the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Mahatma Gandhi and Goddess Kali


There is a famous Goddess Kali temple in Kolkata. It was then the practice to sacrifice goats there to propitiate the goddess.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Navajivan on dated 7 November 1920 that there were many who felt satisfied at having saved one of the goats which were to be slaughtered in sacrifice to Mother Kali. Had the goat been saved in the right manner, I would have felt very happy, but in saving the goat they hurt many human beings. For saving the goat, force was used against these. This is not Hinduism. The nonviolence it teaches does not enjoin the saving of a goat by beating up or threatening human beings. The multitude of lions, tigers and wolves swallow up innumerable goats and other animals; we do not kill them to stop them doing so. A good many snakes sting and kill animals and human beings, but the Hindus not only abstain from killing them, they actually consider it a sin to kill them. On what grounds, then, can we use violence to save a goat?

Shimla is named after Mother Shimla, as Mumbai Bombay is named after Mumbadevi and Calcutta after Kali. All the three goddesses have proved faithless or, maybe, the devotees have forgotten them. The mere thought of the Kali temple fills me with horror. How can the place be called a temple at all? In literal truth, rivers of blood flow there every day. Who knows what the thousands of goats slaughtered there in the name of religion say in the court of God? How infinite is Mother Kali's patience? Does she really demand cruel sacrifice? People who offer them tarnish her sacred name.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India on dated 6 October 1921 that that being my conception of Hinduism, I have never been able to reconcile myself to untouchability. I have always regarded it as an excrescence. It is true that it has been handed down to us from generations, but so are many evil practices even to this day. I should be ashamed to think that dedication of girls to virtual prostitution was a part of Hinduism. Yet it is practiced by Hindus in many parts of India. I consider it positive irreligion to sacrifice goats to Kali and do not consider it a part of Hinduism. Hinduism is a growth of ages. The very name, Hinduism, was given to the religion of the people of Hindustan by foreigners.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Navajivan on dated 9 October 1921 that Mother Kali demands no animal sacrifices. If anything, she wants us to sacrifice ourselves. It is only by slaying our Sins, our evil that we can make ourselves fit to stand before her. To those Hindus who desire to offer a sacrifice on the eighth day, I suggest that they should, dressed in hand-spun khadi, take a pledge to follow truth, practice non-violence and strive to subjugate the body. Anyone who does so will certainly be offering the purest sacrifice and such a person will also have become fit for swaraj. I, therefore, hope that, should the priest be obstinate and stick to his intention to kill a goat, no Hindu will visit the temple and be a party to the sin of offering the sacrifice and thus blaspheme against God.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke on 11 April 1926 that As we have the word yajna in our language and the practice is enjoined in our dharma, so the Bible and the holy books of the Jews too have each a corresponding word, and an idea similar to that of yajna. We find three things in the Koran: (1) animal sacrifices, on the Bakr-i-Id day; (2) it refers to a practice which also obtained among the Jews, a father sacrificing his son—Ibrahim does this; and (3) Ramadan, which is a form of sacrifice, that is, parting with or giving up something which is dear to us. In the same way, we see in the Bible the meaning of the term sacrifice expanding after Jesus. He told the people that they could not realize their aim by this sacrifice of animals, that for performing a sacrifice in the right sense of the term they would have to do much more than kill animals. He told them that it was not a sacrifice to destroy other lives, that one should give one’s own life as sacrifice. With that idea, he sacrificed his own life for the eternal welfare of the world, for its spiritual welfare, for washing away its sins and not merely for feeding the people. Among the Hindus, too, the practice of human sacrifice was prevalent at one time. Then followed animal sacrifice. Even today, thousands of goats are sacrificed to Mother Kali.

