The Missing Years of Jesus

The last Biblical account of the childhood of Jesus tells of the time when, at age twelve, he traveled with his parents to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover, and how, at the start of the return trip to Nazareth, his parents discovered he was missing. After a separation of three days, they found him in the Jerusalem temple “amidst the doctors,” who were “astonished at his understanding and answers.”

In response to his mother’s concern, Jesus replied: “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”* (See sidebar below for Bible account)

From then on nothing more appears in the Bible on the life of Jesus until his apparently sudden arrival on the scene at the age of thirty. Often people have asked the question: What transpired during those missing eighteen years?

Jesus had begun his mission
Assuming that what we find in the Bible is true—that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents, and was “subject unto them”—his “subjection” to them can hardly have lasted for eighteen years considering the “declaration of independence” he made to them at the age of twelve. Christian tradition has him working as a carpenter. Jesus, however, seems flatly to contradict that tradition, for his own words were, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

After this strong statement, it is unthinkable that he would have simply gone home, remained there for eighteen years, and become a common apprentice and journeyman carpenter under Joseph until the age of thirty, and only then commenced his life’s mission. At twelve he had already told his parents he had God’s work to do. And, as he strongly implied, he had begun that mission already.

Westerners are likely to object, “But twelve is too young for any boy to begin a life mission!” His parents evidently held the same view. It is obvious, however, that Jesus did not hold it, for we find him telling them in no uncertain words—words very different, moreover, from what one would expect of any child of twelve—what he must do. In fact, he seems almost to have scolded them for finding him. Reflect that he made that statement after he had been missing for three whole days. Surely the event was extraordinary.

The tradition in India
The only episodes I know that were comparable to this story about Jesus, who was virtually renouncing every blood tie to his family, have occurred in the lives of great reincarnated masters. Paramhansa Yogananda recounted the following story to me as a historic fact: Swami Shankara told his mother at the age of six that he had decided to renounce the world for God. When she tried, quite naturally, to hold him, he jumped into a river and allowed himself—so the story goes—to be caught by a crocodile.

“Look, Mother!” he cried. “Either you give me your consent, or I will let this crocodile take me. Whatever happens, you won’t have me anymore!” Hastily she gave her permission. And the child, who had been born with divine power, made the crocodile release him, whereupon his life mission began.

Another example which occurred more recently involved Swami Pranabananda, a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya.** Pranabananda, my Guru told me, attained full liberation and left his body. “In his next incarnation,” Yogananda said, “he left home at the age of six. His declared purpose was to join Babaji in the Himalayas.” After a brief pause, Yogananda continued with a smile, “It caused a lot of commotion in that village at the time!”

In the light of spiritual tradition—especially in India, where the lamp of spirituality has burned brightly for centuries—the declaration by Jesus at the age of twelve, that he must “be about his Father’s business,” was not unique. That he had, moreover, a karmic tie with India had already been indicated by the visit, soon after his birth, of the three wise men of the East.

Clearly then, those eighteen years must have been deliberately omitted from the official account of Christ’s life. Two vital questions forcibly intrude themselves on this picture: What was omitted? And,What was the reason for that omission?

The decision of the early Church Council 
In 1958, I had an interesting conversation with a prominent spiritual leader in India: Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha, the Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Math. He was at that time the senior representative of the ancient Shankara Order of Swamis. Throughout the land people respected him highly as a man of truth and honor. My own experience with him, which covered many months, supports that reputation. I will quote something he told me, in his own words as exactly I can remember them, about one of the early Church Councils of Constantinople. He told me the date of that council, but I don’t recall it:

Some years ago I came into possession of one of only three copies of an ancient document which purported to be an account of the proceedings of one of the early Councils of Constantinople. In that council, the question was raised as to how the Church should deal with the record, which still existed, of the missing eighteen years of Jesus Christ’s life.

The problem raised was that the account might unsettle the faith of devout Christians. The Bible stated that Jesus had spent at least a number of those ‘lost’ years with great masters in India, to which land he had gone to study with them. The question raised in the council was whether Christians might not be shaken in their faith if they thought that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had studied under anyone. The general feeling of the prelates was that the account should be removed in order to protect the devotion of the faithful.

At that point, someone in the audience got up and stated, ‘I am a layman, not a priest, and am aware that it is not customary for such as I to speak at these councils. However, I feel I must speak out. What I have to say is, if the apostles themselves were not shaken in their faith by this revelation, why should we who truly believe, all of us, that Jesus was the Son of God, have less trust then they? Surely the simple truth will not in any way diminish his stature in people’s eyes!’ The man’s objection was not considered, however, and the account of those eighteen years was removed forthwith from the Bible.

Testimony of a Master
Let me submit, also, what to me is the strongest testimony of all: the fact that Paramhansa Yogananda himself declared many times, as a definite fact, that Jesus Christ did visit India, and that he lived there for some years.

I had been with my Guru for just a month when he invited me to his desert retreat at Twenty-Nine Palms, California, where he was dictating his revised correspondence-course lessons. During one evening’s session he stated during dictation: “The three wise men who came to honor the Christ Child after his birth in Bethlehem were the line of gurus who later sent me to the West: Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, and Swami Sri Yukteswar.” This was heady stuff, especially for a young neophyte!

Yogananda announced to us also, “Jesus, in his youth, paid a return visit to India to study under the ‘wise men’ who had come to honor him as a baby.” People may wonder, as those prelates did at the Council of Constantinople, why an Incarnation of God needed to learn from anybody.

A liberated master, whose mission it is to mix with the public, must comport himself in such a way as not to impose his wisdom on those who hear him. It would be no help to them were he to overwhelm them with his omniscience in everything. He must, for their sake, seem down-to-earth and, in that sense, perfectly normal. Thus, it was perfectly normal for a great master—indeed, for an avatar like Jesus, which is to say an Incarnation of God—to assume for a time the slight veil of delusion, as well as the behavior of a normal human being, in order to help others, later.

The discovery of an ancient manuscript
There are records in India which support the claim that Jesus lived in that country for several years. In 1887, the Russian writer Nicolas Notovitch discovered in the ancient Tibetan monastery of Himis, in Leh, a province of Ladakh in northern Kashmir, an ancient manuscript which detailed the life of Jesus (called Issa in that work). It recounts that Issa had traveled there as a young man, and had later “preached the holy doctrine in India and among the children of Israel.” It tells how Jesus (Issa) left home to avoid pressure from his parents, Joseph and Mary, to take a wife. Legend has it that he traveled by camel caravan over the “Silk Road,” which was the main passage between the East and the West. Notovitch published a book which became famous in his time, called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ. In it he described Issa (Jesus) spending time in Puri, Orissa, among the priests at the famous Jagannath Temple.

A prominent disciple of the great Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Abhedananada, later (in 1922) went to Ladakh in order to verify the account by Notovitch, and actually succeeded in doing so. Later still, Nicholas Roerich, the Russian artist who was then already well known as a veritable “Renaissance Man,” wrote in 1929 of the many legends he had heard in Kashmir about the visit of Jesus Christ to that land, and about the manuscripts at Himis monastery. In 1939, Madam Elisabeth G. Caspari, a Swiss musician, and her husband visited the Himis monastery and also learned about the manuscripts, which were shown to them.

The account of Jesus leaving home as a boy to avoid marriage is very much in keeping with ancient tradition in India. Marriage in Israel, too, was arranged in those days after a boy reached the age of thirteen.  Jesus himself explained his return  to Israel, after the “lost eighteen years,” when he declared that it was his destiny to fulfill his mission in Israel. He therefore returned to Israel.

* Sidebar
Luke 2:41–52

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem. And, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. They, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey and then sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances.

And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, and after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.

