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Kali as avatar of Krishna

Kali is worshipped as Krishna in the house of the Banerjees of Sri Gopal Mallik Lane off College Square. Although the image is in keeping with the folk tale popular in Bengal of Krishna transforming himself into Kali when Radha’s husband, Ayan Ghosh, caught her red-handed with the blue god, it is rarely seen in Calcutta and much less worshipped here. Porcelain versions of this tale were available here in early 20th century but few of these have survived.

The Banerjee house image is different from the Kali worshipped in most households and pandals. Her tongue is exposed in a gesture of shame for standing astride her husband Shiva, but she is not in her usual martial mood. KaliKrishna is a benign deity, and instead of four, she has six arms, as she holds a flute, Krishna fashion, in her two extra hands. She is not undraped either. She wears a red silk sari like a dhoti. Shiva lies unconcerned underfoot on a lotus.

Indradeep Banerjee, a corporate lawyer sporting ear studs and jeans, decks out the goddess early on Tuesday evening with the help of a friend and artisans from Kumartuli as his mother, Anuradha, a criminal lawyer, and his son keep watch. The house is more than 200 years old, although it has been made over.

Sakti worship stopped in their house 175 years ago, but his mother had had a vision of the goddess in her dreams, and they decided to begin the worship anew from 2007. They celebrate Basanti puja as well. Indradeep explains that KaliKrishna is worshipped in accordance with Vaishnav rituals following Radhatantra. Their household deity, Kalachand, one of Krishna’s many pet names, will be brought up on the terrace and worshipped along with the goddess, a true marriage of Sakta and Vaishnav forms of devotion.

Annakut — literally a mountain of rice, in other words, distribution of enormous quantities of food — is part of Wednesday’s ceremonies. Cooks will serve up 90 kinds of food items, including 34 varieties of sweets and 76 to 80 dishes, all strictly vegetarian, untouched by either onion or garlic. The poor are also fed.

The ritual of dressing the deity is an elaborate and time-consuming process. First the sari, next the crimped flowing tresses reaching her knees, and then the amazing jewellery.

She wears a choker and six garlands of varying lengths — the longest of many strands reaching her navel — and breadths, wristlets in each arm, a nose ring and to top it all a crown with a plume fashioned out of gold. Her flute, the knee-length garland of 56 human heads and her weapons are pure silver. All the ornaments, save the tiara of uncut diamonds and rubies, are new sets ordered for the occasion. Finally, KaliKrishna looks radiant.

The bisarjan or immersion is on Thursday, when the gold will be removed and replaced with flower ornaments.