The civic authorities have informed the police about these structures and the borough executive officers have been asked to keep a tab on them.
On 13 February 1899, a meeting was held at the Albert Hall where a European lady, Margaret Elizabeth Noble, a school teacher from England, spoke on the goddess Kali.
This was the first time a European had spoken about Kali. Margaret was initiated into the Hindu faith by none other than Swami Vivekananda in March 1898 and renamed Nivedita, meaning The Dedicated.
Elizabeth was the secretary of the Sesame Club in London, where the intellectuals of those days attended once a week and took part in discussions. Sir John Woodroff, a judge of the Supreme Court, had written several books on Tantra but did not give any public speeches on the subject.
Those intellectuals of Calcutta, present in London, had gathered at the hall and waited anxiously to listen to Sister. Among the audience present were Dr Mahendralal Sarkar, a famous doctor who had treated Sri Ramakrishna; Nishikanta Chattopadhyay; Satyenmohan Tagore; and Brajendranath Gupta. Before Sister Nivedita’s speech, they spoke, and Dr Sarkar severely criticised Nivedita for preaching superstitions that they were trying to remove.
There was pandemonium, but the majority of the audience enjoyed the speech, which was analytical and full of anecdotes. Nivedita replied to the objections raised by Dr Sarkar and said, “It was so easy to say that God is love, and to think our own private happiness proves that God is love-but when do we learn that? How do we know it? Is it not in moments of anguish in our lives that the Great Reality is borne in upon us all? Is love all beauty, all bliss? This was the paradox so boldly stated in the Kali image-this paradox of nature and of the universe and of the soul of manthat she who stands there surrounded by all that is terrible to humanity is, nevertheless, the Mother, and all we Her babies.”
Two or three days later, the Halders of Kalighat invited Nivedita to speak on Kali worship at the Kalighat temple. This was the first time a European was invited to give a public speech at the Kalighat temple. On getting permission from Swami Vivekananda, Sister agreed, and the date was fixed for 28 May 1899, at 5 p.m.
On the day Nivedita went to the temple barefoot, around 3,000 people gathered to listen to her. Swamiji could not be present because of illness. Some European women accompanied Nivedita, and they took off their shoes before entering the temple.Swamiji went to the house of Nivedita at 16 Bosepara Lane in north Calcutta and discussed with her the philosophy of Kali.
Swamiji told her that though he was a devout believer in Advaita philosophy and did not accept Kali initially, his view later changed after long discussions with Sri Ramakrishna, who believed that every view should be respected. He used to say “Jata Moth, to Path,” meaning there are as many paths as there are views.
He used to say, “Brahman and Shakti are one, as fire and its heat, even as milk and its whiteness.”Though Nivedita could not speak Bengali, the audience could easily follow her lucid language. Nivedita developed love and respect for Kali and brought out a book, Kali The Mother, in 1900. For Nivedita, Kali was the symbol of fearlessness and love for death. The main teaching of the Upanishad is “Be fearless.”
Swami Vivekananda used to say, “Fear is sin; fear is death. Be fearless.” Nivedita was closely associated with revolutionaries like Aurobindo Ghosh, Bipin Chandra Pal, Hemchandra Kanungo, Barin Ghosh and others. Whoever she met, she talked about Kali and urged them to be fearless, and without fearlessness, no unselfish work is possible.Nivedita had practiced what she had preached, and during the plague that broke out in the slums of North Kolkata in early 1899, she took an active part, cleaning the road and making people aware of the dos and don’ts.
Brushing aside the fear that she may be infected with the disease at any moment, she went on serving the affected people.It was the night of Kali Puja on 13 November, 1898, one hundred and twenty-five years ago.
A small group had gathered at 16 Bosepara Lane in north Kolkata to watch Kali puja and to mark the setting up of a girls school.
Apart from Swami Vivekananda, the other members of the group who were present there included Ma Sarada Devi, Swami Brahmananda, first president of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, among others. Ma Sarada prayed to Mother Kali that those girls who would receive education at the school would become ideal women. For Nivedita, Kali was the symbol of infinity, peace and the bringer of happiness to the world.