Anne Paule Art Gallery

Trance for Kali (1989)

When in India, we happened to arrive in a village the day before their annual Kali festival. This is a day when the villagers pay homage to the goddess Kali. A young boy took us to the house where, later, the festival would be originating. We met the man of the earthen house and his extended family, and were shown the various objects used in the festival. Pictures of the gods and goddesses covered a wall where a statue of Kali and pots of sprouting greens (symbolizing fertility of earth and people)were placed. Swords, nailed iron shoes and other strange old and rusted objects were placed on the altar. The man told us that he would be going into a trance for the goddess and seemed proud of it.

The villagers started to gather at the house. The best places were taken by the men who sat in the small courtyard in a big circle playing drums and chanting to induce a state of trance on the few brave souls who had decided to honor Kali this year. We were able to view the event from the rooftop porch which overlooked the courtyard and the stairs that led to it. This is where the women and children gathered. The courtyard was overrun by men.

We watched as the host tried in vain to reach a trance state. Later, he was to be comforted by his father as he stayed behind. I think he tried too hard and he was too proud, these things can stand in the way.

A tall unimposing figure (see the man in both photos with a red scarf on his head) that had been sitting against the wall began to wake into a tranced dance. He was taken outside in the street which we could easily view from the other side of our perch. An old wise man holding an extra long sword with the help of a couple of young men, pierced the cheek of the tranced man through and the holders of the eight foot-long sword led him around in circles in the front of the house. There was no blood and no visible pain. Another man went into a trance and was given the nailed shoes to wear. These shoes were made of heavy old metal and, like a fakir's nailed bed had numerous spikes on which his feet rested. He walked around near the other man, wearing these shoes and whipping himself with an iron chain that had a heavy nailed ball at the end of it. The spikes often caught in his skin. He would pull the ball free but never bled.

Finally, As the orange sun was setting behind the ancient temples, the villagers followed behind the tranced men in a procession headed by some men and followed by beautiful saried women carrying the bowls of sprouts on their heads. The rest of the village followed as we headed for our destination, a goddess statue and pilgrimage area. Another man began to go into a trance and everyone crowded around him as he blissfully rocked back and forth. He was offered the iron ball but didn't take it.The blessings of the Goddess were given through these men who experienced her directly, through a state of trance, this proven by the lack of pain and blood in the ritual.