Praneja came from a family of priests, who took great pride in their vocation. Since five generations the eldest male member of her family had been the head priest of the temple sanctuary in the northern fringe of the forest near Rajgriha, the ancient capital of Magadha.
Every morning at the break of dawn she would go and collect flowers from the vast temple garden and create an exquisite garland for Goddess Kali, who was the presiding deity of the temple. As Praneja would look with great love and devotion in her heart at the beautiful dark visage of the mother goddess she would feel one with the deity.
She would often wonder if the supreme primordial energy was feminine, then why were women not allowed to be priests in the temple. Her job was only to make the beautiful garland of flowers, she was never allowed to place it on the idol – that privilege only the male head priest had.
One morning when Praneja returned to the temple after collecting exquisite red hibiscus flowers – the goddess’ favourite, she sat down to make the garland. Suddenly, she noticed a little girl standing next to her. Praneja had never seen the child before, so she asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here so early in the morning. The temple is yet to open for public.”
The girl held out her hand and exclaimed, “Such beautiful flowers, I love them. Please make a small garland for me.” Praneja tried to reason with her and said gently, “I can’t little one, this is only for Mother Kali.”
Hearing this, the little girl clutched Praneja’s hand and started pleading with tears in eyes. Praneja knew that soon her father would come and start the morning worship, he would not be pleased to see the garland was not yet ready. She had other work to do also like make the sandalwood paste and put together all the other things for the rituals. So, to make the child leave she quickly strung a few flowers together, made a little garland and placed it around the neck of the girl. “Now off you go, I have a lot of work to do before my father, the head priest comes,” she said, patting the girl. The child smiled and ran away, without saying any word or even thanking her.
Praneja sat down to finish all her work and soon her father arrived. As he started the rituals, he exclaimed, “What is this? Who has placed this garland on the idol of Mother Kali.”
Praneja was astounded, she had been so engrossed in her work that she did not realise that the small garland she had made for the child now adorned the neck of the goddess.
She knew now who the little girl was. Her heart filled with gratitude as she realised the goddess had come as a child to accept her garland and make her value the devotion that she had in her heart, and not just focus on the ritual of worship which only the men were allowed to do.
Goddess Kali, the manifestation of the supreme primordial energy, had herself appeared to make her understand a great truth.