U.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal
Adapting Kali: Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Stotras to Kali Destroyer of Illusions’
© Nicola Scholes. All Rights Reserved.
O MOTHER and Spouse of the Destroyer of the three cities
Hymn to Kālī: Karpūrādi-Stotra.
O Statue of Liberty Spouse of Europa Destroyer of Past Present Future
Allen Ginsberg, ‘Stotras to Kali Destroyer of Illusions’.
Many critics acknowledge the vast array of influences on the work of the twentieth-century American ‘Beat’ poet Allen Ginsberg. Gordon Ball, for example, in his essay on Ginsberg’s seminal poem ‘ “Howl” and its Influences’ reminds us that Ginsberg ‘drew richly […] from an almost unlimited range of source and inspiration’. Another critic, Laszlo Géfin, observes that in the early stage of his career Ginsberg ‘turned to imitating sixteenth–and seventeenth–century poets like Wyatt and Marvell’ before learning from one of his contemporaries, the American poet William Carlos Williams, ‘to adapt his poetry rhythms out of the actual talk rhythms (that) he heard’. Although it is recognised that Ginsberg imitates or adapts diverse literary and cultural forms, there has been little discussion on his poem ‘Stotras to Kali Destroyer of Illusions’ (Planet News 1968) as an adaptation or otherwise of the Hymn to Kālī: Karpūrādi-Stotra, an ancient Hindu text. And yet, as the above-quoted openings of each text suggest, ‘Stotras to Kali’ sustains a close intertextual relationship with the Karpūrādi-Stotra. I show the nature and the extent of this relationship by comparing the corresponding passages in each text, and by highlighting the points at which the texts converge and diverge. The Karpūrādi-Stotra worships Kali, a fearsome mother goddess of death and destruction. Ginsberg, in ‘Stotras to Kali’, reinvents Kali as a symbol of America. He transforms the Kali-worship in the Karpūrādi-Stotra into an ironic critique of America and her ‘worshippers’ during the Cold War. In this, I argue, he is motivated by a combination of political, aesthetic and personal concerns. Following the comparative analysis of the two texts, I ask if it is possible, in view of recent theories of adaptation, to speak of ‘Stotras to Kali’ as an adaptation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra.
Ginsberg wrote ‘Stotras to Kali’ in Bombay in 1962 and was published in Planet News in 1968. A draft of the poem, ‘Notes for Stotras to Kali as Statue of Liberty’, appears in Ginsberg’s Indian Journals in 1970. After 1970, it is possible to read ‘Notes for Stotras’ before seeing the revised poem in Planet News. Acknowledging that it is possible to consume adaptations before their so-called originals, the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon argues that ‘Multiple versions exist laterally, not vertically’. This is also true in the case of drafts that are written before, and yet published after their revised versions. The Karpūrādi-Stotra from which I quote in this essay is also a version—‘a form or variant of a thing’—and, as such, is informed by processes of adaptation. I refer to Arthur Avalon’s version, in which the Karpūrādi–Stotra’s verses are translated from Sanskrit to English, numbered and separated by pages of commentary. According to Avalon, authorship of the Karpūrādi-Stotra is believed to be a deity: ‘Mahākāla Himself’ (p.1). As with the Bible and other older texts, there are no copyright restrictions on the Karpūrādi-Stotra, enabling Ginsberg to draw upon it freely in his poem, without need of permission. Ginsberg transforms 16 of the Karpūrādi-Stotra’s 22 verses, and this transformation—a term that fittingly describes the metamorphosis of images here—forms the bulk of his poem (more than three of the four-and-a-quarter pages that make up ‘Stotras to Kali’ in Planet News). In order to show the nature, order and comprehensiveness of Ginsberg’s engagement with the Karpūrādi-Stotra—what he retains, what he omits, and what he transforms—I shall emphasise in bold typeface the words and phrases in the Karpūrādi-Stotra that are repeated in ‘Stotras to Kali’ and show their corresponding appearances in ‘Stotras to Kali’.
In Verse 1 of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, Kali is addressed as follows:
O MOTHER and Spouse of the Destroyer of the three cities, they who thrice recite Thy Bīja formed by omitting from Karpūra, the middle and last consonants and the vowels, but adding Vāmāksī and Bindu, the speech of such, whether in poetry and prose, like that of men who have attained all powers, issues of a surety with all ease from the hollow of their mouth, O Thou who art beauteous with beauty of a dark rain cloud (p.43)
A footnote to the italicised word Bīja explains that this word means ‘seed’ and that it refers to a particular kind of mantra: ‘the “seed” mantra’ (p.45). In Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, Ginsberg relates his knowledge of, and enthusiasm for Sanskrit prosody. He informs his interviewer Michael Aldrich that ‘the mantra formulas have what are called bija syllables, or seed syllables, because their deployment, physiologically in the body during their pronouncing, is crucial’. Ginsberg’s interest in the physiological effects of language clearly constitutes one of his aesthetic reasons for working with the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Both the Karpūrādi-Stotra and ‘Stotras to Kali’ are texts that are conscious of their textuality in that they draw attention to themselves (‘Thy Bīja’ and ‘this Anthem’ respectively), and address not only their objects of praise, but their readers, who are positioned as worshippers, for example, by the repeated phrase ‘they who recite’. In the opening lines of ‘Stotras to Kali’, Ginsberg ‘superimposes the terrible mother Kālī onto the figure of the Statue of Liberty, combining the violently sexual Tantric goddess with the icon of American identity’:
O Statue of Liberty Spouse of Europa Destroyer of Past Present Future
They who recite this Anthem issuing from empty skulls the stars & stripes
certainly makes a noise on the radio beauteous with the twilight (p.41)
The Statue of Liberty, the stars and stripes of the American flag, and the suggestion that the poem is an anthem, possibly an alternative national anthem, all help to frame Kali as America, whose statue, flag and anthem are worshipped. Whereas in the Karpūrādi-Stotra, the mouths of Kali’s worshippers are hollow—like musical instruments—in order to sing her praise, in ‘Stotras to Kali’ the hollow mouths become ‘empty skulls’ whose mindless worship of America produces not music but ‘noise on the radio’. We can see and hear Ginsberg’s repetition of the language structure and rhythms in the Karpūrādi-Stotra. The sounds of ‘Europa Destroyer’ and ‘Future’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’ echo ‘Mother’ and ‘Destroyer’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra, as does ‘certainly’ in ‘surety’ and ‘Liberty’ in ‘cities’. In the Karpūrādi-Stotra, Kali is the ‘Spouse of the Destroyer of the three cities’, which refers to her power in granting liberation from the ‘three bodies, gross, subtle, causal’ (p.43). In ‘Stotras to Kali’, America is the ‘Spouse of Europa Destroyer of Past Present Future’. ‘Spouse of Europa’ suggests Zeus, the king of the gods, who seduced ‘Europa in the guise of a bull’. In this reading, America is as powerful and as seductive as Zeus. The reference to the three stages of time—past, present, and future—suggests that, additionally, Ginsberg is invoking myths of the Great Mother, for the Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann, ‘the Great Mother is goddess of Time’. She is often depicted in triplicate form in order to reflect ‘the three temporal stages of all growth (beginning-middle-end, birth-life-death, past-present-future)’. Neumann cites as examples the ‘numerous Greek goddesses who appear in threes, (and) the Roman weaving goddesses of fate’. In bringing the figures of Kali and the Statue of Liberty together with allusions to the Great Mother, Ginsberg effectively conflates Indian, American and classical mythologies.
