Kali amman - the real mother!
Kali amman shrines: South Indian temples profusely depict a simple standing amman(mother goddess) shrine inside most Shiva and Vishnu temples. It is interesting however to see the presence of the cult of Kali in the historical temples across the Tamil Nadu region. This is seconded by the strong presence of the Naga cult, but for now lets stick to Kali.
Its not just a madness in Bengal, today's Durga puja would have seen a lot more versions in the South in earlier days. Here are a few examples. Lets start with Mahabalipuram. It was an interesting discovery i made when i was reading yet another book on the Goddess. Mahishasuramardhini or Durga, is supposed to have destroyed the demons Madhu and Kaitaba who attempted killing Vishnu while he slept on Ananta. This story has confusing parts to it. References to the same are made in dance where Vishnu is supposed to have woken up and faced them. In the amman cult, durga is supposed to have destroyed them. None the less, in this particular cave, all you get to see are Vishnu and Mother goddess, the actors of this particular drama, being carved out of the rocky walls. Apart from this, the goddess is profusely carved in the Draupadi ratha, with a scene of decapitation happening right next to her. This imagery finds place even in the Varaha cave.
Moving on, it was particularly interesting to note the presence of Kaliamman at wayside village temples near Samayapuram, enroute to Trichy. Here the shrine is known to be extremely potent and can be visited only on Mondays and Fridays. Further down at trichy she resides again near the Rackfort temple. In Tanjore, amman does not occupy a seat within the walls of the Brihadeshwara temple complex but is found 3kms away. Moving on as one takes the road to Kumbhakonam, we cross two places called Nellur and Papanasam. Who would believe that a small village like Nellur, would even host a fantastic shrine for the Goddess and how many people would be privileged enough to get off the beaten track to go and see this form of the Goddess! Here she has a shrine all to herself, on the outside of a Shiva temple, which lies among very calm and peaceful fields of south indian countryside.
Moving on, as one leaves Kumbhakonam and heads for Chidambaram, the tamil countryside lies dotten with fields interspaced with temples and minor shrines of village deities. At Chidambaram, and not within the great temple, but behind it is a shrine to be seen. This is by far one of the most amazing Kaliamman shrines i have ever set my eyes on. She is not in the main shrine but on the side. The walls around her are decorated with scenes of a king in the act of decapitation while his army watches on. He holds his hair up and attempts cutting his head with a sword, sacrificing himself to the Goddess. Such was the faith those days. Inside the shrine sits the goddess, in true beauty. The first sight of her of course is breathtaking as she is dressed in a white dress, bathed in kumkum. Oh! that vision of the Goddess is something i will never forget. Its one of the few shrines i stood in front of, it was just timeless. I could have stayed there all my life. She was carved in stone, looked fierce and coy at the same time, in the same pose as shown above. Then came the moment of true beauty. They undressed the Mother and bathed her in oil. I have never seen a more beautiful form of the Goddess. She sat there eight handed getting bathed first in oil and then in kumkum. She was red and totally amazing. She bore weapons in her various hands and sat on her seat flexing her body most gracefully. Whats also amazing is a strange sculpture i have not seen anywhere else. A sculpture of a five hooded serpent with two and a half coils. It looked deadly, as if the snakes almost came to life as i took the courage to touch the stone they were carved out of. In the darkness, it looked out of the world with the small ghee lamps burning in its lap as it shielded them from the rain. Your heart skips a beat, and you lose your breath when you see the five hooded serpent and the Goddess in complete red, against the lamplight. You just realize how hopelessly small you really are.
The next shrine of the Goddess was at Gangaikondacholapuram. Another extremely gorgeous temple built by Rajendra Chola, but not half as dynamic and that at Tanjore, this temple originally hosted just Shiva. The sub shrines around the temple hosted devi in her various forms. One such shrine within the compound hosts a fierce form of the Goddess in attack. Its so strange, the silence and peace of Gangaikoncholapuram echoes with the presence of cults that were radiant and fiercely potent and well rooted into the indian traditional mind. It just leaves you with goose pimples as you think about the proliferation of the mother goddess shrines not as a gentle form in Parvati or the well known amman shrine but as Kali amman, radiant and energetic within her very potent self.
Finally this picture, not a stone sculpture of the ancient days but a modern remake of the splendor of the Goddess. Some how, though i do not take to sculptures made these day, this particular one caught my attention, she looks simply fantastic, gorgeous as a Mother and seductive at the same time. She fits the perfect description i have read across books. Her face, has warmth and fierceness at the same time. Oh she is something that needs to be first discovered, appreciated, loved, and respected to even start scratching the surface to know her true form. For all that, this is one of her forms as the ten Mahavidhyas that rule ancient Tantrik practices.
Truely She is the mother, ever creative, ever fertile, in permanent intercourse with Lord Shiva as she gives birth to us every life.