And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” And he said unto them, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

** An account of his life appears in  Autobiography of a Yogi.

From Revelations of Christ, proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda, presented by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda, Crystal Clarity Publishers. To order click here


Venus the Two-Faced the Cat – a Mystery

Venus‘s face is split evenly into two colors.
Photograph courtesy TODAY Show/NBC

Katia Andreassi

National Geographic News

Published August 31, 2012

Venus the two-faced cat is currently the most famous feline on the planet.

The three-year-old tortoiseshell has her own Facebook page and a YouTube video that’s been viewed over a million times, and appeared on the Today Show last week.

One look at this cat and you can understand why: One half is solid black with a green eye—the other half has typical orange tabby stripes and a blue eye.

How does a cat end up looking like that? Leslie Lyons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies the genetics of domestic cats said she’s never seen a cat exactly like Venus.

“She is extremely, extremely rare,” Lyons said. “But you can explain it and you can understand it.”

Is Venus a Chimera?

Many reports about Venus refer to the cat as a “chimera.” In mythology, a chimera is a mishmash monster made up of parts of different animals. A feline chimera is a cat whose cells contain two types of DNA, caused when two embryos fuse together.

Among cats, “chimeras are really not all that rare,” Lyons said. In fact, most male tortoiseshell cats are chimeras. The distinctively mottled orange and black coat is a sign that the cat has an extra X chromosome.

But female cats, said Lyons, already have two X chromosomes so they can sport that coat without the extra X. That means Venus is not necessarily a chimera.

To find out would require genetic testing, said Lyons. With samples of skin from each side of the cat, “we can do a DNA fingerprint—just like on CSI—and the DNA from one side of the body should be different than the other.”

Cat’s Blue Eye Another Mystery

If Venus isn’t actually a chimera, then what would explain her amazing face?

“Absolute luck,” Lyons said. One theory: perhaps the black coloration was randomly activated in all the cells on one side of her face, while the orange coloration was activated on the other, and the two patches met at the midline of her body as she developed.

Cat fanciers who are transfixed by Venus’s split face may be missing the real story: her single blue eye. Cat eyes are typically green or yellow, not blue.

A blue-eyed cat is typically a Siamese or else a cat with “a lot of white on them,” she explained.

Venus appears to have only a white patch on her chest, which to Lyons is not enough to explain the blue eye.

“She is a bit of a mystery.”



A Very Serious Accusation… Very Serious Discussion….

Look at the video below and then scroll down for my commentary.


The first mention of my discussion is that this video takes a lot of courage, and no doubt Mr. Andrew Storm believes he knows what is being taught and done with regards to Kundalini Shakti, as experienced and witnessed by him.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. What is exhibited in this video concerning Kundalini Shakti is no doubt NOT Kundalini. If one reads the mentionings of Kundalini Shakti in all the Sacred Hindu Scriptures, one would see clearly that, alas, this is not Kundalini. The so called “Gurus” in this video are not Gurus either. A Guru is a person so far enlightened that, the closest way to describee him or her is to say that he/she is a Saint.

For example: Mahavatara Babaji endorses Christianity, promotes peace and virtue, does not impart spirits of the sort in this video and does not seek to Practise or have his followers practise Kundalini Shakti.

A true Guru does not care about the lesser workings of the body considered in Kundalini Shakti, does not care about twitches and drunken laughter, does not care about spreading movements far and wide, but cares about Stillness, True Peace, Real Virtue, Unveiling God, Revealing God to others by aiding others and spreading Love. Not false pretenses as exhibited in this video.

Granted the evidence here presented, I do not say the Mr Andrew Storm is at fault at all. The practices exhibited by both the Charismatic Movements herein mentioned and the Kundalini Movements are both false practices.

A desire for the reaching out to God is here replaced by a desire to “see” and to fancy and to bee a part of something more exciting. That exhilaration  placed with adrenaline and such bodily functions are not the work of Gurus. Gurus teach a person to re-become that soul, to move away from the affairs of the body and  the attachment of the world and find God. Not the foolishness exhibited in this video.

Furthermore, there is an intrinsic problem in all religions in the world. This problem is called “calling”  vs “choosing”. Many persons decide to become priests, pastors, bishops, pandits etc without having been called by God. What does that mean? It means that whether or not you are called to a spiritual life, especially that of a leader where it is then your God-give duty to shepherd people, is NOT YOUR DECISION! It belongs to GOD and GOD ONLY!

The problem is therefore two-fold. Firstly, the current leaders do not possess the spiritual acumen to know whether or not a future applicant has been called. Secondly, the future applicant may or may not ave been called, but may become a leader nonetheless.

In today’s world, it only takes a little bit of brain to become a spiritual leader. Am I the only person who thinks something is wrong with that? Spirituality and Religion have become separate because Religious Leaders are no longer all spiritual. Two things that are born from the same womb, now have different perspectives. One finds its way in books and politics of an organised faith. The other does not care for politics, for foolishness or for any position but does his/her duty to help people realise God.

Let us use a controversial example, Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II. Indeed, as head of the Roman Catholic Church he was a Religious Leader, but was he not also spiritual? Did he not essay to lead people closer to God? Was he not a man of Prayer and Devotion to God?

Thus the late Pope was both Religious and Spiritual. A Guru exercises the work of a Spiritual Leader, not a religious one. He is knowledgeable in all things, but does not boast of his knowledge. He chastises every wrong, but with the kindness and love of a soft heart that corrects these and makes them right.

‘Can one blind person guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit.’

Luke 6:39

Mr Storm, do not kill the man because his hand is rotten. Cut off the hand. The persons in these videos follow blind leaders and they are all blind! You have damned 1 billion people because of 100,000.

No doubt the behaviour exhibited by all in this video is the workings of unclean spirits, whatever they may be, but the practices therein do not speak for all of Hinduism and it definitely does not speak for Gurus, few of whom are ever spied photographically or otherwise.

The reward of the false is well known:

‘When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?” Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!’

– Matthew 7:22-23

But I have one last thing to add:

‘Why not judge for yourselves what is upright?’

– Luke 12:57


Swatsika-Bearing Buddhist Statue Was Chiseled From Meteorite

The “Iron Man” statue’s swastika is an ancient symbol of good fortune.
Photograph courtesy Elmar Buchner

Catherine Zuckerman

National Geographic News

Published September 27, 2012

Call it a blast from the past. Uncovered by Nazis in Tibet, an ancient Buddhist sculpture turns out to have been carved from a meteorite.

(Related pictures: “Three Thousand Ancient Buddhas Unearthed in China.”)

Known as the “Iron Man,” the 22-pound (10-kilogram) figure is likely a Buddhist god. Seated, he wears a large swastika on his midsection—a good-luck symbol in Buddhism.

In 1938 a team of Nazis traveling in Tibet came across the statue and—possibly intrigued by the familiar bent-armed cross—brought it back toGermany. There, the “Iron Man” remained in a private collection in Munich until 2007, when the statue became available for study.

Since then, Elmar Buchner of the Planetology Institute at Stuttgart Universityhas been analyzing the Buddhist statue, which is thought to hail from 11th-century Tibet. Buchner says the statue was carved from a meteorite that landed somewhere between Mongolia and Siberia roughly 15,000 years ago.

Among the clues is the sculpture’s telltale mineral content and structure, which give it away as a kind of meteorite called an ataxite. “It is rich in nickel, it is rich in cobalt. Less than 0.1 percent of all meteorites and less than 1 percent of iron meteorites are ataxites … It is the rarest type of meteorite you can find,” Buchner told the BBC.

No doubt the figure was dear to the artist who sculpted it, but what is it worth today? Its status as the only known human figure carved from a meteorite may give it a value of $20,000, according to Buchner. But, he said in a statement, “if our estimation of its age is correct and [the sculpting] is nearly a thousand years old, it could be invaluable.”