Ginsberg also creates myths by ‘taking the news of the day and making hyperbole of it’. In the manner of the English Romantic poet William Blake, he mythologises dozens of politicians and artists by ‘magnif(ying) roles into cosmo-demonic figures.’ The politicians in ‘Stotras to Kali’ include Earl Browder, Adlai Stevenson, Patrice Lumumba, Nikita Khrushchev, Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington. There are also references to the writers Edgar Allan Poe and Gertrude Stein, the publisher William Randolph Hearst, the jazz musician Thelonius Monk and the actor James Dean. In Spontaneous Mind, Ginsberg speaks about his technique of building lists of references, and likens it, interestingly, to the art of basket-weaving:
the thing would be to take all of contemporary history, newspaper headlines and all the pop art of Stalinism and Hitler and Johnson and Kennedy and Viet Nam and Congo and Lumumba and the South and Sacco and Vanzetti—whatever floated into one’s personal field of consciousness and contact. And then to compose like a basket-like weave (…) out of those materials.
In other words, rather than speaking of conflating various pieces of information, as I have done, Ginsberg conceives his artistic process as a kind of weaving of journalistic detail in which the names of key political figures and cultural icons are woven with, in ‘Stotras to Kali’, the threads of ancient Eastern and Western myths. In view of the feminine connotations of weaving, this is an intriguing analogy. In fact, the Great Mother, as Neumann demonstrates, is herself considered to be a weaver. She ‘weaves the web of life and spins the threads of fate’. In this way, Ginsberg assumes a feminine position as a spinner or weaver of prophetic poetry, and elevates his role of author to the status of a god(dess). He draws attention to his authorial status in the final line of the draft ‘Notes for Stotras’: ‘Here ends the National Anthem by Allen Ginsberg, entitled H*Y*M*N T*O* U*S*’. Ginsberg positions himself here as both a citizen of the U.S.—one of ‘us’—and the author, or weaver, of her fate.
As a weaver of fate, the Great Mother is often depicted ‘adorned with the moon and the starry cloak of night’. According to Neumann, this is because the ‘moon and night sky are the visible manifestations of the temporal process in the cosmos’. The Karpūrādi-Stotra also suggests that Kali is an expression of the Great Mother in Verse 2, where she is depicted as a moon goddess:
O MAHEŚI, even should one of poor mind at any time recite but once another doubled Bīja of Thine, composed of Īśāna, and Vāmaśravana, and Bindu; then, O Thou who hast great and formidable ear-rings of arrow form, who bearest on Thy head the crescent moon, such an one becomes all powerful, having conquered even the Lord of Speech and the Wealth-Giver, and charmed countless youthful women with lotus-like eyes (p.47)
As we have seen in Verse 1, Kali is considered beautiful because she is dark and powerful (‘a dark rain cloud’). In keeping with images of sky, in Verse 2 ‘the crescent moon’ illuminates Kali’s darkness by crowning her with a half-halo of light. Her power and fighting nature are represented in her ‘great and formidable’ arrow ear-rings. This verse suggests that, in worshipping Kali, a man is able to transform his material or intellectual disadvantage to become powerfully eloquent, wealthy, and charismatic. Ginsberg transforms these lines in ‘Stotras to Kali’ as follows:
should one skinny Peruvian only spell your name right O thou who
hast formidable eyebrows of spiritual money & beareth United Nations in your
such Peruvian becomes higher Jaweh charming countless moviestars with
disappearing eyes (p.41)
The ‘poor mind’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra, becomes the alliterative ‘Peruvian’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’, whose poverty is illustrated by his skinniness. These lines suggest that, in worshipping powerful, wealthy America, (perhaps by learning English, as in ‘only spell your name right’) the Peruvian will become as powerful and as charismatic as the Old Testament (name of) God, Jaweh (rhyming with ‘hair’ in the previous line). There is no beautiful moon above America; only the United Nations in her hair. Considering Kali’s ‘long, dishevelled hair’, we may infer that the United Nations is tangled in America. Verse 3 also refers to Kali’s dishevelled hair:
O KĀLIKĀ, O auspicious Káliká with dishevelled hair, from the corners of whose mouth two streams of blood trickle, they who recite another doubled Bīja of Thine composed of Īśa, Vaiśvānara, Vāmanetra, and the lustrous Bindu, destroy all their enemies, and bring under their subjection the three worlds (p.50).
