Goddess of the Month - Kali


Kali by Pieter Weltevrede
Kali by Pieter Weltevrede from The Sanatan Society

Kali is the Great Mother of the Hindu Religion. Kali is death and rebirth. She is creation, destruction, and change. Kali is one of the most misunderstood and most grossly distorted Goddesses that Western Society has ever tried to explain. Kali is beyond limited concepts like good and evil. She is ALL. She defies us to comprehend Her.Some of Her other names include:

Kalaratri - Night of Death
Bhavatarini - Redeemer of the Universe
Adi Shakti - Fundamental Power
Kali Kalanat - Kali, the One Who Finishes
Para Prakriti - Beyond Nature
Mahakali - Great Kali
Akhanda Satchidananda - Indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss

Kali in a Living Culture

Kali has had a living worship in the Indian subcontinent since time immemorial. The first written accounts of Her date from 600 CE in the Agni Purana and Garuda Purana. Her form and countenance have evolved as time has passed. Her earliest stories largely concern Her functions as a War Goddess or one of Her other destructive countenances.The Mundaka Upanishad calls Kali one of the seven tongues of Agni, the God of Fire. It is this reference that gives rise to the frequent images of Kali with Her great red tongue hanging out.

Kali is the constant companion of Shiva, who is Her consort. Many famous images of Kali show Her as a fierce black Goddess dancing upon the ash-white Shiva's chest. The contrast is quite striking but makes sense when you know that the whiteness of Shiva is from the ashes of the cremation grounds in which he meditates. Kali is the chief of the ten wild tantric Goddesses, the Dasa-Mahavidyas, and is venerated greatly in the Tantric movement along with Shiva. One of Her tantric names is 'The Shakti of The Great Mahakala'. The Great Mahakala is Shiva, and so the title means that she is Shiva's Power.

Many regard Her fearsome visage dancing amongst corpses to be a sign that Kali is an evil Goddess who delights in death, but this is not so. In the symbolism of Tantra and other Hindu mystic schools, this depiction shows how Kali is in the hearts of Her followers, who have removed attchment to the physical world from their hearts and want to be reunited with the Divine Mother Kali as part of the Supreme Consciousness. Thus She is dancing among their unneeded remains to release their spirits to the next world and bring them home. In fact, Tantric texts praise Kali highly, even stating that Shiva, Vishnu, and Brama all arose from Kali and thus they take part in Her greatness. One text has Shiva praising Her: "At the dissolution of things, it is Kala Who will devour all, and by reason of this He is called Mahakala and since Thou devourest Mahakala Himself, it is Thou who art the Supreme Primordial Kalika. Because Thou devourest Kala, Thou art Kali, the original form of all things, and because Thou art the Origin of and devourest all things Thou art called the Adya primordial Kali. Resuming after Dissolution Thine own form, dark and formless, Thou alone remainest as One ineffable and inconceivable. Though having a form, yet art Thou formless; though Thyself without beginning, multiform by the power of Maya, Thou art the Beginning of all, Creatrix, Protectress, and Destructress that Thou art." - Mahanirvana-tantra.

Depictions of Kali
Kali Yantra
Kali is most often depicted in either Her four-armed common portrayal or in her ten-armed Mahakala portrayal. She can be shown as either blue or black in color. Often Kali is shown with Her tongue hanging out from her association with Agni. Many common depictions of Kali have Her naked or naked with only a garland of human heads while standing with her right foot on the prostrate Shiva's chest. Her statues in temples are often garlanded with fresh flowers and have an image of the Kali Yantra, which is a geometric symbol used for focusing the mind on specific spiritual ideas, underneath. When Kali is shown as Mahakali, She has ten arms, blue skin, ten faces, ten feet, and three eyes. In this form She is rarely shown with Shiva.

There is also a less common portrayal of Kali from the Kalika Purana. In this form She is shown as a beautiful young woman with a dark complection, long, flowing hair, four arms - one which carries a sword, and the other three carrying blue lotus blossoms, and riding a lion.

A poem by Swami Vivekananda

The stars are blotted out,
The clouds are covering clouds
It is darkness vibrant, sonant,
In the roaring, whirling wind
Are the souls of a million lunatics
Just loosed from the prison-house,
Wrenching trees by the roots,
Sweeping all from the path.

The sea has joined the fray,
And swirls up mountain-waves,
To reach the pitchy sky.
The flash of lurid light
Reveals on every side
A thousand, thousand shades
Of Death begrimed and black-
Scattering plagues and sorrows,
Dancing mad with joy,
Come, Mother, come!

For Terror is Thy name,
Death is in Thy breath,
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for e'er.
Thou "Time", the All-destroyer!
Come, O Mother, come!

Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of Death,
Dance in Destruction's dance,
To him the Mother comes.

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