Goddess Bhadrakali, known as the Goddess of war is one of the fiercest forms of Goddess Shakti or Adi Para Shakti. Also an epitome of strength and fierceness, there are various temples of Goddess Bhadrakali in different parts of India. She then exists by different names in different regions – Durga, Devi, Mahadevi or Mahamaya. In Kerala, she exists as Bhadrakali, Mahakali, Chamunda and Kariam Kali Murti.
Goddess Bhadrakali is represented with three eyes and four, sixteen or eighteen hands. She also carries various weapons like, trident, sword, arrow, discus, conch, bow, spear and a few more with a small tusk protruding from her mouth and flames flowing from her head.
The widespread temples of Goddess Bhadrakali
Right from Nepal in North India to Kerala in South India, and Gujarat in West India to West Bengal in East India, the Bhadrakali temples are everywhere. She is predominantly in the southern part of India, specifically Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Some famous temples of Goddess Bhadrakali are – Aattukal, Chettikulangara, Thirumandhamkunnu and Chottanikkara in Kerala, Mandaikadu and Kollencode in Tamil Nadu and Bhadrakali Temple in Warangal.
Incarnation of the Goddess
Firstly, the incarnation of Goddess Bhadrakali has five remarkable traditional versions:
- Darukajit – The Slaying of Darika
- Dakshajit- Daksha’s Yajna
- Mahishajit – Mahishasura Mardini
- Rurujit – Slayer of Ruru
More about these incarnation stories here.
The Bhadrakali Painting
The Bhadrakali Painting originated in the 16th century and has been practiced by various artists since then. Moreover, the first painting dates back to the 1660s. It then began at the Pahari Miniature painting tradition in the small court of Basohli, located in the Punjab Hills at the foot of the Himalayas. These were 70 paintings in a folio, each showing a different facet of the Goddess Bhadrakali.
In this painting, the artist has tried to depict both the benevolent nature of the Goddess as well as her fierceness. Here, the Hindu Gods is making offerings and worshipping Goddess Bhadrakali. Here, Goddess Bhadrakali is looking directly at the three Goddess Kali figures in front of her. These three are offering blooded swords, cups of skull filled with blood and a severed head. These venerate her tantric divinity. Standing behind her is Goddess Bhima along with Vahni Priya (companion of Agni, God of fire). There are also two figures of Shiva kneeling at her feet.
Also read: Amazing Facts About Kalighat Paintings
The Verses written behind the painting
There is a powerful verse behind the painting. In addition, it would have been used by a skilled tantric practitioner to evoke Goddess Bhadrakali. As translated by Vidya Dehejia in 1999 it reads,
Equal to a thousand rays of the rising sun
accompanied by three shining Kalis
worshipped with two bundles of kusha grass
She is everything
Her feet are worshipped by both [Bhairavas]
Accompanied by Bhima and Vahni-priya
She banishes fear
Invoked by Jhankara
adorned with the twenty-two letters
I adore goddess Bhadrakali with the seed mantra bhaim.
According to the Tantra Rahasya, the feminine form of the devi then arose from the north face of Lord Shiva. It is blue in color and has three eyes. Some deeply tantric influenced traditions consider Goddess Bhadrakali as the consort of Shiva in his form of Mahakal or Bhairava. A tantric interpretation sees Shiva as consciousness and Kali as power or energy. Consciousness and energy are dependent upon each other, since Shiva depends on Shakti, or energy, in order to fulfill his role in creation, preservation, and destruction.
Goddess Bhadrakali’s worship also associated with the Tantric tradition of the matrikas and the tradition of the ten mahavidyas. It also falls under the wider umbrella of Shaktism.
In conclusion, Goddess Bhadrakali has always been considered the most powerful Goddess. In the paintings, the artists try to put in all their efforts to clearly portray the two sides of Goddess Bhadrakali. The benevolent side as well as the strong, fierce side. Following the tradition paintings of the Bhadrakali, today various artists have replicated the paintings. However, the most famous painting still remains the one from the pahari miniature painting tradition.
Also see: Ganjifa Art and Cards: A Brief History
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