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Goddess of the Week episode 4: Kali

Posted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:57 pm
by Windwalker
Firstly, apologies for this taking so long. There's sooo much on Kali out there, and quite a bit of it seems to contradict itself. This includes the myths, by the way ;) So this is kinda long. I've included some of my own impressions as well. Suffice it to say, Kali is a complicated goddess.


Kali, the Dark Mother

Hinduism is a complicated religion, because individual adherents interpret their beliefs in different ways. Hindus can be monotheistic, polytheistic, panentheistic – even atheistic. Polytheism in Hinduism isn’t the most popular interpretation, but because many Pagans who interact with the Hindu deities are polytheistic (myself included), that’s the interpretation I used for the purposes of this article.

Kali is a contradiction. She is both the fearsome haunter of the cremation grounds and the loving mother figure. In Tantra, Kali is both Creator and Destroyer of the universe. She is the first of the ten Great Cosmic Powers, and spins the wheel of time. At the end of the universe, Time (“Kala”) devours everything, including the astral plain. In turn, Kali devours Kala – time itself – and is the ultimate destroyer of the universe. From the outside, Kali may appear to be a demonic goddess; she is portrayed in art as a frightening figure, a drinker of blood with a garland of human heads. She is far from a demon herself – in fact, in the most popular story of her origins, it is she who is brought forth in order to kill the demons who have usurped the thrones of the gods.

In religious artwork, she is portrayed with dark skin (black or blue) with her long black hair loose and dishevelled. Around her waist she wears a skirt of human arms, and about her neck is a necklace of heads – one for each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which brings some to interpret Kali as Mother of Language. Other than these adornments, she is generally portrayed naked. She has four arms. In her upper left hand she holds a severed head; in the lower left, she holds a sword or a bowl to catch the blood dripping from the head. Her upper right hand is raised in a gesture meaning “fear not”; her lower is either open in benediction or bearing another weapon.

The most popular origin-story of Kali is that of the demons Shumbhu and Nishumbhu. The two demons were powerful, so powerful that they usurped the kingdom of the Gods. The Gods, obviously annoyed and rather distressed, ask the great goddess Durga for help. Durga lends her aid, and wages war against the demons. When the demons Canda and Munda advance on her with weapons drawn, she becomes angry and her face darkens. Kali springs forth from Durga’s forehead, black as night and fearsome in appearance. She tears her enemies apart with hands and teeth, and decapitates Canda and Munda with her sword. Later in the battle she is called upon again for her help. Durga and her assistants (fierce goddesses known as the Matrkas) have been fighting the demon Raktabija, but each drop of his blood that touches the ground becomes another copy of himself. Durga and the Matrkas find themselves helpless as more and more copies of Raktabija appear every time they wound him. Kali steps forward and licks up every drop of blood that spills before she devours Raktabija whole. Victorious, Kali dances in triumph amongst the bodies. However, her dance becomes more and more frenzied. Fearing that her steps will shake the world apart, Shiva lays down among the corpses. Kali steps on her consort, and, in recognizing him, realizes what she is doing. She puts out her tongue in shock and shame.

Kali is sometimes shown as an “unattached” goddess, and in other sources is linked to Shiva. The term “consort” would be more appropriate than “wife”, as Kali tends to do as she pleases. As much as Shiva is order, Kali is wild abandon. It is only Shiva that can restrain her. Kali’s wild dancing has the capacity to destroy the universe, and it is invariably Shiva who stops her. Parvati is another wife of Shiva, and where Parvati is a calming and domestic influence on her husband, Kali is the “bad influence”, enticing him into destructive behaviour. Shiva, for his part, is the calming influence on Kali.

A popular myth of Kali and Shiva is that of the dance contest. After defeating the demons Shumbhu and Nishumbhu, Kali and a retinue of fierce attendants take up residence in a forest. They are, as one could imagine, a fairly disturbing presence. A nearby devotee of Shiva becomes distracted from his quiet devotions and asks Shiva to get Kali to leave. Shiva challenges Kali to a dance contest. Kali is a formidable opponent, and their dancing threatens the stability of the world. At last Shiva takes up his tandava dance, that Kali is unwilling (or, according to some sources, unable) to copy, and she forfeits.