Dalai Lama: The Tradition and the Cult

Dalai Lama, an epithet used for the first time in 1578 by the Mongol ruler Altan Khan for Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama, or the third in the bodhisattva reincarnation line later identified as the Dalai Lama lineage, is a combination of two terms, ‘Lama’ meaning a Buddhist monk, and ‘Dalai’, ocean-like profound, wide and deep, that is, the monk having ocean-like breadth and depth of knowledge. ‘Dalai’ was actually the Mongolian equivalent of ‘Gyatso’, a Tibetan term that emerged in use as an epithet during the lifetime of the second Dalai Lama, Gendun Gyatso, as the distinction of the Lamas in reincarnation lineage of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. ‘Gyatso’ had the same meaning as ‘Dalai’.

King Altan Khan, a descendant of the known Mongol ruler Kublai Khan, a follower of Tibetan Buddhism in early thirteenth century, was tired of bloodshed and warfare and wished to have peace on his soil. He invited Sonam Gyatso, the best known Buddhist monk of his time, to his court and wished that by his teachings he led his blood-thirsty subjects to the path of peace, love and humanity. Influenced by Sonam Gyatso’s profound knowledge and spiritual energy king Altan Khan honoured him with ‘Dalai Lama’ as his epithet. Then onwards, though the term ‘Gyatso’ was retained as before to comprise the later half of the name in the Dalai Lama lineage but it was the epithet ‘Dalai Lama’ that gave the lineage its unique distinction ever since. The epithet was used not only for Sonam Gyatso and his eleven subsequent reincarnations but also for the two preceding ones – Gendun Drubpa and Gendun Gyatso, posthumously.


Not merely that the Dalai Lama is the highest office of the present day Buddhism, it is also one of its three most significant institutions, the other two being the Buddha and the Bodhisattva, that emerged in Buddhism over centuries. Enlightenment is the attribute of them all, even of the Dalai Lama who, possessed of oceanic breadth and depth of knowledge, attains the same state of enlightenment as a bodhisattva. However, while the Buddha defined the state of utter spiritual perfection leading to ‘nirvana’ – final extinction, a bodhisattva, in his role as a teacher seeking accomplishment of his two-fold objective, the worldly and the transcendental, keeps on postponing attainment of this state of utter spiritual perfection and his own liberation in preference to a controlled or chosen birth or rebirth. In Tibetan Buddhism, or rather in entire Tibetan tradition, irrespective of this or that branch or school, rebirth and continuation of one’s deeds or perfection level that one attains in one birth into the next is a universally accepted principle. Obviously with humanitarian, social and political compulsions conditioning its life, Tibet developed a natural preference for bodhisattva cult. Its reason was obvious. A bodhisattva by a will to reincarnate as many times as required and by his ability to postpone his own liberation at his will could better help Tibet in resolving its spiritual as well as social and political problems – political instability, infighting, enmity among others.

This Tibetan preference for the bodhisattva cult had early, perhaps pre-historic, roots. Apart that Tibet was till sixteenth century a land divided into innumerable ruling segments and as many tribes and stood in dire need of some power that brought them under one umbrella, its mythical past too has identical connotations. As popular Tibetan myths have it, Tibet was initially the habitation of unruly beasts. Then Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara emanated in a thousand animal-reincarnations and mixed with various extant animal groups. Through these emanated forms he taught them peace and harmony and when external conditions were suitable, took birth as a monkey. He encountered a horrible looking female ascetic, an emanation of the Goddess Tara. They mated and gave birth to the ever first human beings, all different from each other in body-colours, nature and everything. They were the progenitors of original six tribes of Tibet. Soon their number multiplied and now there were eighteen tribes, which number further expanded and Tibet finally had hundreds of tribes inhabiting it. Soon, out of the will to govern there evolved as numerous ruling seats fragmenting this terrace of the earth into small political entities, each engaged in designs to expand, conquer and defeat.

Thus, while Tibet inherited from history a divided populace and fractured polity, it also perceived in the same source such spiritual energy which would lead it to unity, peace and redemption. Hence a divided and weak Tibet was not really weak but was rather one that ever and instinctively had inherent in it the ability to recoup. Consequently, Tibet always looked for a motivating power that reinvigorated it by shifting the focus from conquests, infightings and enmity to the inner workings of the mind and heart bringing peace and unity to the land. Obviously, instead of placing its preference on one seeking his own liberation, Tibet had a preference for him who chose its postponement in order to lead the land to peace, unity and harmony.

The Tibetan mind was thus naturally inclined to the bodhisattva-cult. However, the Indian vision of an abstract bodhisattva representing one of the Buddhist cardinals could not long inspire Tibetan masses. In its strange political and social circumstances and encroaching religious beliefs from outside Tibet required a bodhisattva who like a national role model had lively interaction with its people and united in peace warring kingdoms and divided tribes, besides leading to the path of personal liberation. Obviously, such wider objectives could be accomplished only by someone who synthesised in him with spiritualism some kind of political authority or vision. It seems that it was such quest of Tibetan mind that concretised first as tulkus – officially recognised reincarnate lamas, and finally in the fifteenth century, when the very existence of the Buddhism was in peril, as the institution of Dalai Lama who as Avalokiteshvara reincarnate inherited all his spiritual energy and being in mortal frame inspired confidence of masses.


Not a pre-meditated quest, an Avalokiteshvara-reincarnation, who became the fountain head of the Dalai Lama lineage, was intuitively discovered. In the course of his interaction with his disciple Gendun Drubpa, the First Dalai Lama, his teacher Jey Tsongkhapa, an enlightened monk and a great Buddhist scholar, realised that Gendun Drubpa was close to his liberation but instead of he remained in human birth and worked for uplifting all beings. Hence, Tsongkhapa impulsively acclaimed that Gendun Drubpa was a reincarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who out of compassion for suffering mankind preferred staying in the human domain for redeeming it from its miseries and kept on postponing his own ‘nirvana’.

Some subsequent scholars believed that Gendun Drubpa was Lama Drom’s reincarnation, though Lama Drom was a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Thus, too, Gendun Drubpa was in the line of Avalokiteshvara. Gendun Gyatso, the Second Dalai Lama, too, was acclaimed almost identically as another reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara.

The Third Dalai Lama Sonam Gyatso was identified as Gendun Gyatso’s reincarnation, the Fourth, of the Third, and so on and so forth. Thus, the term Dalai Lama defined the reincarnation-lineage of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara; however, while the term bodhisattva, even Avalokiteshvara, stood broadly for any of the abstract qualities or attributes leading to enlightenment enshrining any form, human or otherwise, a Dalai Lama was essentially a reincarnation in human birth. Thus, despite that a Dalai Lama is a bodhisattva reincarnate, he represents an institution different from the bodhisattva.


However, for about two hundred years after its emergence, that is, during the life-tenure of the first four Dalai Lamas, this reincarnate lama institution, widely known as the Dalai Lama ‘labrang’, did not have the same status as it has now. It enjoyed great popularity and wielded immense influence but was just one among such ten entities of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus, the first four Dalai Lamas represented only the preparatory stage in the growth of the institution which manifested fully in the Fifth Dalai Lama Gyalwa Lobzang Gyatso popularly called Ngawang Labzang Gyatso or just the ‘Great Fifth’.

In 1642, when the ‘Great Fifth’ was twenty-five years of age, a warring and disquiet Tibet nominated him to the position of the supreme spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan nation and with this the Dalai Lama institution underwent complete transformation. Now Dalai Lama was not one among some influential lamas or the spiritual patron of a state but was above them all, great monks and mighty chieftains occupying seats in the assembly much lower than him.

Not a battle’s decision, or political consensus, a hundred years old prophesy was perhaps more convincing a reason for this unanimous acceptance of the authority of the ‘Great Fifth’ as the Tibetans’ supreme leader. As was widely believed, Gendun Gyatso, the Second Dalai Lama, was unwilling to reincarnate. One day Padma Sambhava, the great eighth century teacher who came to Tibet from India, appeared in his vision. Besides that Padma Sambhava asked him to continue reincarnating for world’s weal he also revealed that after a period of hundred years he would emerge as Tibet’s spiritual and temporal head and in that position he shall bring to the land such benefits that shall sustain for hundreds of years. Exactly after one hundred years Ngawang Labzang Gyatso was awarded the position of Tibet’s supreme spiritual and temporal leader. People recalled the prophesy of Guru Padma Sambhava and linked to it the sudden and strange elevation of Ngawang Labzang Gyatso.

