Updated: Jan 29
Although Bamakhepa is not particularly know for worshipping Kali, he was such a great Mother worshipper and contemporary of Sri Ramakrishna that he should be mentioned. Bamakhepa worshipped Mother in the form of Tara and became a famous Tantric saint practicing sadhana at the Trapith cremation ground. Tarapith in West Bengal is difficult to get to and, therefore, only a few Westerners have visited this ancient spiritual center. Tarapith is situated in the district of Birbhum, home of the Bauls and birthplace of famous Vaishnava and Shakta saints.
Bamakhepa was born in 1837-one year after Sri Ramakrishna-near Tarapith in the village of Alta. Although his parents were poor Brahmins, Bamakhepa’s father, Sarvananda Chatterjee, was well known and respected for his piety and so was Bamakhepa’s mother, Rajkumari. His name was actually Bama, but since he showed absolutely no interest in worldly matters even from early youth on, people called him mad and added “khepa” (mad) to his name. Khepa is a term used mostly by Tantrics and Bauls and is not an ordinary madness. One who is called khepa is generally considered a great soul.
As a young boy, Bamakhepa had a peculiar habit. At the dead of night, he liked to steal into his neighbors’ houses, take their images of Gods and Goddesses and carry them to a riverbank some distance away. There he worshipped the images all night long. When, in the morning, the villagers couldn’t find their family deities, they would make a big scene. Bamakhepa was discovered as the culprit but, no matter how severely his parents scolded him, they could not prevent him from taking the images.
Bamakhepa’s education never went beyond the simple village school he attended. There was not enough money in the family to send the boy away for higher education and study of the scriptures. His father died when Bamakhepa was very young, and, therefore, his mother and widowed elder sister were the first ones who gave him any kind of spiritual instructions. They told the boy ancient Hindu stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and it was due to their efforts that Bamakhepa developed a spiritual sentiment early in life. He enjoyed singing devotional songs which he became rather good at it, to the delight of his mother and elder sister.
Financial troubles worsened, and Bamakhepa’s mother had to send him and his brother to live at an uncle’s house. The uncle made and effort to make the boys active parts of his family and dispatched them to look after his cows. But when he found Bamakhepa unfit to take care even this simple task, he sent him back home to his mother.
Bamakhepa proved incompetent to perform any kind of work. All he wanted to do was worship Mother Tara. When he saw a red hibiscus flower, he thought of Ma Tara. When he uttered “Ma Tara,” he became unconscious of his surroundings. Even his mother was convinced her son was mad and, in order to keep him out of harm’s way, she put him under house arrest. But at an opportune moment, Bamakhepa broke out, swam across the river Dwaraka and walked all the way to holy Tarapith.
He had heard about Kailaspati Baba, the well-known Tantric who was believed to be a realized soul. Bamakhepa went straight to his cottage. Recognizing Bamakhepa’s potential for spiritual realization, the Baba accepted him as his disciple. Bamakhepa began to practice serious Tantric sadhana under the guidance of Kailaspati Baba.
Meanwhile, Bamakhepa’s mother was worried about her son and, after a long search, found him in Kailaspati Baba’s cottage. When she realized that she couldn’t persuade him to come with her, she asked one of her family members who was a prominent man in town to help him. This uncle, by the name of Durga Charan Sarkar, was an agent of the Maharaja of Natore and, using his influence in Tarapith, he procured Bamakhepa a job of collection flowers for the service at the Tarapith Temple.
But Bamakhepa was not meant for work, and couldn’t perform this task. Instead of picking flowers, he sat absorbed in thoughts of the Divine Mother. Forgetful of his physical comforts, he was unaware if it was day or night, hot or cold, rain or sunshine. Smoking hemp, he lived in the Tarapith cremation ground surrounded by snakes, dogs, cats, and jackals.
Although Bamakhepa seemed to have caused nothing but trouble to his mother, and he had not contacted her for a long time, he had great love and reverence for her. When news reached Tarapith that she had died and that her body could not be brought to the Tarapith cremation ground due to excessive flooding, Bamakhepa swam across the flood-swollen river. With his mother’s dead body in his arms, he returned to Tarapith and asked his brother Ramcharan to perform the funeral rites. How could this poor family afford to pay for the funeral? By divine providence, as it were, money and good came to feed all the guests. People in Tarapith still tell the story about the dark clouds that appeared in the sky as the body of Bamakhepa’s mother was burnt. Though a sudden heavy downpour flooded all of Tarpith, not a single drop fell on the funeral gathering.
Bamakhepa was in the habit of moving around completely naked. One day someone asked him, “Why are you naked?” Bamakhepa replied, “My Father (Shiva) is naked; my Mother (Tara) is also naked. So, I am practicing that. Moreover, I don’t live in society. I live in the cremation ground with my Mother. So I have no shame or fear!”
