Is my black Mother Syama really black?

by Kamalakanta

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott
Original Language Bengali

Is my black Mother Syama really black?
People say Kali is black,
but my heart doesn't agree.
If She's black,
how can She light up the world?
Sometimes my Mother is white,
sometimes yellow, blue, and red.
I cannot fathom Her.
My whole life has passed

She is Matter,
then Spirit,
then complete Void.

It's easy to see
how Kamalakanta
     thinking these things
went crazy.

-- from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Kamalakanta, like Ramprasad, was a Bengali saint who addressed his songs to the goddess Kali. Kali is both loving mother and terrible destroyer, the beginning as well as the end -- she is all of creation.

Kali is usually portrayed with black skin -- the color of the night, the color of mystery, the color of the formless Void. But here Kamalakanta teasingly declares that she is not black, for she is the radiant source of all light in the universe. One color is not enough for her, for all colors come from her, the endless diversity of material existence emanates from her. Who can fathom such dazzling variety all within one maternal Being?

The lines, "She is Matter, / then Spirit, / then complete Void," almost sound like a Buddhist formulation. But, of course, such observations don't belong to any one sacred tradition alone; they are simply the result of direct mystical experience, whatever the religious framework. Matter reveals itself to be an unreal experience of surfaces and appearance. The so-called tangible reality perceived by the senses emerges from a divine and living radiance that "lights up the world." And at the heart of it all is a profound stillness, an emptiness that swallows everything so completely that all form and separation disappear. Yet, at the same time, that Void is also alive and pregnant with the whole unmanifest universe. This is Kali in her essential (formless) form: the Void that consumes everything and the Womb that gives birth to all of creation -- both at once.

Recommended Books: Kamalakanta

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar

Is my black Mother