Going to Dakshinkali
The bus was so packed the irrelevancy of our seats was simultaneously apparent to our noses and crushed toes. We’d arisen early, for our perma-tourist lifestyle, at 7 am for a warmup walk across half of Kathmandu to the bus stand. Now our journey to witness ritual sacrifice was rapidly becoming too self-involved. Crushed in the last row of the Nepali-capacity bus, we crawled out of the city, only to be slowed even more the hills en route to the temple. Some semblance of comfort came at Pharping, the final village before a brief descent, as at least a few people jumped off the bus.
Situated in a shady valley, amidst a pair of rivers, lay our traveler’s version of Saturday Morning Cartoons. We’d neglected our cereal, but we were here to, presumably only metaphorically, watch slack-jawed as the great Kali’s bloodlust became temporarily sated. We worked our way down the crowded path, stuffed with sellers, politely refusing such necessities as metal locks, framed photos of Kali, plastic trinkets… before spotting the sacrifices-for-sale section, thoughtfully located adjacent to the last loop of the line. Chickens clucked in cages, while tethered goats awaited their inevitable transformation to mutton. The line, or rather two lines, snaked endlessly, up stairs and into parking lots, full of queued Nepalis patiently waiting. Many carried coconuts in baskets, or rice, though plenty of live animals were around, too, as everyone waited patiently, talking and time-passing. As non-Hindus the offering line was an impossibility, so we walked the gawker’s walk, that awkward amble of the tourist. Amidst candles and incense, tikka powder and fresh flowers, goats and goat poo, ritual and blood, we walked. Lines inched as bells clanged, and we perched as heads rolled – a few chicken heads, recently removed, failed to stay in their proper place…
A well-shaded overlook, a vista over the vivisectionist, allowed us to sit, relax, and admire the melding of religion and ritual with culture and chaos. The ante room for the altar was where the line’s civility ended: in the proximity of the goddess her violent spirit is apparently quite strong. The throng, with godly gifts in tow, pushed and pressed, themselves to the front and their money to the priests. When the time was right, chickens were carried underarm while goats were led in on leashes. There’s no drama or performance: the gods don’t require the extravagance of Indian Idol (just won by Prashant of Nepali-heritage). Chicken limbs are appropriately tucked and folded, while goats are held down by half a cricket squad of men, and then the burly butcher saws quickly from neck to nape. Blood pours onto the altar, we sensitively snapped a few photos, then rupees are handed over and then the meat is hauled off for hacking. Many families dine at Dakshinkali – carnivores for Kali. The goddess is usually depicted as blood-splattered, dancing on skulls, the most fear-inducing incarnation of Shiva’s beloved consort Parvati.
Overall the flow of supplicants certainly outmatched that of the blood, and after an hour of soaking up the scene, we spied some familiar faces as we made our escape: our companions on the bus, still diligently awaiting their turn, their moment with the goddess. Certainly more intriguing than an average temple, Kali and her devotees definitely made a firm impression on us, even though we’re a bit jaded from “too many temples” syndrome…!