Tibet had not seen such unification of its territories after seventh century when it had emerged as a strong land under the religious king Songtsen Gonpa. The Great Fifth Ngawang Labzang Gyatso led Tibet to unprecedented heights both spiritually and politically. He initiated a unique religious and secular form of the national government on federal model known as the Ganden Pondrang Government, which proved to be a major unifying factor in the life of Tibet. Under the doctrine of reincarnation and continuation of one lifetime’s perfection-level into the next, the responsibility to lead the nation, spiritually and temporally, became the continuous responsibility of Dalai Lamas reincarnating ever after and this they ably accomplished by their reincarnate spiritual strength irrespective of their age. The Ninth Dalai Lama Gyalwa Lungtok Gyatso and his three reincarnate Dalai Lamas died very early, the Ninth dying at the age of just nine, and all four within seventy-five years’ time; however, their deeds, as reveal their biographical writings, were as vast as ocean.

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, a leader greater than the great, faced the ever gravest challenges posed mainly by Russia, China and Britain designing to grab Tibet.

So far there existed in between Tibet and China a relationship described as the priest-patron relation under which the priest, that is, Tibet represented by Dalai Lama, was state’s nominal head while China controlled its administration part. This diplomatic position had recognition from both major powers, Russia and Britain, present in the region. However, China, under an agreement not to object to British invasion of Burma, won British no objection to having an upper hand in Tibet. Thus, when the Thirteenth Dalai Lama Tubten Gyatso was born, the institution of Dalai Lama was reduced to a subordinate status, and the priest, to the status of an employee of China. However, in about two decades’ time the Thirteenth Dalai Lama organised the nation militarily and in 1913 proclaimed independence expelling the Chinese representatives and troops from his land. This position was not accepted by China, nor diplomatically approved by England and Russia. With this began an era of Tibetan conflict with China. This necessitated a shift in priorities of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Now, not so much the spiritualism, military and diplomatic infrastructure was a greater need of Dalai Lama and Tibetan nation.


Summarily, Dalai Lama, though an individual born with a date and time, manifests the spiritual continuum of the bodhisattvahood, or more so the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, across innumerable births, identified subsequently as Dalai Lama. Not so much for one’s own enlightenment and ‘nirvana’ as for the world’s weal, spiritual as well as temporal, a Dalai Lama is a universal teacher leading lay-followers to worldly well-being on one hand and to Enlightenment and ‘nirvana’ on the other. His own ‘nirvana’ is not the essence of, or consequential to, being a Dalai Lama. Subjecting himself to the cycle of reincarnations he rather perpetuates his being into a chain of births seeking in a mortal frame accomplishment of his efforts to benefit the world – his goal as a Bodhisattva reincarnate. A will or determination, a Dalai Lama seeks his rebirth for the world’s good and for uplifting the mankind and all beings.

Dalai Lama is a cult of Tibetan Buddhism, though not confining to Tibet or Himalayan region alone Dalai Lama is recognised and venerated now as the highest office of the Buddhist Order in the entire Buddhist world, and individually, Dalai Lama, as the supreme teacher of the Buddhism. Whatever in regard to his status as the political head of the Tibetan people, his status as the supreme spiritual and temporal leader is universally upheld; and, this status he attains not by any worldly means or even by penance and other religious practices but by reincarnation, reincarnating in immediate past a predeceased Dalai Lama, and ultimately the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the first master in the line. Thus emanating Avalokiteshvara a Dalai Lama is essentially the compassion manifest, the same as is Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Thus, irrespective of when the term ‘Dalai Lama’ emerged in use for denoting and formally acknowledging this institution of Buddhism, Dalai Lama represents the continuous flow of the being that the Buddhist tradition identifies as Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Conceding to scholastic opposition to the word ‘rebirth’ the tradition defines such incidence as a mind-stream – a moment-to-moment flow or continuity of consciousness emanating from Avalokiteshvara. Tibetan people’s popular belief in reincarnation and life’s continuity across thousands of births apart, this mind-stream concept is based on the belief that exemplary figures, such as a bodhisattva, might remain at will within the human world as institutional teachers postponing their ‘nirvana’ for others’ good till whatever period they found necessary and across any number of lifetimes as they chose to pass through. A determination to redeem suffering mankind and a world rent by violence require these wisdom holders to postpone their own ‘nirvana’ and perhaps attainment of enlightenment.


Cult of reincarnation or continuous flow of life birth after birth is the nucleus of the Buddhism, whatever its branch or school, Hinayana – Compact Vehicle, Mahayana – Great Vehicle, or Vajrayana – Diamond Vehicle. Hinayana or Theravada, a relatively linear and conventional branch of the Buddhism, sees reincarnation in context to cause and effect, laying emphasis on self responsibility and on gaining control over all actions of body, speech and mind in order to attain personal liberation. Mahayana, a semi-linear and semi-esoteric branch, shifts the emphasis from self liberation to universal responsibility aiming at all beings’ benefit. Mahayana imparts to personal liberation due importance but only as something that helps universal goodness which is the essence of a bodhisattva. Vajrayana, the exclusively esoteric branch of Buddhism, came out with the idea of controlled rebirth, that is, at the time of death one could direct one’s spirit to a rebirth that would be of the maximum benefit to the world.

Obviously it is out of the Vajrayana’s idea of controlled rebirth that Tibet developed its cult of reincarnation lineage leading finally to the evolution of Dalai Lama doctrine. Mahayana, which mandated universal responsibility in preference to personal liberation, provided to the reincarnation cult its broad aim. Mahayana’s doctrine of the Buddha’s three ‘kayas’ – celestial bodies : ‘dharma-kaya’ – the truth body, ‘sambhogakaya’ – the beatific body, and ‘nirvanakaya’ – the emanated body, the last one in special, further strengthened the Tibetan doctrine of reincarnation or continuation of life. In India ‘nirvanakaya’, the third celestial body of the Buddha, was merely an abstract theological concept defining an enlightened being. The Tibetan Buddhism, in which ‘nirvanakaya’ stood for one who is in the process of enlightenment, not the enlightened one, saw ‘nirvanakaya’ as Buddha’s multiplication into innumerable emanated forms heading towards enlightenment. It was out of this shift that the Tibetan tradition of ‘yangsi’ or officially recognised reincarnate lamas, also known as tulkus, evolved. This cult of reincarnate lamas helped Tibet to concentrate its energy on spiritual lines and pride more on the increasing number of its saints rather than on expanding military forces or market resources.

As a matter of fact, the Dalai Lama concept seems to have grown gradually and in the basic body of the Buddhism. In Hinayana a Bodhisattva who subsequently attains Buddhahood is born once in an auspicious eon. He is one among a thousand universal teachers. Others are mere ‘arhats’ attaining ‘nirvana’. In Mahayana, all beings attempt at acquiring by spiritual practice six perfections, generosity, self-discipline, patience, joyous effort, meditation and wisdom, that lead to enlightenment, and thus they one day become bodhisattvas and attain Buddhahood. Thus, there are in simultaneity numerous Bodhisattvas striving to attain Buddhahood. The Vajrayana moves farther. It acclaims that all can achieve bodhisattvahood in one short lifetime and then use the death as a means of taking this bodhisattvahood on a quantum leap forward.