This verse recalls the fearsomeness of Kali ‘on the battlefield, where she is a furious combatant who gets drunk on the hot blood of her victims’. It suggests that those who worship Kali will destroy their enemies as effectively as Kali destroys her own. Kali is mostly the Terrible Mother, the negative aspect of the Great Mother. For Neumann, ‘It is in India that the experience of the Terrible Mother has been given its most grandiose form as Kali’. He argues that every archetype has both positive and negative features, and so ‘The Great Mother is the giver not only of life but also of death’. He continues to suggest that ‘in a profound way life and birth are always bound up with death and destruction. That is why this Terrible Mother is “Great.”’ In ‘Stotras to Kali’ Ginsberg transposes the Terrible Mother onto America:
O republic female mouth from which two politics trickle they who recite the name thy 28th star OMAHA subjugate hungry ghost-hoards ascreech under Gold Reserve (p.41)
The two politics that trickle from America’s mouth may be seen as the Republican and Democrat parties. When read with knowledge of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, this line shows America as thirsty for the blood of politics. The sound of ‘Reserve’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’ echoes ‘worlds’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra. The Karpūrādi-Stotra suggests that those who worship Kali by reciting her mantra will be successful in destroying their enemies. Likewise, Ginsberg suggests the power of mantras in ‘they who recite | the name’ and the capitalized ‘OMAHA’, which, if considering his interest in mantra chanting, may be read as OM-AH-HA. Ginsberg defines a mantra as ‘a short magic formula or prayer with syllables consisting of the names of deities’. Making a mantra of the name of the American city OMAHA, therefore, accords with the poem’s deification of America. I am reminded here of Ginsberg’s desire to ‘make Mantra of American language’ in his poem on the Vietnam war ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ also published in Planet News. In ‘Wichita’ he enlists the power of words, or the ‘magic’ of mantra, to end the war with a performative speech act: ‘I here declare the end of the War!’ Ginsberg explains that he wanted this declaration to:
counteract and ultimately overwhelm the force field of language pronounced out of the State Department and out of (President Lyndon B.) Johnson’s mouth. When they say ‘We declare war,’ their mantras are black mantras, so to speak.
In ‘Stotras to Kali’ the speaker also condemns the ‘black magic’ of some American ‘mantras’ such as radio broadcasts, as suggested in the lines: ‘They who recite this Anthem issuing from empty skulls (…) certainly makes a noise on the radio’, (p.41) and ‘endless devotions intoned by mustached radio announcers’ (p.43).
For Ginsberg, Kali’s gruesome appearance and love of killing make her an apposite symbol of warmongering America. In the Karpūrādi-Stotra Kali holds a severed head in Verse 4 and wears a necklace of heads in Verse 6. Nonetheless, her protective nature is suggested in Verse 4, where she makes ‘the gesture which dispels fear’ and ‘which grants boons’:
O DESTRUCTRESS of the sins of the three worlds, auspicious Kālikā, who in Thy upper lotus-like left hand holdest a sword; and in the lower left hand a severed head; who with Thy upper right hand maketh the gesture which dispels fear, and with Thy lower right hand that which grants boons; they, O Mother with gaping mouth, who reciting Thy name, meditate in this way upon the greatness of Thy mantra, possess the eight great powers of the Three-Eyed One in the palm of their hands (p.53)
The destructive left-hand side of Kali is balanced by her positive right-hand side. Similarly, in Verse 6, Kali’s ‘moonlike face’ suggests a certain beauty in spite of the severed heads around her neck:
O DEVĪ of full breasts, whose throat is adorned with a garland of heads, They who meditating recite any one or two or three of Thy very secret and excelling Bījas or all thereof together with Thy name, in the moonlike face of all such the Devī of Speech ever Wanders, and in their lotus-like eyes Kamalā ever plays (p.59)
For the Hinduism scholar David Kinsley, the Karpūrādi-Stotra modifies Kali’s appearance in order to give her a ‘benign dimension’. He sees this Kali as ‘not only the symbol of death but the symbol of triumph over death’. There is no similar benevolence in Ginsberg’s America, however, whose thirst for death is insatiable:
O fortress America Guardian Blueprint who in thy nether right hand hangs a bathroom
in thy nether left the corpse of Edgar Poe in front right hand hanging the skull
of Roosevelt with grey eyeballs & left hand George Washington his tongue hanging out like a fish
Your huge goddess eye looming over his severed head your bottomless throat open (p.41)
The fact that George Washington, one of America’s ‘founding fathers’, is one of America’s victims may suggest that America has severed the ‘original’ nationalist spirit of her past. Further on, she dances with ‘one foot goddesslike on the corpse of Uncle Sam’ (p.42) displaying her dominance over an earlier, masculine personification of America. This image evokes representations of Kali and Siva, who is sometimes Kali’s consort. In these, Kali ‘is usually standing or dancing on Śiva’s prone body’. For Kinsley, Kali is ‘apt to provoke Śiva to dangerous activity’. It may be that in placing Uncle Sam in Siva’s position, Ginsberg is implying that America also provokes Uncle Sam to dangerous activities, such as producing war propaganda, as in the ‘I Want You for U.S. Army’ recruitment poster.