She is an archetypical “dark mother” figure, representing the angry and violent parts within us – but she is also a caring mother. Picture a mother fighting tooth and nail with all her strength to protect her children, and you will see Kali sharing her strength. Kali frees us from our restrictions that we construct around ours minds. As a guide in our spiritual growth she is patient, but she will not stand for slacking off. She forces upon us that which we would rather ignore, as we can see in the vivid imagery of blood and death that surrounds her. Kali is one of those deities that remind us that under the veneer of civilization, we are still animals. She is not particularly diplomatic, nor is she subtle, but she wants only the best for her children. If that means you have to learn some hard lessons, so be it. Kali shows us the dark shadows in the world, presents us with our own mortality – but in doing so, she frees us from the constraints that we put upon ourselves, those of adult responsibility and rationality. In a way, she helps us pull the rod out of our arses.

Information on Kali is varied – some schools of thought see her as the dark side of Parvati, while others see her in her own right as one of the most powerful deities. Some describe her as a highly sexual goddess, while others insist that she is celibate. This makes researching her rather complicated – in the end, one must make one’s own decisions on the nature of Maa Kali. To me, she is a warrior and a protectress, a loving mother who expects you to be as strong as she knows you are. She is a lover of dance and of wild abandon, and she likes the colour red.


Sources: ... alimaa.asp ... /kali.html ... stom&ID=34

Posted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:15 pm
by SageWolf
wow Thats awesome, I"m speechless right now, I like her but I don't

Thank you WindWalker.


Posted: Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:30 pm
by Windwalker
Heehee, yeah, she can be like that :lol:
I'm glad you liked the article, I agonized over it a bit, I'm afraid. Thanks :-D

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:49 am
by Jescissa
Thank you very much for sharing! There's so much information out there, I'm not surprised you had a hard time condensing it a bit!! :-D

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 2:58 am
by morgana
Thanks, that was great! :-D

Posted: Thu Apr 26, 2007 4:18 am
by Willow
Good job, I have always found Kali interesting.

A good part of hinduism is some theoretical acceptance of the dark side of things.

We had afunny discussion about her in my class. One student was grossed out and asked "who would think of drawing a woman dancing on the dead body of her husband"

An older woman in my class called bacdk "anyone who got married" (Her husband had ditched her with 4 kids and she decided to go back to school, this does not reflect my own view of men)

I am going to try and read this more thoroughly later, thanks again.

Posted: Fri Apr 27, 2007 10:03 am
by Kitsune
I think she is a beautiful, complicated woman. And that's very difficult to pin down any day of the week.

You did a really good job of condensing the info to an easy to understand format. Thanks. =D>

Posted: Sat Apr 28, 2007 6:28 pm
by Windwalker
Thanks guys! :oops: I'm so glad you liked it! :-D
Willow wrote:We had afunny discussion about her in my class. One student was grossed out and asked "who would think of drawing a woman dancing on the dead body of her husband"

An older woman in my class called bacdk "anyone who got married" (Her husband had ditched her with 4 kids and she decided to go back to school, this does not reflect my own view of men)
That's awesome :lol:

Posted: Tue May 01, 2007 12:50 pm
by Crazy Healer Lady
It has taken me a while to comment on this. Thank you for teaching about one of my favourite goddesses.

This is my favourite picture of her:

It's Kali by Lisa Iris, featured in the Goddess Guidance Oracle Card set

Posted: Tue May 01, 2007 6:21 pm
by morgana
Ooh, I love that pic CHL! :-D

Posted: Wed May 02, 2007 1:16 am
by Jescissa
Incredible, CHL! I can see why it's your favourite!

Posted: Thu May 03, 2007 8:30 am
by Kitsune
Incredible pic! It's saved to my computer now. Mwahahahaha! :lol:

Posted: Thu May 03, 2007 4:24 pm
by Crazy Healer Lady
Lisa Iris has done more amazing goddess paintings. ^_^

She does an amazing picture of Venus and Mars!

Posted: Fri May 04, 2007 6:39 am
by SageWolf
sorry I took so long I must of missed this one, Awesome Pic CHL.