Tibet had inherited from India the idea of teachers’ spiritual lineage. In India the idea faded away but in Tibet it developed exceptionally well. This spiritual lineage was in the form of continuous transmission of the teachings from one generation to the next. As is popularly believed, the eighth century teacher Padma Sambhava had hid a part of what he had written for the teachers of next generations. The concept of such material legacy left by a teacher of one generation for the next underwent complete change after the reincarnation cult grew stronger. Now it was the transference of the essence of their teachers – their knowledge and all that they acquired in any lifetime, from one birth to the other. This doctrine of the transference of teachers’ essence might have effectively influenced the cult of Dalai Lama lineage that not only defined emanation of a previous birth into a new but also the spiritual continuity from the past to the present.

In early Buddhism ‘arhats’ – Buddha’s disciples, more often and more correctly identified as Theravadins, had a long and strong tradition of the past. “Arhats’, the living beings, were bardic couriers of Buddha’s message to lands far and wide. In India, the concept of ‘arhats’ had faded away long back. However, the charismatic institution of Tibetan Lamas, of which Dalai Lama emerged as the head, seems to have reflections of this ancient Buddhist cult of the legendary ‘arhats’. It might have had some role in expansion and magnification of this subsequent Tibetan cult.

Tulku, a term borrowed from Mahayana Buddhism, or rinpoche, as tulku is sometimes known, the earliest Tibetan institution of officially recognised reincarnate lamas, is broadly the basis of the Dalai Lama cult. It is believed that a tulku is a rebirth of a specific historical figure or a Buddhist master who has vowed to take rebirth to help all living beings attain enlightenment. Among lamas a tulku, being a reincarnate lama, had a somewhat special position, though at any given there were hundreds of tulkus or tulku lineages. Around the twelfth century legal implications in regard to the legacy of the deceased – his belongings etc. began erupting. It pressed elders to determine each tulku’s lineage. In due course, around the beginning of the fifteenth century, the lineage of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was discovered in Gendun Drubpa and with this the institution of Dalai Lama came into being.


Though not from beginning, the process of searching the reincarnation of a Dalai Lama is now well settled. It begins soon after a Dalai Lama passes away. Simultaneous to the last rites of the dead a divination is conducted to determine whether or not it would be useful to search for and formally recognise a reincarnation. If yes, a committee of elders was formed to find the child. The committee closely examines the body of the deceased Dalai Lama before it is disposed of for any likely signs that would indicate or help in determining the direction that the committee should take when searching the reincarnation of the deceased. Such signs apart, the committee closely observes weather patterns, natural phenomena and omens for finding their identical re-occurrences around the person who might be his likely reincarnation. Celestial powers, especially the State Oracle, were prayed to guide to the right course of action. Sometimes the committee or the Regent appointed after the death of a Dalai Lama, as was appointed after the death of the Thirteenth, would make a trip to Lhamo Latso, the acknowledged Oracle Lake, and search the waters for indications as to where his reincarnation might be found. The committee would consult high lamas and take stock of dreams of prominent members of the mystical community and analyse them for their hidden meanings. Firmly believing that the dead would reincarnate the committee shall pay visits to all born around the time of the death of the former Dalai Lama and an on-the-spot assessment shall be made as to who among them was a reincarnation of the deceased Dalai Lama.

The process was followed in its exactness when in 1933 the Thirteenth Dalai Lama passed away for discovering the present one, the Fourteenth. During his trip to the Oracle Lake the Regent, appointed after the death of the Thirteenth, witnessed signs that clearly indicated that one he was looking for was born many hundred miles away to the east in the vicinity of Kumbum Monastery in Amdo slightly inside the Chinese territory in a humble Tibetan farmers’ house. With a team of elders the Regent visited the house. Not only that the child had a number of signs of the deceased Dalai Lama, the four-year-old took hardly any time in recognizing one of the members of the visiting team who had been his disciple in his Thirteenth reincarnation. He was shown a number of objects assorted together but from amongst them he picked only those that had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. Just four years of age, the child convinced all that he was the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s true reincarnation. With no hesitation in anyone’s mind the child was acclaimed the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. In 1939, when the world was heading towards the second World War to involve unprecedented cruelties and loss of lives a vast majority of Tibet’s spiritual elders had gathered at Reteng Monastery, to the northeast of Lhasa, awaiting the four year old boy expected to reach there in caravan from Amdo to be enthroned as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.


The proper hierarchical order acclaims to have so far fourteen Dalai Lamas, the present one being the Fourteenth. However, the tradition acclaims a far larger number. As acclaimed, even the First was not really the first. The Tibetan tradition relates a succession of sixty re-births previous to the Fourteenth. The First Dalai Lama Gendun Drubpa had forty-six reincarnations before him, thirty-six as those of Lama Drom Tonpa, who he reincarnated, and ten, his own as various kings, though these reincarnations are not recognised as those of the Dalai Lama but of the being who became the Dalai Lama. Thus, the First Dalai Lama had forty-six prior reincarnations, and the present Dalai Lama being sixtieth.


The Buddhism reached Tibet in mid-seventh century during the reign of king Songtsen Gonpa who built several Buddhist temples and shrines including the sacred Jokhang temple of Lhasa, and with this Tibet transformed into a Buddhist region. When during the period from mid-seventh to mid-eleventh centuries in India Buddhism had begun shrinking, in Tibet it underwent a complete renaissance. Though Tibet borrowed from India not only the basics of Buddhism, myths, literature and doctrines, but also India’s renowned teachers like Asit and Padma Sambhava among others, over the period of time it developed a body of its own doctrines, myths, teachers and its own vision of Buddhism.

In the course of time there evolved four major branches of Tibetan Buddhism, the ancient one of these founded in eighth century by Padma Sambhava, a great teacher of Tantrika Buddhism from India, being Nyingma or the Ancient Ones, while the new ones founded in eleventh century and after, being ‘Sakya’ or the ‘Grey Earth lineage’, ‘Kagyu’ or ‘Instruction lineage’, and the ‘Kadam’ or ‘Supreme Instruction Lineage’. In late fourteenth century Jey Tsongkhapa, the teacher of first Dalai Lama, founded yet another branch of Tibetan Buddhism named Geluk.

The First Dalai Lama was believed to be the reincarnation of Lama Drom Tonpa, a Kadampa or an early lama of Kadam branch. Consequentially, in the course of time Kadam branch merged with Geluk.

Despite that Jey Tsongkhapa propounded his own doctrine, in his life and literature that he composed he held all sects in equal reverence and studied them with equal devotion. In this regard his own life was the ecumenical model for the First Dalai Lama and all his reincarnations. As he was a direct disciple of Jey Tsongkhapa the First Dalai Lama Gendun Drubpa was a staunch follower of Geluk sect that his teacher had propounded but like his master he held all other sects in equal reverence and made them the theme of his studies. This was actually the model religious code for all subsequent Dalai Lamas who were staunch Geluk followers but held all doctrines in equal reverence; and this effectively worked in the unification of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan nation, and in the course of time Dalai Lama emerged as the institution of Tibetan Buddhism, or rather the Buddhism world-over, not of this or that doctrine or sect. This aptly reflects in the words of the Fifth Dalai Lama when he said ‘to be the overall spiritual head of all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, I regard it as my sacred duty to understand, uphold and propagate each of them on an equal footing.’

In the scheme of this essay a brief account of the historic deeds and the life of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, the One who benefits the world today with his divine presence, had to be its part. However, even a brief survey of only a few of the aspects of the Great Dalai Lama Tradition overwhelmed it in its entirety and now the authors, with heads bowed in reverence, are left with no other option than to look for another opportunity to do an independent essay on the life of the Great Divine Master.