At this stage, the poem takes leave of the Karpūrādi-Stotra and continues independently for more than a page with its description of Kali as America. It is arguably the most enjoyable part of the poem due to its wonderful reinvention of Kali. Those not familiar with the Karpūrādi-Stotra but familiar with Kali’s appearance, characteristics and behaviour may still recognise and appreciate this reinvention of Kali, and experience it as a palimpsest. Stressing the importance of a given audience’s reception to an adapted work, Hutcheon argues that ‘Contemporary events or dominant images condition our perception as well as interpretation (of an adaptation), as they do those of the adapter’. Accordingly, throughout his 1962 adaptation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra in which he reorients Kali as America, Ginsberg refers to the atom bomb, the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, nuclear disarmament, and other fears and crises of the Cold War. As Kali, America appears to enjoy playing with the taste of nuclear war; her ‘mountainous red tongue | licking vast bubbles of atomic gum’ (p.41). Rather than measuring up to her reputation as a ‘Destroyer of Illusions’, as suggested in the title of the poem, she is portrayed as frivolous and even mad. She talks to herself on the phone and is easily distracted, suggesting traditional sexist representations of the feminine as inconstant and subject to temptation. In addition to her multiple hands, which hold the corpses of her victims, the poem refers to her ‘arms’. In a clever transposition, Kali’s arms become America’s weapons, so that America has ‘arm after arm snaking into place in aether battleships’ (p.42). She also has her ‘thirteenth palm closed in sign of Disarmament’ perhaps suggesting a desire to end the Cold War nuclear arms race (p.42). The poem re-engages with the Karpūrādi-Stotra in its transformation of phrases from the previously-quoted Verses 4 and 6:
O Freedom with gaping mouth full of Cops whose throat is adorned with skulls of Rosenbergs (p.43)
This line suggests the hypocrisy of America’s ideal of freedom by naming her as a police state who electrocutes dissidents. Ginsberg made his feelings known about the impending electrocution of the Rosenbergs in a telegram to President Eisenhower, that read: ‘Rosenbergs are pathetic, government Will sordid, execution obscene America caught in crucifixion machine only barbarians want them burned I stay stop it before we fill our souls with death-house horror’. In ‘Stotras to Kali’, America kills her own citizens in order to maintain her so-called freedom. Similarly, Kali ‘begins to destroy the world that she is supposed to protect’. In executing Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, America destroys, like Kali, in the name of (national) protection.
Kinsley suggests that Kali is ‘worshipped by tribal or low-caste people in uncivilized or wild places’. Accordingly, Verse 7 of the Karpūrādi-Stotra suggests that worshipping Kali will refine a person’s mind:
O MOTHER, even a dullard becomes a poet who meditates upon Thee raimented with space, three-eyed Creatrix of the three worlds, whose waist is beautiful with a girdle made of numbers of dead men’s arms, and who on the breast of a corpse, as Thy couch in the cremation-ground, enjoyest Mahākāla (p.61)
The emphasis on the number ‘three’ in ‘three-eyed Creatrix of the three worlds’ again suggests the Great Mother and her three incarnations. Rather than ‘three-eyed’, America is ‘crosseyed’, perhaps suggesting foolishness and an inability to ‘see straight’:
for even a dope sees Eternity who meditates on thee raimented with Space
creatrix of Modernity whose waist is beauteous with a belt of numberless
mixed with negro teeth Who on the breast of James Dean in the vast bedroom
of Forest Lawn
Cemetery enjoyest the great Passion of Jesus Christ (p.43)
The ‘dullard’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra becomes the ‘dope’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’. In view of the 1960s countercultural movement in America, this small change creates an image of a meditating hippie, high on ‘dope’ (cannabis or heroin in the U.S.). The dope’s visions of eternity may therefore be drug-induced, as well as conjured by meditating on America. The image of meditation continues in Verse 8:
THOSE who truly meditate on Thee, the Spouse of Hara, who art seated in the cremation-ground strewn with funeral pyres, corpses, skulls, and bones, and haunted by female jackals howling fearfully; who art very youthful, and art in full enjoyment upon Thy Spouse, are revered by all and in all places (p.64)
In ‘Stotras to Kali’ America is:
seated on the boneyard ground
strewn with the flesh of Lumumba haunted by the female shoes of Kruschev & Stevenson’s long red tongue
enjoyest the worship of spies & endless devotions intoned by mustached radio announcers (p.43)
Although not in the same sequence, ‘Lumumba’ (presumably referring to murdered Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo Patrice Lumumba) echoes ‘Hara’ in Verse 8. In naming Lumumba as one of America’s victims, the poem suggests that America is responsible for Lumumba’s death. Those not acquainted with the Karpūrādi-Stotra may wonder why in ‘Stotras to Kali’ the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev has ‘female shoes’ when ‘female’ is adopted from ‘female jackals’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Likewise, the image of Adlai ‘Stevenson’s long red tongue’ may be read against the image of ‘female jackals howling fearfully’, as well as America’s own ‘mountainous red tongue’ (p.41). In Verse 10, Kali’s worshipper resembles Kali in appearance:
IF by night, Thy devotee unclothed, with dishevelled hair, recites whilst meditating on Thee, Thy mantra, when with his Śakti youthful, full-breasted, and heavy-hipped, such an one makes all powers subject to him, and dwells on the earth ever a seer (p.68)
Once again, Ginsberg transforms this image of Kali’s devotee into an American hippie or drop-out:
If by night thy devotee naked with long weird hair sit in the park & recite this Hymn
while his full breasted girl fills his lap with provincial kisses and meditates on Thee
Such such a one dwells in the land the supreme politician & knows Thy mystery (p.43)
In worshipping America, the poem suggests, the hippie will become a powerful politician. In Verse 11, the speaker also promises to reward with ‘great powers’ those who devoutly worship Kali:
O SPOUSE of Hara, should (a Sādhaka) daily recite Thy mantra for the space of a year meditating the while with knowledge of its meaning upon Thee intent upon Thy union with the great Mahākāla, above whom Thou art, then such a knower has every pleasure that he wills upon the earth, and holds all great powers in the grasp of his lotus-like hands (p.70)
This verse is transformed in ‘Stotras to Kali’ to suggest that America is worshipped in the activities of her spies and intelligence agencies, and in radio propaganda:
O Wife of China should thy patriot recite thy anthem & China’s cut-up & mixed together
with that of Russia Thy elephant-headed infant mighty in all future worlds
& meditate one year with knowledge of thy mystic copulation with China this next age
Then such knower will delight in secret weapon official Intelligence kodaked in his telegraphic brain (p.43)
The sounds of ‘China’ and ‘Russia’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’ echo ‘Hara’, ‘Sadhaka’ and ‘mantra’ in the Karpūrādi-Stotra. The prophesied union of Kali and Mahākāla is transformed into a radical, if not humorous, marriage between America and China. It may be that America’s obsessive fear of China has the ironic effect of producing a ‘mystic’ or psychic liaison between the two countries.
