna’s ecstatic experience of his very first divine vision of Mother Kali, explained in his own words.

Though Ramakrishna is a living embodiment of divine love of his personal God, he is unique in his experience in having the visions of many other popular God forms of Hinduism like Shiva, (avatars) Rama, Sita, Krishna, Radha and Gouranga.

He has experimented with all other sects of Hinduism where God is perceived as formless and had the unifying experience of Advaita (non-duality) also in a meditative condition called Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He practiced other religious faiths too and had a vision of Jesus Christ and also experienced Allah at his heart.

In the next part of this series, we shall see Ramakrishna’s experience in getting the vision of his beloved God Mother Kali.

More Questions and Doubts about Having God Vision

For those who are not Hindus and for those who are new to the above concepts, there may be several questions and doubts like:

  • Vision of God means what? In what form? Suppose one is a Christian, can he have a vision of Jesus?
  • What if one does not believe in God with form?
  • What happens to the famous non-dualistic philosophy of Hinduism where it is stated that there is no difference between individual soul and supreme soul? Where do those who believe it fit in?
  • What other disciplines should one practice? Where do formal worship, repeating God’s holy name (Japa), meditation etc fit in?
  • Some say, attain God by serving the humanity. Why do they say so?

Based on the teachings and the shared experiences of great masters like Sri Ramakrishna, we shall delve deep into the subject further in the following:

How to see God? Part -2