This article by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. February 2010


Kali: the Most Powerful Cosmic Female

Kali, the embodiment of three-aspected cosmic act, which reveals in creation, preservation and annihilation, is the most mysterious divinity of Indian religious order, Vaishnava, Shaiva, Buddhist, Jain or any. She assures ‘abhaya’ – fearlessness, by her one hand and ‘varada’ – benevolence, by the other, both defining in perpetuity the ultimate disposition of her mind, but in contrast, the feeling that the goddess inspires by her appearance, plundering death with the naked sword carried in one of her other hands and feeding on blood gushing from the bodies of her kills, is of awe and terror. Instruments of destruction are her means of preservation, and from across the cremation ground, lit by burning pyres and echoing with shrieks of moaning jackals and goblins, and from over dismembered dead bodies – her chosen abode, routes her passage to life. The most sacred, Kali shares her habitation with vile wicked flesh-eating ‘pishachas’ – monsters, and rides a dead body. She is enamoured with Shiva but unites with Shiva’s ‘shava’ – the passive, enactive dead body, herself being its active agent. She delights in destruction and laughs but only to shake with terror all four directions, and the earth and the sky. A woman, Kali seeks to adorn herself but her ornaments are a garland or necklace of severed human heads, girdle of severed human arms, ear-rings of infants’ corpses, bracelets of snakes – all loathsome and horrible-looking. Such fusion of contradictions is the essence of Kali’s being, a mysticism which no other divinity is endowed with. Vashishtha Ganapati Muni has rightly said of her:

“All here is a mystery of contraries,
Darkness, a magic of self-hidden light,
Suffering, some secret rapture’s tragic mask,
And death, an instrument of perpetual life.”

Fusion of contraries – not just as two co-existents but as two essential aspects of the same, is what defines Kali, as also the cosmos which she manifests. As from the womb – darker than the ocean’s deepest recesses where even a ray of light does not reach, emerges life, so from the darkness is born the luminous light, and deeper the darkness, more lustrous the light. A realisation in contrast to suffering, delight is suffering’s glowing face – her child born by contrast. The tree is born when the seed explodes and its form is destroyed, that is, the life is death’s re-birth, and form, all its beauty and vigour, the deformation incarnate. This inter-related unity of contraries defines both, cosmos and Kali. The dark-hued Kali, who represents in her being darkness, suffering, death, deformation and ugly, is the most potent source of life, light, happiness and beauty – the positive aspect of the creation. She destroys to re-create, inflicts suffering so that the delight better reveals, and in her fearful form one has the means of overcoming all fears, not by escaping but by befriending them.

Light’s invocation is common to all religious orders and all divinities; in Kali’s invocation, the devotee stands face to face with darkness which aggregates death, destruction, suffering, fear and all negative aspects of the universe. Not its prey but a valiant warrior, the devotee seeks to overcome darkness and uncover all that it conceals – light, life, delight, even liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Kali assists him in his battle. She allows her devotee to win her grace and command thereby the total cosmic darkness – accessible or inaccessible, known or unknown, or unknowable, that she condenses into her being. Otherwise than thus condensed, the devotee could not apprehend and command its cosmic enormity. Kali is Tantrikas’ supreme deity, for in her they discover the instrument which enables them command diverse cosmic forces in one stroke. Kali’s ages-long popularity among ignorant primitive tribes is inspired, perhaps, by her power to reveal light out of darkness, something that they have within and without and in great abundance. Other way also, Kali assures light in perpetuity. Cyclically, a journey that takes off from the light terminates into darkness but that which takes off from the darkness is bound to land into the valleys of endless light.

Invoking and befriending the awful – the negative aspect of the creation, and warding off thereby evils and their influence, is a primitive cult still prevalent in world’s several ethnic groups and even classical traditions such as Buddhism that has a number of Kali-like awe-inspiring deities,

or Athenian tradition of Nemeses, the wrathful maidens inflicting retribution for a wrong and effecting purgation by way of wreaking ill-fate. Not with such cosmic width as has Kali, or for the attainment of such wide objectives as commanding cosmic elements, motifs like the Chinese dragon, memento mori, a skeleton form considered very auspicious by certain sections of Russian society, Islamic world’s semurga, grotesque and dreaded animal forms, ghost-masks… venerated world-over, all reveal man’s endeavour to befriend, or mitigate the influence of some or the other wrathful aspect of nature – the manifest cosmos.


Not merely her form, mysticism enshrouds Kali’s origin also. Among lines on which her origin has been traced three are more significant, though she transcends even those. She is sometimes seen as a transformation, or a form developed out of some of the Vedic deities alluded to in Brahmins and Upanishadas, mainly Ratridevi, the goddess of dark night, also named Maha-ratri, the Transcendental Night, and Nirtti, the cosmic dancer. Kali’s darker aspect is claimed to have developed out of Ratridevi’s darkness, and her dance, which she performed to destroy, to have its origin in the cosmic dance of Nirtti who too trampled over whatever fell under her feet. Mundaka Upanishada talks of seven tongues of Agni, the Fire-god, one of them operating in cremation ground and devouring the dead. Over-emphasising the factum of association of Kali and this tongue of Agni with cremation ground a few scholars have sought in Agni’s tongue the origin of Kali’s form.

Whatever variations in their versions, the Puranas perceive Kali as an aspect of Devi – Goddess, a divinity now almost completely merged with Durga. However, considering Kali’s status as a goddess within her own right, as well as her wide-spread worship-cult prevalent amongst various tribes and ethnic groups scattered far and wide in remote rural areas Kali seems to be an indigenous, and perhaps, pre-Vedic divinity. As suggests the term Kali, she appears to be the feminine aspect of Kala – Time, that being invincible, immeasurable and endless has been venerated as Mahakala – the Transcendental Time, represented in Indian metaphysical and religious tradition by Shiva. In Hindu religious terminology Mahakala is Shiva’s just another name. Like Shiva, some Indus terracotta icons seem to represent a ferocious female divinity that might be Kali or a form preceding her, and in all probabilities, Shiva’s feminine counterpart. Buddhism, a thought that opposed Vedic perception in most matters, inducted into its pantheon Mahakala and a ferocious female divinity in her various manifest forms, as Mahakala’s feminine counterpart. Obviously, Buddhism must have inducted her from a source other than the Vedic, as the Vedic it vehemently opposed. Invoked with great fervour on many occasions in the Mahabharata, more especially in Bhishma-Parva, just before Lord Krishna delivers his Gita sermon, Kali seems to be a well established divinity during the Epic days, that is, centuries before the Puranic era began. Though invoked as ‘Arya’, a term denotative of great reverence, Arjuna lauds her as tenebrous maiden garlanded with skulls, tawny, bronze-dark… and with epithets such as Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Chandi, Kapali …, the features yet relevant in Kali’s imagery. A number of literary texts : Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava, Subandhu’s Vasavadatta, Banabhatta’s Kadambari, Bhavabhuti’s Malitimadhava, Somadeva’s Yashatilaka…, of the period from 2nd to 9th century, also allude to Kali, a fact denotative of her great popularity in realms other than religion. This Kali essentially transcends Vedic Ratridevi, Maharatri, Nritti or one of Agni’s seven tongues or a divine form grown out of any of them.

However, Kali cannot be attributed this or that mode of origin. Even if a goddess of indigenous origin and one of primitive tribes, she has far greater width and operativeness than the non-operative boon-giving primitive deities usually had. Unless her absolute ‘at homeness’ in the traditional Hindu line and her status in it are sacrificed she can not be treated as a mere tribal deity with indigenous origin. Alike, the tradition can not owe her as absolutely her own creation unless her status of being a goddess in her own right is compromised and she is reduced to what she is not. Whatever her origin, perhaps indigenous, Kali emerges in the tradition as its own with far greater thrust and reverence than it attributed to others. Not a mere epithet or aspect of another goddess, Kali has been conceived as the Shakti – Power of Kala – Time. Like Kala she pervades all things, manifest or unmanifest. Puranas perceive Kali as Durga’s personified wrath – her embodied fury, but in every case she is her real Shakti. Even her own fury, Durga summons Kali to accomplish what she herself fails to do. After Durga separates Kali from her being and Kali emerges with a form of her own – an independent being, she reigns supreme in entire Hindu pantheon as regards the power to destroy and defeat enemies.