In Verse 12 Kali is a protective mother, suggesting that the destructive side of her nature is primarily for destroying evil in the world:
O MOTHER, Thou givest birth to and protectest the world, and at the time of dissolution dost withdraw to Thyself the earth and all things; therefore Thou art Brahmā, and the Lord of the three worlds, the Spouse of Śrī, and Maheśa, and all other beings and things. Ah Me! how, then, shall I praise Thy greatness? (p.72)
As aforementioned, Kali’s protective nature in the Karpūrādi-Stotra is absent in ‘Stotras to Kali’. Instead of protecting the world, America brings it to the brink of annihilation in giving birth to a ‘Hydrogen Age’:
Home of the Brave thou gavest birth to the Steel Age before the Hydrogen Age the
Cobalt Age earning power over entire planets all futurity Male-female spouse of the solar system
Ah me why then shall I not prophesy glorious truths for Thee (p.44)
The absence of the exclamation mark after ‘Ah me’ renders the phrase a sigh of resignation, as opposed to its tone of amazement and awe in the Karpūrādi-Stotra. This has the effect of suggesting that the speaker in ‘Stotras to Kali’ does not entirely welcome the inevitable ‘glorious truths’ that he prophesies for America. The suggestion of a ‘Hydrogen Age’ following a ‘Steel Age’ accords with Ginsberg’s belief in a ‘Kali Age’. In an interview in 1966, he insists that:
in Hindu mythology, they speak of This Age as the Kali Yuga, the age of destruction, or an age so sunk in materialism. You’d find a similar formulation in Vico, like what is it, the Age of Gold running on to the Iron and then Stone, again. Well, the Hindus say that this is the Kali Age or Kali Yuga or Kali Cycle.
Ginsberg therefore locates the Cold War and the 1960s in particular in a global Age of Kali, or an age of destruction. He sees American politics during the Cold War as contributing to, if not determining, this age of destruction. With its patterns of praise and its images of Kali, the Karpūrādi-Stotra offers Ginsberg a template for his ironic praise of America’s destructive impulses.
Verse 13 introduces the speaker’s wild desire for Kali:
O MOTHER, people there are who worship many other Devas than Thyself. They are greatly ignorant, and know nothing of the high truth, (but I) of my own uncontrollable desire for Thee approach Thee, the Primordial Power, who dost deeply enjoy the great Bliss arising from union (with Śiva), and who art worshipped by Hari, Hara, Viriñci, and all other Devas (p.74)
Building on this, the speaker’s desire for America in ‘Stotras to Kali’ is specifically sexual:
Ah me folks worship many other
countries beside you they are brainwashed but I of my own uncontrollable lust for you
lay my hands on your Independence enter your very Constitution my head absorbed in the lips of your
Bill of Rights O Liberty whose bliss is union with each individual citizen intercourse
Alaskan Oklahoman New Jerseyesque dreaming of embraces even Indonesian Vietnamese & those Congolese (p.44)
Kali’s fierce independence is transformed into the American Declaration of Independence. Her body becomes a body of American official documents. At this point, both texts shift from third-person devotion (as exemplified in the frequently repeated phrase ‘they who recite’) to a first-person ‘I’ placing the speaker in the direct role of worshipper. This move heightens the irony and humour in ‘Stotras to Kali’, particularly where the speaker claims that others are brainwashed when it is clear that it is the speaker who is driven, if not brainwashed, by his lust for America. Sexually aggressive desire for Kali is dramatically expressed in the following unnamed poem in Ginsberg’s Indian Journals:
Fuck all Hindu Goddesses
Because they are all prostitutes
(I like to Fuck)
All Hindu Goddesses
Fuck Ma Kali
Mary is not a prostitute because
she was a virgin
like the Hindus.
This poem suggests that Ginsberg’s fascination with Kali is partly due to her sexual promiscuity. For Ginsberg, Kali is a far more interesting mother goddess than Christianity’s virgin mother Mary, to use his example. Neumann maintains that ‘in her positive and non-terrible aspect, (Kali) is a spiritual figure that for freedom and independence has no equal in the West’. Kali’s sexual freedom, I argue, endears her to Ginsberg in view of his own quest for homosexual liberation. Many of Ginsberg’s poems are, of course, sexually explicit and subversive, and form a part of his gay liberation activism. The Ginsberg critic Tony Trigilio reminds us that homosexual ‘desire was policed by Cold War discourses that equated normative sexual desire with national security’. Dissenting from such discourses, Ginsberg’s radical sexual politics contextualise his interests in Kali and in India. The religion scholar Hugh B. Urban puts it that:
For Ginsberg, India represents the complete opposite of modern America: whereas America is sexually repressed, uptight, and overly rational, India is the land of unrepressed, spontaneous sexuality. And Tantric sexuality, embodied in the violent, terrifying goddess Kālī, is a liberating alternative to the oppressive prudery of Cold War America.
Urban’s insights help to shed light on ‘Stotras to Kali’ as a critique, not only of America’s political power, but of her sexual repression. In the poem the citizens of America and other countries are merely ‘dreaming of (America’s) embraces’ (p.44). The speaker wants America to receive these embraces to re-focus her attention on matters of love or sex instead of war.
