‘Kali Sastha Cults in Kerala’- An overview

Dr. Reeja Ravindran

Asst. Professor

Department of Malayalam

HHMSPB NSS College for Women,


Kerala has a folklore which is unique in its richness and variety. Innumerable are the traditions which are current in Kerala. There are traditions about the origin of the state, religious, festivals, and temples etc.the people of Kerala belonging to all castes and communities have their rich collection of folk cults which deal with variety of themes, likely, kali cult and sastha cult.Human race has always been fascinated by the unknown. From the time immemorial they worshiped those phenomenon which awed them. Which began as devotion of natural forces later became worshipping of gods and goddesses and has reached the ‘human god’ stage now. This thesis an attempt to interpret the kaali cult and sastha cult in Kerala through at folklore perspective and explaining it using folklore theorem.

Kali Cult

The feminist significance of the goddess kali lies an indigenous worshipful attitude of ‘kali- bhakti’ rather than in the mere image of the Goddess. The iconography of the goddess kali from India comes as a relief in the search for alternative constructions of feminity and motherhood. Kali is depicted in a powerful and terrifying manner: “a naked and intoxicated female dark, bloodstained and disheveled dancing on the prostrate body of Shiva, her husband, with her tongue lolling out, wearing nothing except a garland of human heads around her neck, a girdle of severed human hands around her waist, and infant corpses as earrings. Yet, strangely enough, the devotee see in this macabre picture an ‘impossible beauty’ and a ‘mother’. The mother here is anything but domestic (engaged as she is in a battle dance) and anything but nurturing (adorned as she is with symbols of death skulls, corpses, and blood). Yet, on beholding this grotesque form, the poet’s, mind is dancing’. Such energetic juxtaposition of divergence in the image of kali has been as holding feminist messages also.

According to the Indian traditional belief all that is virtuous like knowledge, prosperity, wealth, gold and rice considered to be feminine divinity. Goddesses are considered to be form of power and strength. ‘Kalam grasyathi ya sa kaali’, Which literally means ‘she who swallows time’, that is one who destroys all forms of time (past, present and future) and provides the experience of eternity. Kaali also means ‘kala sankalanat kaali ’that is one who blends past, present and future and make us experience all of there as one. Kaali, who likes to drink blood, is the symbol of destruction. Kaali also means she who is burning with anger’ and she who instills anger and sorrow. Durga- kaali concepts should be viewed as the synthesis of creation-preservation- destruction forces, which look the form of a goddess when all other gods male gods failed to destroy the demonic forces.

Kaali is ‘eternal virgin’. She like red attire, red flowers and red coloured offerings. Red is the colour of ferocity ( roudra )and lord shiva ( rudra ) is the master of it.According to natya sastra, compassion (karuna) comes from ferocity. Yama (God of Death) is the master of compassion. That is why destructive element is prominent in kali. It is prevalent in all rituals related to kali.

Sastha Cult

Sastha is the brother of kali. Sastha is born to siva and Vishnu who incarnated as Mohini. Sastha is usually worshipped as per to tantric traditions. But there are a few rituals like Kalamezhuthu, Vilppattu, Udukkupattu and Ayyappan Vilakku which are not tantric way of worshipping is also there. Sastha has two wives Poorna and Pushkala.

But dharma sastha who is an incarnation of sastha is a celibate during the forty-one days of ‘Mandala Period’ women between the ages of six and sixty are not allowed to visit the dharma sastha temple in Sabarimala. It should be viewed in connection with the patriarchal tradition.

There are many similarities in the Poojas performed in temples to worship Sastha and Kali. Both the gods have tantric and non-tantric rituals in their Poojas. Kalam ezhuthu, which can be described as magical drawings is performed in the cases of both Kali and Sastha.

Similarities of Kali and Sastha cults

Both Kali and Sastha are born to destroy demonic forces. Kali is believed to be born from the third eye of Lord Shiva. Sastha is born to Lord Shiva and Mohini. Sastha travels on a leopard while Kali travels on a demon called betal. During the forty-one day mandala period which is important period for Sastha worship, women fold undertake Karthika Vratha to worship Yoga maya. According to Agnipurana yoga Maya is an incarnation of Kali who took the Yoga Maya form to protect Lord Krishna in Ambadi.

Azhiyattom (literally jumping into fire) a ritual performed in connection with Sastha worship is also there in the kali worship. Just like the irumudi a double pack carried by the Ayyappa devotees to Sabarimala. Kali devotees carry on irumudi to Kodungalloor and Mandakkadu which are two Kali temples in Kerala. These packs have turmeric and pepper in common.

Sastha is also called Vana Sastha -Sastha of the jungle -and the temple premises are refers to as kavu. It is the same in the case of Vana Durga, Kali of the jungle. In the case of Vana Durga, the temples are without roof. Durga temples are also called Kavu. Because these temples are situated in jungle like places which represent nature at its fullness. Some famous kavu in Kerala are Lokanar Kavu, Pananyannar kavu and Vallikkavu

Kali is the one who killed Mahishasura (a male demon in the form of a buffalo) and it is mentioned in works like Keralolpathy and many Puranas. At the same time sastha killed Mahishi (a female demon in the form of she- buffalo)

Many things that are permissible during the pilgrimage to one god is prohibited in the other. For Sastha Wednesday and Saturday are important while Tuesday and Friday are the important days for Kali. For Sastha devotees black coloured clothes are important while as Kali likes red coloured clothes. Animal and fowl sacrifices are important for Kali. At the same time sastha Pooja do not have any non-vegetarian ingredient. The Sastha Pooja and worship is strictly based on Ahimsa.

Sastha Pooja is based on tantric traditions and required Brahmin Pujaris to perform it. But some people follow non brahminal way of Poojas and rituals while worshipping Sastha in rural villages. Ayyappan Vilakku, Azhichattom, Udukkupattu and Ayyappan kanji are some such rituals performed by devotees as part of Sastha Pooja.

That means there are similarities as well as differences in the methods of worship in the case of Sastha and kali. It should be noted that people from all walks of society join the Kali Pooja and it is considered to be a sign of social integration and development.

Fertility is the basic concept in the Kali Pooja. Kali is being considered as mother in this regard.Dhyana shloka of Kali consists the preservation of Kula and Kula dharma. The element of creation is prominent in kali concept. The matriarchal lineage system which had been dominant in Kerala society and kali Pooja is also related to one another. We can analyze both the mother goddess concept and mother goddess worship in the light of ecofeminism, kavu- kali, serpent worship and nature also has streaks of eco feminism possibilities in them.

The style of worship followed for kali and sastha have Brahmana and Abrahmana precedence. Both deities have Satvika and Abrahman pujas at temples and homes respectively.

Presenting religious and social beliefs as part of rituals are present in both kali and sastha concepts.Kalamezhuthu and pattu, theeyattu are therefore both the deities.

Differences in the Kali Sastha Cults

Like similarities, differences are also evident in the concept of the two deities. Kali was the goddess of Dravidians who followed matriarchy system and have a mother goddess concept. While Ayyappa was a hunting god who later became the deity of Aryans, who followed Patriarchy system of lineage. This could be also viewed as the invasion of Aryans over Dravidians.

When Kali becomes a goddess and the ‘Hunter god’ Ayyappa becomes Harihara Suthan in effect, lower myth become higher myth. And thus these two deities get a pan India worship system.

When small group become public spaces, rituals and worship change. But even today the kali sastha worship has not deviated much from the Dravidian archetype.