In this excerpt from her book Matriarchal Societies, Heide Goettner-Abendroth describes her journey to the shrine of Kali, which is at the meeting place of two streams. Heide’s writing brings to life the sacredness of both nature and women.
When they talk about her at all, Europeans describe the cult of Kali, India’s ancient great goddess, as being extremely bloody. It was apparent to me at the sanctuary of Dashkin Kali how many misinterpretations and western prejudices were tied up in this opinion. The narrow mountain road took me up the hill: below me the Katmandu Valley opened up in all it’s exotic beauty.
In the grey dawn, unimaginably high, blindingly white peaks of the Himalayas rose up behind the circle of mountains. Gradually it became apparent that the valley is shaped like a scallop shell, symbol of the fertile, creative goddess. And right there, set into the hills where the Bagmati River breaks through the Southern narrow mountains and leaves the Katmandu Valley behind, is the sacred place of Dakshin Kali. It lies hidden; only at the end of the road rounded, inwardly folded mountain, overgrown with the most luxurious green, was visible as a bright contrast against the dry, yellow-brown of the surrounding landscape. Even though it was dry season, two overflowing streams rushed down over this concave mountain, flowing together, V-shaped, into a small ravine. Not only in the nature religion of the Khasi, but all over India, the junction of two rivers is considered a sacred place, embodying the lap of Mother Earth from whom flow the endless waters of life.
The shrine of Dakshin Kali is markedly different from the Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas, in that it has kept, even today, the form of an old natural sancuary: a small, open place in the triangle where the two streams meet; shady, cool, and full of secrets in the green twilight of the gorge. I had to climb down to the goddess instead of climbing up to an imposing structure. There is no sacred building here; nothing keep nature out. Rather, the temple is the gorge itself. The site is marked by a low wall, and decorated with an arch over which a gilded yoni symbol hangs like a large drop of water, symbol of the uterus and female power. Covering the ground are clean black and white times, inset with a large six pointed star. This star, depicting two conjoined triangles, stands for the polarities whose powers create the cosmos.
A golden canopy, held up by four upwardly slanting golden snakes placed precisely in the four compass directions, stretches over this open air temple. Here again the snakes, the sacred “nagas” symbolize water, seen as the pure blood of the earth, and they symbolize the fertility that comes from the water, as well as divine female energies. The power of the depth, the transformation of life into death and death into life, is understood as “shakti”, or energy of the goddess Kali, whose small sculpture is at the knee-high back wall. A priest sat before her, bowed in deep prayer.
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You can listen to Heide’s interview with The Greenfame on Matriarchy here.