In Verse 14 of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, the speaker begs Kali’s mercy:
O KĀLĪ, spouse of Giriśa, Thou art Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Thou art all. Thou art one and beneficent. What can be said in praise of Thee, O Mother? Of Thy mercy show Thy favour towards me, helpless as I am. By Thy grace may I never be reborn (p.76)
Likewise, the speaker in ‘Stotras to Kali’ begs America’s mercy:
O Liberty Imagewife of Mankind of thy Mercy show thy favor toward each me everywhere helpless
before thy manifest Destiny by grace may I never be reborn American I and all I’s
neither Russian Peruvian nor Chinese Jew never again reincarnate outside Thee Mother
Democracy O Formless One take me beyond Images & reproductions spouse beyond disunion
absorbed in my own non-Duality which art Thou (p.44)
The speaker’s ‘I’ is multiplied to include ‘all I’s’ or all people of the world. These lines suggest that it is not only Americans who are ‘helpless’ before America, but people in other countries. The unusual address ‘O Liberty Imagewife of Mankind’ is created from ‘O KĀLĪ, spouse of Giriśa’. While previous lines identified China as America’s spouse, the phrase ‘Imagewife of Mankind’ suggests America’s relationship with all countries, as a global emblem of ‘Liberty’ and ‘Democracy’. The speaker’s sincere call to America to take him ‘beyond Images & reproductions’ suggests that he believes in America’s revitalising powers. Here, Ginsberg’s Kali is both ‘the annihilating mother’ and ‘a revivifying maternal source of prophetic consciousness’. As the Great Mother, America possesses the power to liberate as well as to destroy.
The Karpūrādi-Stotra returns in Verse 15 to speaking of a third-person worshipper:
HE, O Mahākālī, who in the cremation-ground, naked, and with disheveled hair, intently meditates upon Thee and recites Thy mantra, and with each recitation makes offering to Thee of a thousand Ākanda flowers with seed, becomes without any effort a Lord of the earth (p.78)
In these musical lines, we can hear the rhymes of ‘He’, ‘Mahākālī’, ‘Thee’ and (nearly) ‘seed’. In the long and equally musical lines of ‘Stotras to Kali’, Ginsberg adheres to the form of the Karpūrādi-Stotra and also makes it distinctly his own. One line in particular—‘Who on the breast of James Dean in the vast bedroom of Forest Lawn’—reads as if it has come straight out of ‘Howl’ (p.43). For the poetry critic Marjorie Perloff, Ginsberg’s long ‘Whitmanesque’ lines in ‘Howl’ are analogous to ‘biblical strophes, tied together by lavish anaphora and other patterns of repetition’. Likewise, the numbered verses of the Karpūrādi-Stotra resemble Biblical verses. Ginsberg’s interests in religious texts are multifaceted and embrace his love of music, and his belief in poetry as prophecy. In his major poem ‘Kaddish’, for example, ‘the grief-encoded rhythms of the blues and the Kaddish merge, despite their different ethnopoetic sources’. In addition to ‘the rhythm the rhythm’ in ‘Kaddish’, Ginsberg put many of his poems to music, and he sang them to audiences while playing a harmonium. He collaborated with composer Philip Glass and toured with popular singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. In view of his interest in the sound and performative or declarative qualities of poetry, therefore, the Karpūrādi-Stotra is an apt choice of text for Ginsberg. As a stotra, or hymn, it is meant to be sung. Its prose is rhythmic, prophetic and histrionic, and its images are striking—all the right ingredients for a Ginsberg poem.
In ‘Stotras to Kali’, the rhymes of ‘He’, ‘Democracy’, ‘thee’, ‘intensity’ and ‘poetry’ echo ‘He’, ‘Mahākālī’ and ‘Thee’ in Verse 15:
He O mother American Democracy who in the cremation ground of nations with dishevelled hair in sweat of intensity meditates on thee
And makes over his pubic hair to thee in poetry or electrical engineering he alone knows thy Cosmic You-Me (p.44)
The speaker identifies with America in ‘thy Cosmic You-Me’, perhaps suggesting his belief in the ‘oneness’ of all existence. The word ‘nations’ in ‘Stotras to Kali’ echoes ‘naked’ in Verse 15, while ‘pubic hair’ is added to ‘dishevelled hair’. In worshipping Kali, ‘an offering is made of the wife’s hair, the curls (…) of which have been straightened out with the comb’ (p.81). By contrast, Ginsberg suggests the offering of curly (pubic) hair. The importance of hair as an offering of worship is suggested in Verse 16:
O KĀLĪ, whoever on Tuesday at midnight, having uttered Thy mantra, makes offering even but once with devotion to Thee of a hair of his Śakti in the cremation-ground, becomes a great poet, a Lord of the earth, and ever goes mounted upon an elephant (p.80)
In addition to becoming an esteemed poet—the reward for an offering of hair in the Karpūrādi-Stotra—whoever worships America in ‘Stotras to Kali’ also conquers the Cold War:
O America whoever on Tuesday at midnite utters This My Country Tis of Thee in the basement men’s room
of the Empire State Building becomes a Poet Lord of Earth and goes mounted on Elephants
to conquer Maya the Cold War (pp.44-45)
The speaker suggests that the Cold War may be understood as ‘Maya’, which, in ‘Indian metaphysics’, refers to ‘the phenomenal and multiple appearance of the world, its questionable reality, and its impermanence’. As Maya, therefore, the Cold War is illusory or ‘unreal’. The influence of Eastern philosophies on Ginsberg’s work and life is extensive. In view of his meditation practices, manta-chanting and ‘Buddhist poetics’, the Karpūrādi-Stotra, with its high regard for poets and its emphasis on meditation and mantras, is a particularly rich text for Ginsberg.
Accordingly, Verse 17 suggests that Kali rewards dedicated meditation with poetic inspiration:
THE devotee who, having placed before himself, and meditated and again meditated upon, the abode, strewn with flowers, of the Deva with the bow of flowers, recites Thy Mantra, Ah! he becomes on earth the Lord of Gandharvas, and the ocean of the nectar of the flow of poesy, and is after death in Thy supreme abode (p.83)
In ‘Stotras to Kali’, America rewards even ‘halfhearted conviction’ with commercial success:
whoever recites this my country tis of thee with the least halfhearted
conviction he becomes himself Big Business & Giant Unions flowing with production and is after
death father of his country which is the Universe itself (p.45)
The final verse of the Karpūrādi-Stotra that Ginsberg transforms is Verse 18:
HE who at night, when in union with his Śakti, meditates with centred mind on Thee, O Mother with gently smiling face, as on the breast of the corpse-like Śiva, lying on a fifteen-angled yantra deeply enlisted in sweet amorous play with Mahākāla, himself becomes the destroyer of the God of Love (p.86)
This verse inspires the conclusion to ‘Stotras to Kali’:
and will at night in union with Thee
O mother with eyes of delightful movies enter at last into amorous play united with all Presidents of US (p.45)
Kali’s ‘gently smiling face’ becomes America’s ‘eyes of delightful movies’, suggesting the Hollywood film industry. The final plea to America to indulge in sexual activity with her presidents, to unite them—and ‘us’—in sexual play, suggests the speaker’s unwavering belief in the positive power of sex.