Under the guidance of his guru Kaliaspati Baba and the Tantric master Mokshananda, Bamakhepa completed all the major Tantric rites and sadhana in accordance with the shastras (scriptures). It is interesting that Bamakhepa, like Sri Ramakrishna, practiced Tantra while remaining absolutely celibate. Just as Sri Ramakrishna, Bamakhepa also looked upon women as mother. One day a beautiful, young woman tried to tempt Bamakhepa by offering herself to him as his bhairavi (here meaning: “partner in sexual practices”). No matter how much she tried, she could find no “male sign” in him. Suddenly, Bamakhepa cried out “Ma Tara” and bit the woman’s breast. Blood oozed from her breast and she fell down unconscious.
When Bamakhepa’s spiritual guides saw that their disciple had attained perfection, Kailaspati Baba and Mokshananda installed him as the spiritual leader of Tarapith and left. Yet nothing, not even this high honor, could bind Bamakhepa. He neglected to follow temple regulations and did not obey social rules. Sometimes he sat with stray dogs, sharing his food with them, and sometimes he answered calls of nature within the holy temple terrain. He was not concerned, and the thought of purity or impurity did not enter his mind. He had practiced same-sightedness for so long.
One day the temple priests caught Bamakhepa eating the temple food before it was offered to Ma Tara. They were so angry with him that they stopped supplying him with food. Four days after this incident, the Maharani (queen) of Natore had a strange dream. Ma Tara appeared to her and said: “I am thinking of leaving this place. I asked my favorite son Bamakhepa to eat, the priests have beaten him and taken away his food. If my son does not eat first, how can I, his mother?” When she woke up, the Maharani ordered that, henceforth, Bamakhepa should be fed before Ma Tara. After that, nobody dared to obstruct Bamakhepa.
The mad saint of Tarapith became famous for his yogic powers and even people from far away came to see him. Some sought nothing but his blessings while others asked to be healed or helped in distress.
Bamakhepa healed many sick people with his psychic powers. Once a dying man came to Tarapith and asked Bamakhepa for prasad (consecrated food). Bamakhepa took pity on him and fed him with his own hand. Soon after, the man miraculously recovered and walked home. There was a leper in Tarapith by the name of Nanda Handi, who belonged to the untouchable caste. Nanda often brought Bamakhepa food and, although he was a Brahmin of the highest caste, Bamakhepa accepted Nanda’s food. In return for the favor, he gave Nanda some mud one day and asked him to rub it on his sours. Nanda did as told and the terrible leprosy left his body.
A man form Balagram by the name of Nimai suffered terribly form hernia problems. He had so much pain that he was unable to maintain his family. Thinking he was of no use to anybody, not even to himself, he resoled the commit suicide. Rope in hand; he came to Tarapith one dark night with the intention to hang himself. Suddenly, he heard a terrible voice. It was Bamakhepa calling upon Ma Tara. Nimai was too scared to commit suicide and, not knowing what to do with himself, he remained in Tarapith near Bamakhepa. One day Nimai enraged Bamakhepa because he lit his pipe on Bamakhepa’s holy dhuni fire. The angry saint kicked the hernia patient in the lower part of his abdomen and Nimai fell down unconscious. But to his great surprise, when Nimai got up some time later, he was completely cured of the hernia afflictions.
Another story about Bamakhepa tells of a dying tuberculosis patient who was brought to the saint on a stretcher for final blessings. Instead of blessing the man, Bamakhepa caught him by the neck. Furiously choking and shaking the man, Bamakhepa shouted, “Now, will you commit any more sin?” Strangely enough, after Bamakhepa’s rough treatment, the man got off the stretcher, asked for some food and drink and then walked home, healthier and wiser.
But not all people who approached Bamakhepa were so lucky. When a couple of snobbish young men made fun of Bamakhepa because he shared his food with stray dogs, Bamakhepa suddenly touched them. To their horror, they saw in a vision that Bamakhepa and the dogs had turned into Gods while they had turned into hideous bats.
Having heard about Bamakhepa’s healing powers, a priest by the name of Nagen Panda brought a dying man to Tarapith. The sick man was very rich, and Nagen Panda thought that he would be richly rewarded if he could get Bamakhepa to cure him. But contrary to Nagen Panda’s expectation, Bamakhepa did nothing of the sort. He just uttered the word “phat” and the man died immediately. Furious, Nagen Panda accused Bamakhepa of killing the man. “I am not responsible,” said Bamakhepa, “for it was the Mother who spoke through me.”
Bamakhepa was not learned but the Mother revealed everything to him, as he used to say. The saint of Tarapith lived a long life and through his holy presence sanctified the place and the people who came in contact with him. He entered mahasamadhi (final liberation) in 1911.
Excerpt from Kali: the Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, Nicolas-Hays, York Beach, 1993, pp. 274-281.