Yajnas are also performed for securing the fulfillment of many worldly desires. The root word in the English term “sacrifice” had a good meaning; it meant “to sanctify”. In Sanskrit, yaj means “to worship”. In the Old Testament, the word for yajna means “to renounce”. But the underlying idea, that all actions performed for the good or service of others are forms of yajna, will be accepted by everyone. Maybe our motive in sacrificing an animal is that of public good, for instance, securing rainfall. The motive in this may be that of public good, but it is not a true sacrifice in which we kill other creatures. We may tell ourselves that we have made a sacrifice in paying for the goat, but the crores of other Hindus are not likely to share that belief.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote an article in Young India on dated 8 December 1927 that did he not know that the animals were sacrificed to be ultimately eaten? Why do they sacrifice thousands of sheep and goats to the Goddess Kali in Calcutta be it said to their discredit and the discredit of Hinduism in spite of having received this message from the Hindu of Hindus Gautama? Do they throw the carcasses away in the Hooghly? No, they eat every bit of the meat with the greatest delight, thinking that it has been sanctified because of the presentation to Kali. So the Buddha said, if you want to do any sacrifice, sacrifice yourself, your lust, all your material ambition, all worldly ambition. That will be an ennobling sacrifice. May the spirit of the Buddha brood over this meeting and enable you to measure and assimilate the meaning of the words that I have spoken to you.

Mahatma Gandhi discussed before 20 December 1928 that He next turns to a khadi worker who is also accompanying him. He must agree to go to Calcutta2 where he is wanted in spite of his disinclination. If we could transform Calcutta we should transform the whole of India, he argues. He himself would go there and make it the center of his activity, but . . . And he then gives out this sorrowful secret that he has harbored in his bosom all these years of his life. It is the Kali temple.

There lies my difficulty. I cannot bear the sight of it. My soul rises in rebellion against the cold-blooded inhumanity that goes on there in the name of religion. If I had the strength I would plant myself before the gate of the temple and tell those in charge of it that before they sacrificed a single innocent animal they should have to cut my throat. But I know that for me to do so would be an unreal, a mechanical thing today because I have not yet completely overcome the will to live. And till I can do that I must bear the cross of my imperfect existence.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in CWMG, Vol. 44 on pages 266 that Kalicharan Benerji had spoken to me about the Kali temple, which I was eager to see, especially as I had read about it in the books. So I went there one day. Justice Mitter’s house was in the some locality, and I therefore went to the temple on the same day that I visited him. On the way I saw a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to Kali. Rows of beggars lined the lane leading to the temple. There were religious mendicants too, and even in those days I was sternly opposed to giving alms to sturdy beggars. A crowd of them pursued me. One of such men was found seated on a verandah. He stopped me, and accosted me: ‘whither are you going, my boy?’ I replied to him. The terrible sacrifice offered to Kali in the name of religion enhanced my desire to know Bengali life. I had read and heard a good deal about the Brahmo Samaj. I knew something about the life of Pratap Chandra Mazmudar. I had attended some of the meetings addressed by him. I secured his Life of Keshav Chandra Sen, read it with great interest, and understood the distinction between Sadharan Brahmo Samaji and Adi Brahmo Samji. I met Pandit Shivanath Shastri and in company with Prof. Kathavate went to see Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, but as no interviews with him were allowed then, we could not see him. We were, however, invited to a celebration of the Brahmo Samaj held at his place, and there we had the privilege of listening to fine Bengali music. Ever since I have been a lover of Bengali music.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Hindu on dated 7 February 1934 that I understand that here you offer as sacrifice to your God buffaloes or other animals in order to appease Kali. You must not, for one moment, imagine that God can ever be pleased by sacrifice of animals. There are savarna Hindus, so called, who also resort to this barbarous practice. But, the entire world over, it is now recognized that there can be no religion in sacrificing animals. I should like you; therefore, to think that there can be no virtue in offering animals as sacrifices to appease Kali, or any other goddess or god. After all, there is but one God, whether you worship Him as Kali or whether you worship Him as Vishnu or Shiva or Brahma, no matter by what name, but, there is only one God, and that God is the God of Truth and Love, not of vengeance. Therefore, I hope that, henceforth, there will be no two parties amongst you, but that you will all unite in order to stop this animal sacrifice in the name of God.

Mahatma Gandhi spoke on 30 September 1941 that One who serves the cow must take cow’s milk only and not goat’s milk. I take goat’s milk out of my helplessness. But the members of the Cow-protection Society must take only cow’s milk and ghee and use only leather made from dead cows and buffaloes. Where even cows and buffaloes are being slaughtered, how can one get leather made from dead goats? Mankind has till this day taken it for granted that the goat is born only to be butchered. Today being Dussehra, in Calcutta thousands of goats must have been sacrificed to Goddess Kali.

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