As I have shown, Ginsberg draws upon Verses 1-4, 6-8 and 10-18 of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, omitting Verses 5, 9 and 19-22. He draws upon these verses extensively, structurally—following their rhythms and patterns of speech—and chronologically. In view of their similarities, how might we speak of the relationship between these two texts? Is it possible, for instance, to speak of ‘Stotras to Kali’ as an adaptation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra? I shall answer this question with reference to some recent theories of adaptation.
Hutcheon defines an adaptation ‘as an extended, deliberate, announced revisitation of a particular work of art’. ‘Stotras to Kali’ is clearly an extended and deliberate revisitation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, but does Ginsberg announce this to his readers? The similarity of the two titles may alert some readers to their intertextual relationship but, presumably, the Karpūrādi-Stotra would not be a well-known text for the majority of Ginsberg’s readers. Readers of the Karpūrādi-Stotra may not be familiar with ‘Stotras to Kali’, just as readers of ‘Stotras to Kali’ may not be familiar with the Karpūrādi-Stotra. As a non-Hindu reader of Ginsberg in the early years of the 21st century, my awareness of the Karpūrādi-Stotra is the result of research on Kali. I accessed the Karpūrādi-Stotra from the Internet, a medium not yet 20 years old in terms of its availability to the general public. In other words, cultural, historical and technological factors impinge on a person’s awareness of, and ability to access, the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Without knowledge of the Karpūrādi-Stotra, ‘Stotras to Kali’ cannot be read, to use Hutcheon’s expression, ‘as an adaptation’:
If we know the adapted work, there will be a constant oscillation between it and the new adaptation we are experiencing; if we do not, we will not experience the work as an adaptation.
To compare ‘Stotras to Kali’ with the Karpūrādi-Stotra is to enjoy their similarities and differences. On the other hand, ‘If we do not know that what we are experiencing actually is an adaptation (…) we simply experience the adaptation as we would any other work’. Likewise, before I learned of the Karpūrādi-Stotra my experience of ‘Stotras to Kali’ was as any other Ginsberg poem. By unknowingly consuming an adaptation before its adapted text, we unwittingly challenge ‘the authority of any notion of priority’. When I later read the Karpūrādi-Stotra, I enjoyed it for its ‘palimpsestic doubleness’ with ‘Stotras to Kali’, almost as if the Karpūrādi-Stotra was the adaptation. My experience of ‘Stotras to Kali’ was also changed; no longer could I read it as an independent text. The adaptation theorist and literary critic Julie Sanders asks if ‘knowledge of a source text is required or merely enriching’ for consumers of adaptations. In order to appreciate ‘Stotras to Kali’, I argue, it is not necessary to be familiar with the Karpūrādi-Stotra. The poem does stand on its own. That said, it is greatly rewarding to read ‘Stotras to Kali’ against the Karpūrādi-Stotra. I agree with Sanders for whom ‘an intertextual awareness deepens and enriches the range of possible responses’ to a text. It is pleasurable and insightful to see how unusual images in ‘Stotras to Kali’ are transformed from the Karpūrādi-Stotra but it remains that Ginsberg does not announce his indebtedness to the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Unless we accidentally stumble across the Karpūrādi-Stotra, we are not going to experience ‘Stotras to Kali’ as an adaptation.
Might ‘Stotras to Kali’ be considered, alternatively, an appropriation, a term that brings to mind ‘the notion of hostile takeover’? For Sanders, ‘the intertextual relationship may be less explicit’ in appropriations. The intertextual relationship between ‘Stotras to Kali’ and the Karpūrādi-Stotra is explicit in the sense that, once known, it is undeniable, but not in the sense that Ginsberg fails to make it known. In appropriations, Sanders continues, ‘what is often inescapable is the fact that a political or ethical commitment shapes a writer’s … decision to re-interpret a source text’. This is true for Ginsberg, whose reasons for working with the Karpūrādi-Stotra, as I have suggested, are political, aesthetic and personal. Ginsberg is not interested, however, in ‘talking back’ to the Karpūrādi-Stotra. He is not motivated by a desire to change the way that people read the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Instead, he sees the potential of the Karpūrādi-Stotra as a stimulus for his critique of America. This transformation of a Hindu hymn into a Western poem perhaps constitutes the ‘decisive journey away from the informing source into a wholly new cultural product and domain’ that, for Sanders, is characteristic of an appropriation. While ‘Stotras to Kali’ decisively departs from the sincere devotion to Kali in the Karpūrādi-Stotra, Ginsberg achieves his objective of ironic praise by sustaining a close relationship with the formal qualities of the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Although a change of genre is necessary neither for adaptations nor appropriations, it is worth commenting on the movement from stotra to poem. In view of the similarities of the style of the Karpūrādi-Stotra and Ginsberg’s prose poetry, this movement (from East to West, religious to secular) is not considerable. The two texts are not only situated in the literary mode but, by and large, in the mode of poetry.
In summary, ‘Stotras to Kali’ is not likely to be experienced as an adaptation because it does not announce its major intertextual relationship. While this point serves to orient the poem as an appropriation, ‘Stotras to Kali’ reproduces the style of the Karpūrādi-Stotra too closely for it to be considered an appropriation. I have spoken throughout of Ginsberg’s transformation of words and images in order to describe his creative process. It is more difficult to find a term that reflects ‘Stotras to Kali’ as a creative product. Hutcheon complains that ‘people keep trying to coin new words to replace the confusing simplicity of the word “adaptation”’. She suggests that ‘most end up admitting defeat: the word has stuck for a reason’. In a similar spirit, I concede that although it is problematic to speak of ‘Stotras to Kali’ as an adaptation, it is still perhaps the best term to describe its relationship, once known, with the Karpūrādi-Stotra.
