Before getting into the origin(s) and function(s) of Batara Kala, the Javanese/Balinese God of the Underworld, a little back story is necessary.
Hinduism enjoyed a brief but vibrant period of re-imagining in these regions; stories were integrated and adapted; myths were reformulated, memes were recombined.
And names…well, names did their thing; think Zeus changing to Jupiter (that’s a fun one, but I’ll save it for another post). And so too with Shiva, also known as Kala (Time/Blackness, which, when feminized, becomes Kali).
Keep that Kala in mind; we’ll return to it.
Shiva, besides being the Destroyer (hence Kala), was also a yogi, an ascetic. As such, He’s also often considered a master spiritual teacher, a Guru. Hence, in Bali/Java, Shiva would be known as Batara (God) Guru.
In classical Hindu traditions, Shiva has two progenies***. Let’s consider Ganesha first.
Ganesha’s origin goes back to Shiva’s unwanted sexual advances towards his consort, Parvati (Uma). She responded by forming a young boy to keep watch while she bathed. Shiva came home, a battle ensued, and the child lost his head. Shiva made things up by giving the decapitated youth the head of an elephant.
So, Shiva’s lust results in the creation of an otherworldly child; not a terrifying being, but still not quite a human one.
Now, let’s take his other child, Kumara.
Kumara is formed when Shiva and Uma are interrupted mid-coitus. This results in His accidentally ejaculating into a river, where it is collected by six water nymphs (which are connected to the Pleiades, which is also the reason Kumara has six heads).
***[there are other mythic offspring for Shiva, such as His child with male Vishnu (yes, you read that right) Ayyapan. However, going with the “classic” family portrait, there are just the two kids].
Now, let’s take these two stories, and see what happens when we run them through through the cultural equivalent of Google translate…
Batara Kala, v.1
Batara Guru (Shiva) had a lovely wife, Dewi Uma. One day, Batara Guru forced himself on her, violating her on the back of his mount, the bull Nandi.
Uma was understandably upset, and as shame gave way to rage, she took on her fierce form, Durga (Durga being one of the Ten Mahavidyas, an emanation of Kali). She also cursed Batara Guru, turning him into his monstrous form.
Can you imagine the terrible offspring born of such a union?
Enter the Wrathful Deity, Batara Kala, Lord of Time!
Batara Kala, v.2
Yes, this one’s a little less dramatic, but I think it’s interesting because it shows how the Kumara’s origin story made its way to Indonesia.
Here, Batara Guru spills His semen into a river, where it is swallowed by fish (this also has parallels with the tale of Satayati, whose fishy birth leads to the events of the Mahabharata).
Not as impressive as the first story, but let’s try it anyway:
Enter the Wrathful Deity, Batara Kala, Lord of Time,
born of the terrible union of Batara Guru and Dewi Uma Durga!!! born of some fish that accidentally swallowed…
You get the picture.
So, we have a very terrifying God in the form of Batara Kala.
And, as far as the other Gods were concerned, a very obnoxious one.
Long story short, the Devas found his behavior plain rude. But they had a plan:
Send Batara Kala down to Earth to keep humanity in line.
Kill two birds with one Batara stone…what could possibly go wrong?
It turns out that Batara Kala wasn’t content with keeping people on the straight and narrow.
Batara Kala preferred to eat them.
And not just the bad ones.
He just liked all of the people: young, old, skinny, fat.
After all, He is Time, the Great Devourer.
So the Devas went back to the drawing board:
Send Batara Kala to the Underworld.
A scary, man-eating, and otherwise surly incarnation of the Enormity of Time and the Dread of Mortality- certainly the right God for the job.
Not that it meant that His powers were limited to the Land of the Dead…
To this day, offerings are made to Him, especially on the behalf of children. Exorcisms, called ruwatan, are performed and include Javanese shadow puppet performances and ritual feasting.
Oh, and He also hates light, which is why He’s always trying to devour the Sun and the Moon, Batara Surya and Batara Candra, causing eclipses.
Luckily, the faithful have constructed an emetic ritual which causes him to vomit up his stellar snacks.
And the takeaway?
Stories move; stories change.
Up until now, I thought Shiva only had two “official” children, and for some people, that will always be the only acceptable narrative.
But at least far as I’m concerned, Batara Kala can hop up from the Underworld and join us for dinner any time He likes.
I just hope we have enough food…