Not merely Durga’s Shakti, Kali has been conceived also as Lord Shiva’s dynamic aspect. In a delightful equation, ‘a’, the main component of ‘Shava’ and ‘Kala’, negates what ‘i’, the main component of ‘Shiva’ and ‘Kali’, accomplishes. Shava is the lifeless body, whatever is left of the manifest universe when the Power of Time takes it under its control, and Kala is what reveals only in the manifest aspect of the universe, and thus, both are ‘timed’. When ‘i’, symbolic of the feminine energy which manifests as Kali, unites into their beings transforming Shava into Shiva and Kala into Kali, both emerge as ‘timeless’. In Shiva this universe is contained, and hence, in him, the transition from the ‘timed’ to the ‘timeless’ takes place. Kali, being the Power of Time, does not undergo this transition.


Allusions to Kali occur in some early Puranas too, it is, however, the 5th-6th century Devi-Mahatmya, a part of the Markandeya Purana, which comes out with her more elaborate vision in regard to her origin, appearance, personality, power and exploits.

The Devi-Mahatmya comprises independent ‘Dhyana’ on Mahakali and uses Kali’s names, such as Bhadrakali, Kalika, Chandika… as epithets of Devi in its different parts; these are, however, two episodes that give to her fuller exposure in regard to her origin, role and other things. One of them relates to Chanda and Munda, the ferocious demons she kills, and other, to Rakta-bija.

Defeated and thrown out of Devaloka – their abode, by demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, erstwhile generals of Mahisha, gods lauded Devi and invoked her to come to their rescue and free their abode from the notorious demons. Devi, bathing in river Ganga as Parvati, heard gods’ laudation and asked herself who they were lauding, and when she so questioned, from her own being sprang up a female form – a bewitching beauty that had unique lustre, teemed in great youthfulness, and was richly bejeweled and brilliantly costumed. She replied that it was her they lauded. She then proceeded to the region which demons of Shumbha’s army swarmed and sat under a tree all alone. Hearing of her from a messenger Shumbha intensely desired to marry her and sent to her his proposal. However, the divine maiden sent back his messenger with words that she would marry only such one who defeated her in a battle. Thinking that a young maiden with no arms in hands was hardly a challenge, Shumbha sent a small contingent to fight and capture her. The Goddess defeated and destroyed it and one after the other all contingents that followed. Finally, with a huge army of demons under the command of their generals Chanda and Munda Shumbha and Nishumbha themselves came to fight the Goddess. Seeing Chanda and Munda advancing towards her the Goddess blazed with fury. As the Devi-Mahatmya has it:

“From the knitted brows of her forehead’s surface
immediately came forth Kali,
with her dreadful face, carrying sword and noose,
she carried a strange skull-topped staff,
and wore a garland of human heads,
she was shrouded in a tiger skin, and looked utterly gruesome
with her emaciated skin,
her widely gaping mouth, terrifying with its lolling tongue,
with sunken, reddened eyes
and a mouth that filled the directions with roars.”

The Goddess asked Kali to destroy demons’ army, Chanda and Munda in particular, on which Kali inflicted great destruction all around, danced on the corpses, killed Chanda and Munda and as trophies of war brought to the Goddess their severed heads. The Goddess attributed to Kali the epithet of Chamunda – destroyer of Chanda and Munda. Deaths of Chanda and Munda greatly infuriated Shumbha and Nishumbha and with all demons at their command, which included the demon Rakta-bija and others of his clan, they attacked the Goddess and surrounded her along Kali from all sides. To face their massive number the Goddess summoned Sapta-Matrikas – Seven Mothers, Brahmani, Maheshwari, Kumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narsimhi and Aindri, the powers of all major gods, Brahma, Shiva, Skanda, Vishnu and Indra.

A fierce battle ensued but what upset the Goddess most was the multiplication of Rakta-bija who had a boon to the effect that a new Rakta-bija demon would rise from wherever a drop of his blood fell. Finally, the Goddess called Kali to drink the blood of Rakta-bija before it fell on the earth. With a gaped mouth devouring hosts of demons and a tongue extended into all directions and moving faster than did the demon Kali consumed every drop of blood oozing from the wounds of Rakta-bija.

Not Devi-Mahatmya alone, almost all Puranas, Agni and Garuda in particular, venerate Kali as the goddess who assures success in war and eliminates enemies.

Skanda Purana links Kali’s origin to Parvati. Initially Parvati had dark complexion for which Shiva used to tease her every now and then. One day on being addressed twice as Kali – black-complexioned, Parvati deserted Shiva. She said that she would not return unless she got rid of her black complexion. After Parvati left, Shiva felt very lonely. Taking advantage of her absence and Shiva’s loneliness a demon named Adi, who was looking for an opportunity to kill Shiva and avenge his father’s death, disguised as Parvati and managed to enter into Shiva’s chamber. It took some time but Shiva identified the demon, and soon killed him. Meanwhile by rigorous penance and with Brahma’s help Parvati was able to cast off her outer black sheath and from inside emerged her golden form. Now Gauri – golden-hued, she came back to Shiva. Gods, looking for a female form to kill Mahisha, transformed with their lustre this black sheath of Parvati into Kali and after she had accomplished gods’ errand Parvati banished her to the region beyond Vindhya Mountain. Here she became known as Katyayani.

The Linga Purana contains yet another episode responsible for Kali’s origin. A demon named Daruka had a boon that no other than a woman would kill him. In view of reports of his atrocities reaching him, Shiva one day asked Parvati to kill him. Thereupon Parvati entered into the body of Shiva and from the poison contained in his throat transformed herself and re-appeared as Kali. She gathered an army of flesh-eating Pishachas and with their help destroyed Daruka. The Skanda Purana further expands the legend. Kali did not stop destruction even after killing Daruka. Intoxicated by consuming poison and demon’s blood Kali, uncontrollable as she was, went crazy and by her destructive activities endangered cosmic equilibrium. Finally, Shiva transformed himself as one of Kali’s own forms and sucked from Kali’s breasts all poison after which she became quiet.

Though in a different context, an identical tradition prevails in South India. After defeating Shumbha and Nishumbha Kali retired to a forest with her retinue of fierce companions and began terrorizing surroundings and its inhabitants. A Shiva’s devotee went to him with petition to get the forest free of Kali’s terror. When Kali refused to oblige Shiva claiming that it was her domain, Shiva asked her to compete him in dance to which Kali agreed, though unable, or perhaps unwilling, to reach Shiva’s energy level she got defeated and left.

Though insignificantly, Kali’s origin has been linked also with Sati, Shiva’s first consort, and Sita, consort of Lord Rama. Insulted by her father Daksha the infuriated Sati rubbed her nose in anger and there appeared Kali. After conquering Ravana Rama was returning to Ayodhya. On his way, it is said, he confronted a monster that so much terrified Rama that in fear his blood froze. Thereupon Sita transformed herself as Kali and defeated it.


Numerous are Kali’s manifestations; however, her external appearance, both in texts as well as art, basic nature and overall personality do not vary much. In her usual form the black-hued Kali is a terrible awe-inspiring divinity frightening all by her appearance. Except that some of her body parts are covered by her ornaments, she is invariably naked. An emaciated figure with long disheveled hair and gruesome face, Kali has been conceived with any number of arms from two to eighteen, and sometimes even twenty or more, though her more usual form being four-armed. The four arms are interpreted as symbolising her ability to operate into and command all four directions, that is, the cosmos in aggregate. She has long sharp fangs, alike long ugly nails, a fire-emitting third eye on her forehead, a lolling tongue and blood-smeared mouth, which, when expanded, not only swallows hordes of demons but its lower part extends to ocean’s depth and upper, beyond the sky. When required to lick blood falling from a fleeing demon’s body she extends her tongue to any length and turns it faster than the wind in whichever direction the blood falls.

In her more usual iconography Kali carries in one of her four hands an unsheathed sword – her instrument to overcome enemies and command evils, in another, a severed demon head, and other two are held in postures denotative of abhaya and varada – fearlessness and benevolence. Sometimes, the severed head is replaced with a skull-bowl filled with blood.