‘Stotras to Kali’ may be experienced as an adaptation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Ginsberg transforms the Kali-worship in the Karpūrādi-Stotra into an ironic critique of Cold War America. The relationship between the speaker and the construction of the worshipper in the poem enables a dialogical reading of the praise, and helps to achieve its ironic effect. At other times, when the speaker assumes the role of worshipper, the desire for America reads as sincere and spiritually urgent. Both ‘Stotras to Kali’ and the Karpūrādi-Stotra invoke myths of the Great Mother, and Kali and America appear mostly as the Terrible Mother, the negative aspect of the Great Mother. Ginsberg transforms Kali into a symbol of America primarily because in his opinion America, like Kali, loves killing, and for Ginsberg, the Cold War is an Age of Kali, or an age of destruction. America is the Great Mother, who spins ‘the fate of the world, its darkness as well as its light’. As a violently sexual figure, Kali also enables a critique of America’s oppressive Cold War sexual politics: Ginsberg, a gay rights activist, suggests that America may be liberated by the awakening of her dormant sexuality. In addition to his personal-political reasons for working with the Karpūrādi-Stotra, Ginsberg is motivated by an aesthetic interest in the text. The Karpūrādi-Stotra’s dramatic images, rhythmic prose and prophetic statements appeal to Ginsberg’s fascination with the physiological aspects of religious language. While ‘Stotras to Kali’ may be read and enjoyed without knowledge of its major intertext, it is more enjoyable to experience the poem, where possible, as an adaptation of the Karpūrādi-Stotra. Indeed, the pleasure of reading any text stems from ‘the act of reading in, around, and on (and on)’.
University of Queensland
 Hymn to Kālī: Karpūrādi-Stotra, trans. by Arthur Avalon, Tantrik Texts Series ix (London: Luzac and Co, 1922), p. 43. Further references to the Karpūrādi-Stotra are given after quotations in the text.
 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Stotras to Kali Destroyer of Illusions’, in Planet News, 1961-1967, Pocket Poets Series (San Francisco: City Lights, 1968), p. 41. Further references to ‘Stotras to Kali’ are given after quotations in the text.
 Gordon Ball, ‘Wopbopgooglemop: “Howl” and Its Influences’, in The Poem That Changed America: ‘Howl’ Fifty Years Later, ed. by Jason Shinder (New York: Farrar, 2006), p. 93.
 Laszlo Géfin, ‘Ellipsis: The Ideograms of Ginsberg’, in On the Poetry of Allen Ginsberg, ed. by Lewis Hyde (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), p. 274. Allen Ginsberg in Géfin, p. 274.
 Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. xii.
 Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 164.
 Allen Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews, 1958-1996, ed. by David Carter (London: Penguin, 2001), p. 139.
 Hugh B. Urban, Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 224-25.
 Barry B. Powell, Classical Myth, trans. by Herbert M. Howe, 5th edn (New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), p. 463.
 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series xlvii (New York: Princeton University Press, 1963), p. 226.
 Ibid. p. 228.
 Ibid. p. 229.
 Allen Ginsberg, Holy Soul Jelly Roll: Poems and Songs, 1949-1993, liner notes (Los Angeles: Rhino Records, 1994), p. 15.
 Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind, p. 50.
 Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 227.
 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Notes for Stotras to Kali as Statue of Liberty’, in Indian Journals, March 1962-May 1963: Notebooks, Diary, Blank Pages, Writings (San Francisco: Haselwood and City Lights, 1970), p. 20.
 Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 226.
 David Kinsley, ‘Kālī’, in Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), p. 116.
 Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 150.
 Ibid. p. 67.
 Ibid. p. 153.
 Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind, p.176.
 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’, in Planet News, 1961-1967, Pocket Poets Series (San Francisco: City Lights, 1968), p. 127.
 Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind, p. 152.
 Kinsley, ‘Kālī’, p. 125.
 Ibid. p.120.
 Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, p. 149.
 Allen Ginsberg, As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, ed. by Barry Gifford (California: Creative Arts Book Company, 1977), p. 150.
 Kinsley, ‘Kālī’, p. 120.
 Ibid. p. 117.
 Ginsberg, Spontaneous Mind, p. 34.
 Allen Ginsberg, Indian Journals, p. 80.
 Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 332.
 Tony Trigilio, ‘Strange Prophecies Anew’: Rereading Apocalypse in Blake, H.D., and Ginsberg (New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 2000), p. 129.
 Urban, Tantra, p. 224.
 Tony Trigilio, Allen Ginsberg’s Buddhist Poetics (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2007), p. 223.
 Marjorie Perloff, ‘“A Lost Battalion of Platonic Conversationalists”: “Howl” and the Language of Modernism’, in The Poem That Changed America: ‘Howl’ Fifty Years Later, ed. by Jason Shinder (New York: Farrar, 2006), p. 30.
 Jahan Ramazani, Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 248.
 Allen Ginsberg, ‘Kaddish’, in Kaddish and Other Poems, 1958-1960, Pocket Poets Series (San Francisco: City Lights, 1961), p. 7.
 Ruth Reyna, The Concept of Māyā: From the Vedas to the 20th Century (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1962), p. 4.
 Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, p. 170.
 Ibid. p. xv.
 Ibid. p. 120.
 Ibid. p. xiii.
 Ibid. p. 127.
 Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, p. 23.
 Ibid. p. 28.
 Ibid. p. 9.
 Ibid. p. 2.
 Ibid. p. 26.
 Ibid.; Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, pp. 33-34.
 Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, p. 15.
 Neumann, The Great Mother, p. 229.
 Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, p. 4.