Kali Maa

Kali, I know that you know
how to play tricks.
You let anyone call you
by any name they choose:
The Magas call you Pharatara,
Europeans call you God;
Mughals and Pathans,
Saiyids and Qazis
all call you Khoda.
Shaktas say you are their Shakti,
Shaivas call you Shiva.
Sauryas think you’re the Sun,
and pious Vaishnavas call you
O gracious Radha.
Ganapatyas call you Ganesh,
and Yakshas call you Kuber.
Craftsmen call you Vishvakarma;
boatmen say you’re their saint, Badar.
Ramdulal says this is no illusion.
From what comes to pass,
the truth is felt.
Only the mind misbehaves, and takes One God
to be many.

* This poem features a number of different communities found in South Asia during the poet’s lifetime; each community is paired with the respective object of its devotion. The Magas are a people of (what is now) Northeastern India and Bangladesh, and Pharatara is presumably a deity in their traditional pantheon. Pathans are from Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan. Saiyids are Muslims believed to have descended from the family of the prophet Muhammad. Qazis are Islamic judges. Khoda is the Persian and Hindustani word for the Islamic unitary God. Sauryas are worshippers of the sun. Ganapati is another name of the elephant-headed god Ganesh, and Ganapatyas are his special devotees. Yakshas are nature deities who often guard hidden treasures, and the legendary Kuber is the wealthiest of the Yakshas. Vishvakarma is the Hindu patron god of architects and craftsmen. Badar is the Muslim patron saint of boatmen.

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