Abhaya is the essence of Kali’s entire being. One of the permanent dispositions of her mind, ‘abhaya’ is her assurance against all fears which, embodied in her, are rendered inoperative or to operate only as commanded. Denotative of her boundless power to destroy, Kali’s frightening aspect is her power to dispel evil and wicked, and in this the freedom from fear is re-assured. Kali’s usual place is a battlefield where all around lay scattered pools of blood, headless torsos, severed heads, arms and other body-parts. When not in battlefield, Kali roams around cremation ground where reigns death’s silence except when yelling winds, groans of wailing jackals or sound of fluttering wings of vultures tearing corpses lying around break it. Its abyssal darkness, which flames of pyres occasionally lit, is what suits Kali most. In battlefield or otherwise, she walks on foot. Except rarely when she borrows or forcibly takes Durga’s lion or Shiva’s Nandi, Kali does not use a mount, an animal or whatever, either to ride or to assist her in her battle. She dances to destroy and under her dancing feet lay the corpse of destruction. Standing or seated, she has under her a sprawling ithyphallic corpse, not lotuses, the favourite seat of most other deities. She stands upon nonexistence – the corpse of the ruined universe, but which nonetheless contains the seed of new birth.

In her imagery while the corpse represents non-existence or ruined universe, Kali’s figure engaged in union either with Shiva or his Shava symbolise continuum of creative process. The manifest universe is what veils Time but when Kali, the Power of Time, has destroyed the manifest universe, that veil is lifted and Time, and correspondingly Kali, the Power of Time, is rendered naked, a phenomenon that Kali’s naked form denotes.

By nature, Kali is always hungry and never sated. She laughs so loud that all three worlds shake with terror. She dances madly not merely trampling upon corpses but also on the live cosmos reducing it to non-existence. She crushes, breaks, tramples upon and burns her enemies or those of her devotees. Kali is not only a deity of independent nature but is also indomitable, or rather all dominating. She is Shiva-like powerful, unconventional and more at home when dwelling on society’s margins. Aspects of nobility or elite life-mode are not her style of life. She is Shiva’s consort or companion but not Parvati-like meek and humble. Herself wild and destructive, she incites Shiva to resort to wild, dangerous and destructive behaviour threatening stability of cosmos. Every moment a warrior, Kali does not miss any opportunity of war; She is one of Shiva’s warriors in his battle against Tripura.


Far more than in texts, a huge body of Kali’s mythology has evolved in Kali-related tradition. Apart that a rough-cut crude image of Kali painted in black, and the tongue, in blood-red, occupies a corner in every hamlet, even with a dozen hutments, it also abounds in tales of her mysterious powers, both inflicting damage and protecting from harm. More significant is her presence in Indian art where she underlines many important Hindu themes. What sometimes occur in texts as mere epithets of Kali are in Indian arts her well established forms. Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Dakshina Kali, Guhyakali, Shmashana Kali, Bhairavi, Tripura-Bhairavi, Chamunda… are some of her more popular forms in texts as well as art.

In her Mahakali form, an equivalent to Mahakala, the all-powerful aspect of Shiva, who devours time and effects dissolution, Kali is Mahakala’s feminine transform. In her form as Mahakali she presides over the Great Dissolution which Shiva in the form of Shava symbolises. In art, Kali invariably enshrines it. Initially, as Mahakali her role was confined to demon-slaying. In Puranas, while still representing dissolution, destruction, death and decay, she more emphatically personified in her being horror, awe and loathsomeness. She still slew demons but mostly when summoned and in subordination. In her form as Chamunda – the slayer of Chanda and Munda, she was most ferocious multi-armed demon-killer. She carried in her hands most deadly weapons and in her eyes a lustre that burnt her enemies.

As Shmashana Kali, a form more popular in Tantrism, Kali haunts cremation ground amidst burning pyres – the interim domain in between this and the next world and where death and dissolution reign.

As Tripura-Bhairavi, consort of death, Kali is conceived with a form wearing a large necklace of human bodies, a shorter one of skulls, a girdle of severed hands, and ear-rings of the corpses of infants. Around her lie a greater number of corpses and feed on them wily jackals and vile vultures. Sometimes in loincloth, Tripura-Bhairavi is more often covered in elephant skin and carries other Shaivite attributes.

Elaborately jeweled Dakshina Kali also wears a long necklace of severed heads, a girdle of unusually small severed arms and a couple of corpses as ear-rings, but instead of being gruesome her figure comprises smooth perfectly proportioned fully exposed youthful limbs. She stands on the body of a supine ithyphallic Shiva stretched out on an already burning pyre in cremation ground where scavenging birds hover and jackals roam. Dakshina Kali carries in one of her hands a sword, in another, a human head, and other two are held in abhaya and varada. Bhadra Kali, the auspicious one, Kali’s majestic, benign, benevolent and mild form, has been conceived with arms varying in number usually two to four. She often carries two bowls, one for wine and other for blood. Kali’s form that gods, even Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma, worship is invariably her Bhadra Kali form. The delightful one, she joyously drinks, dances and sings.

Guhyakali, literally meaning ‘Secret Kali’, is Kali’s esoteric aspect, which only those well versed in the Kali tradition know.

In the related ‘Dhyana’ – the form that reveals when meditating on her, snakes constitute a significant part of her attire and adornment. Her necklace, sacred thread, girdle, all are made of serpents, and the thousand hooded serpent Ananta makes her umbrella. Apart, her form assimilates other Shaivite attributes to include crescent on her forehead. In visual representation, instead of snakes’ pre-eminence, Guhyakali is identified by the Kali-yantra invariably represented along with.


Kali has quite significant place in Yoga and Tantra, though in Yoga her status is not that high as in Tantra. Kundalini-sadhana, kindling of Kundalini – dormant energy seen as black serpent that lies coiled and asleep in the inner body, is the prevalent practice in both but it is the very basis of Yoga. The Yoga perceives Kali as Kundalini Shakti. Kali is thus the basis of Yoga, though beyond such equation it does not involve Kali any further. Tantra seeks its accomplishment in Ten Mahavidyas – the Great Wisdoms, Kali, being the foremost among them, is the most significant deity of Tantra.

Kali’s disruptive behaviour, unkempt appearance, confronting activities and involvement with death and defilement are what better suit Tantra, especially the Vamachara Tantrism. Kali’s form that contains in an unclean or even unholy body-frame the highest spiritual sanctity helps Tantrika to overcome the conventional notion of clean and unclean, sacred and profane and other dualistic concepts that lead to incorrect nature of reality. Yogini-Tantra, Kamakhya Tantra and Nirvana-Tantra venerate Kali as the supreme divinity and Nirvana-Tantra perceives Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as arising from Kali as arise bubbles from the sea.

To the Tantrika, Kali’s black is symbolic of disintegration; as all colours disappear in black, so merge into her all names and forms. Density of blackness – massive, compact and unmixed, represents Pure Consciousness. Kali as Digambari, garbed in space – in her nakedness, free from all covering of illusion, defines to the Tantrika the journey from the unreal to the real. In full breasted Kali, symbolic of her ceaseless motherhood, the Tantrika discovers her power to preserve. Her disheveled hair – elokeshi, are symbolic of the curtain of death which surrounds life with mystery. In her garland of fifty-two human heads, each representing one of the fifty-two letters of Sanskrit alphabets, the Tantrika perceives repository of power and knowledge. The girdle of hands, the principal instrument to work, reveals her power with which the cosmos operates and in her three eyes, its three-aspected activity – creation, preservation and destruction. Both Kali and Tantra are epitome of unity of apparent dualism. As her terrifying image, the negative aspect of her being and thus of the cosmos, is the creative life-force, the source of creation, so in Tantra-sadhana, the journey takes off from the ‘material’ to the apex – the ultimate.

This article by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. February 2009