Long ago in the ancient Vindhya kingdom, there lived a devout priest of Goddess Kaali. His wife died while giving birth to a boy. The priest named him Bhadra. He decided not to marry again and the boy grew up under his father’s care. When Bhadra was a young boy, he went to Kaali’s temple along with his father. But he was scared at seeing her imposing idol. He ran away in fear and did not return to the temple. His father tried to assure that Goddess Kaali is fearful but she is also gentle and protects her disciples. But Bhadra was not to be convinced. He asked his father many questions. Why is she so dark? Why are her eyes bloodshot? Why does she take out her tongue like that? Why does she wear a Garland of skulls? Thinking of her would give him the chills. His father hoped that his fear would pass but Bhadra grew up to be a timid young adult. The fear and the dislike of the Goddess only grew to be stronger. He was ridiculed and shunned by the people in his village.
One day, his father had enough and he dragged his son to the temple. He narrated the story of the Goddess to his son. He told him how Kaali was a destroyer of evil and her fearful form was to strike fear in the hearts of her enemies. “There was an evil demon in ancient times called Rakhtabheej. He had a boon that he will be resurrected for each drop of his blood which falls to the ground. He ravaged kingdoms for wealth, killed virtuous people and committed many atrocities as he became invincible with his boon. Mother took the form of Kaali to destroy him. She fought and slew him but his blood touched the ground giving rise to an army of the demon. Maa Kaali then killed each of them and drank their blood before it touched the ground. She thus became the destroyer of evil and protector of good”.
Bhadra was aghast with this story and his fear only grew stronger. He had nightmares with the images of Raktabheej and Maa Kaali etched in his mind. Why should the Gods be so violent, he thought. If the Goddess is the protector of the good, why did she let his mother die during his birth? His father helplessly watched his infidel son and was repenting for him. As time passed, Bhadra grew up to be a fair, strong and handsome man. He believed and worshipped the Gods of nature, fire, water, wind, sky and earth but he did not enter the temple of Goddess Kaali.
Soon there was news of an unprecedented threat to the kingdom. A foreign invader has attacked the homeland with a large army. War was coming and the king of Vindhya mobilized an army but was outnumbered by the enemy three to one. As was customary, the king came to Kaali temple and worshipped her with rituals and sacrifices before heading to the battle. The King then left to face the dangerous and powerful enemy.
Soon there was dreadful news in the kingdom that the king was defeated and killed in the battle. Every village was to fend for themselves from the invaders. Then the worst fears came true as the bloodshed reached Bhadra’s village. The people were powerless and were shredded apart by the invaders. They ransacked and burned the village and killed every person in sight. His father told Bhadra that they have to take shelter in the temple. Bhadra resisted but he was so shaken by the violence around him that he followed him meekly. When they were about to reach the temple, some of the ruffians caught hold of the priest and dragged him away. Bhadra heard his father’s last words to go take refuge in the temple and to believe in Maa Kaali. In a state of shock, Bhadra ran towards the temple and locked himself inside. Soon the sun had set on the horrors of the day and the night had fallen. Bhadra sat on the cold stone floor of the temple shivering and weeping uncontrollably. He has never felt so lonely and powerless. He remembered the last look on his father’s face before he was killed. He was pondering whether death was waiting for him outside the temple door. Just then he was startled by a voice behind him.
Bhadra heard someone calling his name. He turned back towards the idol and saw nothing. Then from the dark corner, a woman emerged. Her face was like the moon and lit up the dark temple. She walked with an ethereal grace and came forward to meet him.
She called his name again, “How are you, my child?”
Bhadra couldn’t recognise her, “Who are you? Do I know you?”
She smiled and said, “You might not know me. But I know you since you were a little boy”
“Did you also escape from the invaders and hid here?” Bhadra asked, “What is your name?”
“You can call me Shakti”, the woman smiled and answered, “it feels reassuring that you are here along with me”
Bhadra smiled weakly but he felt bolder with this company. He asked her to sit and gave her some water to drink. He asked her whereabouts and listened to her keenly. Every word which Shakti spoke seemed to instil hope and life into him. Her words were soothing and comforting to his scarred mind and body. She caressed his hair and touched his face. For the first time, Bhadra felt motherly love. He asked her whether he could sleep in her lap. She smiled and nodded. He lay gently on her lap and saw her face. Tears came out of his eyes.
Shakti rubbed his tears and said, “What do you fear the most about, Bhadra?”
Bhadra whispered, “To die a lonely death here.”
“Aren’t you born lonely?, Shakti said and asked, “What makes you feel alive?”
Bhadra thought deeply but he didn’t reply.
Shakti continued “You will only feel alive when you know death is a certainty.”
Bhadra closed his eyes and mused on her words. “I am trapped in my mind. How do I escape my fear?” He asked.
Shakti smiled, put her hand on his head and said “Courage comes to those who seek for it inside. You will be the bravest person this land will see.”
With these words, Bhadra slipped into a deep sleep. The morning rays penetrated the gloom of the village. They entered the temple through the small openings in the walls and lit up the face of the Goddess. A loud sound startled Bhadra from his sleep. He saw that the temple’s doors were open. There was a sword in his hand, the deity’s sword. There was no sign of Shakti around him. Then he heard the sound of loud horns outside. He went outside and saw a dozen invaders waiting to enter the temple. They were shouting in an alien language. But Bhadra understood that they wanted to desecrate and destroy the temple. Bhadra looked around for Sakthi but couldn’t see her. He felt reunited with his mother for a short while, and he lost her again. However, there was no time to despair. Convinced that she is still inside the temple, he raised his sword to fight. He found his calling. He has to protect his mother and was ready to die for her.
Bhadra walked down the steps to confront his enemies. His heart was pumping blood into every vein in his body willing him to fight. He ran forward ferociously and slayed the first man to the ground. The warm blood of his enemy spurted across his face. He then charged towards the others who stood there motionless. With clean and powerful swings of his sword, he started beheading the invaders. With each killing, his enemies were looking at him in shock and fear. He fought like a man possessed, braced his enemies’ strikes with superhuman strength and then cut them ferociously when they were within his reach. Blood was flowing like a stream as if in sacrifice to the Goddess. Only one man remained at the end as Bhadra breathed fire. The man dropped his sword and fell down on his knees. He was pointing at something on Bhadra’s face and was panicking in horror. Bhadra saw the opportunity and decapitated him.
Bhadra looked around his lifeless enemies and gave out a savage battle cry. He was consumed by a strange blood lust. He remembered Sakthi and wanted to search for her. He then walked to the sacred temple pond to wash first. He was shocked to see his reflection in the water. His face transformed into dark complexion and his eyes were bloodshot. Then the realisation dawned on him. He ran towards the temple and saw Maa Kaali inside. He fell down on her knees and cried bitterly. Shakti was Kaali. She was his mother. She was his calling. He could never see the divine beauty behind the facade and witnessing her in person made Bhadra realize the truth. He stood to face his mother in all her glory. His eyes welled up with affection and devotion. He put the sword back in her hand. He swore an oath to protect her temple till his death.
As time passed Bhadra became a temple warrior. He swore no allegiance to any kingdom. He started a sect of warriors who were known to be ruthless and ferocious fighters and struck fear in the hearts of their enemies. They were the sworn protectors of the temple. With each killing and bloodshed, Bhadra grew ever darker and closer to his mother Kaali, till his death and the Goddess in the temple was known as Bhadrakaali by generations ever since.
This is a fictional story with folklore and mythological themes embedded into it. The story of Kaali and Rakhtabheej is mythological and Bhadra’s war is folklore while his relation with his father is fictional.