Dakshineswar Kali Temple is situated on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river in Dakshineswar. The presiding deity is Goddess Kali but is also known as Bhavatarini here, which means she who liberates her devotees from the ocean of existence.
The temple was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni, a good samaritan and also a devotee of Kali. The temple is famous for its association with Sri Ramakrishna, a yogi and mystic of 19th century Bengal.
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The temple apart from the main shrine also has a large courtyard which surrounds the temple and there are rooms along the boundary walls. There are 12 shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva along the riverfront, a temple of Radha Krishna, a bathing ghat on the river and a shrine dedicated to Rani Rashmoni.
Rani Rashmoni, a wealthy widow in the year 1847 prepared to go on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Banaras to express her devotion to the Divine Mother.
At that point of time, there were no trains between Calcutta and Banaras and it was a common practice for the rich to make the journey by boat rather than by road.
Rani Rashmoni and her convoy of 24 boats which were supposed to carry the relatives, servants and supplies were all set to begin the journey. But on the night before the pilgrimage was supposed to begin, the Divine Mother, in the form of Goddess Kali, is said to have intervened.
The Goddess appeared to the Rani in her dream and said "There is no need to go to Banaras. Install my statue in a temple on the banks of Ganges and arrange for my worship there. Then I shall manifest myself in the image and accept worship at that place."
As a devotee of the Mother Goddess, Rani Rashmoni was immensely affected by the dream and she began looking for a land to construct the temple. She purchased a 20-acre plot from an Englishman, John Hastie in the village of Dakshineswar.
It was popularly known as Saheban Bagicha, which was partly an old Muslim burial ground shaped like a tortoise, and was considered appropriate for the worship of Shakti as per Tantric traditions.
It took eight years and rupees 9 Lakhs to complete the construction. The large temple complex was built between 1847 and 1855. The idol of the Goddess was installed on 31st May 1855, on the day of Snana Yatra.
Amid festivities the temple was formally named Sri Sri Jagadishwari Mahakali. Ramkumar Chattopadhyay was appointed as the head priest, along with his younger brother Gadadhar, who later was known as Ramakrishna, and nephew Hriday to assist him.
The temple is built in the traditional Navaratna or nine spires style, very typical of Bengal architecture. The temple is three-storeyed and faces the south. The nine spires are distributed in the upper two storeys and it stands on a high platform with a flight of stairs. It measures 46 sq ft and rises to a height of over 100 ft.
The sanctum sanctorum houses the idol of goddess Kali, standing on the chest of Shiva and the idols are placed on a thousand petaled lotus which is made of silver.
Close to the main temple, there are 12 identical Shiva temples facing east, built in the aat-chala style of Bengal architecture, on the ghat of the Hoogly river.
Ramkumar Chattopadhyay was able to serve the Goddess for only one year and the position was taken over by his brother Gadadhar or Ramakrishna.
Ramakrishna was initially given the task of decorating the deity, whilst his brother performed the pujas, but after his death and Ramakrishna being the head priest now, he became more meditative.
He looked upon the image of the goddess as his own mother and as the mother of the universe. Ramakrishna developed an intense devotion towards Mother Kali and spent hours in loving veneration of her image, which made him forget his priestly duties.
In his intense devotion to the goddess, it is reportedly said that Sri Ramakrishna had a vision of goddess Kali as the Universal Mother, which he described as " The houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me."
Sri Ramakrishna would be overcome with such ecstatic love for the deity that he would fall to the ground deep into a spiritual trance and lose all his consciousness of the external world.
These experiences of intoxication became so frequent that he was relieved of his duties as the priest but was allowed to continue living within the temple compound. During these years Ramakrishna would journey even deeper into this passionate and absolute love of the divine.
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