One of my favorite dieties is the Hindu goddess Kali.
The ancient Hindu goddess Kali represents death, darkness, and total chaos. Incredibly complex, she is the most misunderstood of all goddesses — it is said that fully understanding Kali is equivalent to transcending fear. Themes of Kali include creation and destruction; violence and blood; sexuality and fertility; and believe it or not, motherly love. Kali is a dancer — her dance of destruction can both save the world or end the world.
Kali is depicted with either blue or midnight black skin. Also, she typically has multiple arms — holding bloody weapons, torches, knives, and sometimes even a man’s head. She wears an embellished golden crown, a necklace made of skulls, a skirt made of hands, and usually has her tongue sticking out. Portraits of Kali are frightening and unsettling.
The severed head she holds is not meant to provoke fear, but to serve as an important spiritual lesson. The “head” represents the “ego,” and she is making a statement that the ego must die in order for the soul to break free from the reincarnation cycle of life and death. In other words, if a soul wants to stop reincarnating into a new body/life after each death, it must surrender and detach from the ego — and then it can live in eternal peace.
Another example of Kali’s perplexing, polarizing nature is her humility. It may surprise you to know that this highly sexual, blood-thirsty goddess is in fact quite modest. Her daunting expression shown in Hindu artwork may come across as aggressive, but actually is a display of embarrassment — she is shocked and ashamed to be seen by you! Kali does not like to make herself known.
And this leads us to another paradox regarding Kali. In some ways she comes across as secretive and elusive, never revealing her true identity to the world. Kali is humble and prone to embarrassment, and so she would rather remain unknown. And yet, at the same time, her forceful energy is impossible to ignore. She cannot be contained or controlled.
Beyond time & space
There is a strong connection between Kali & time, specifically the apocalypse. She is believed to have existed since before the beginning of time, when there was only darkness — and she will also continue to exist after the end of the universe, when there is once again nothing.
Kali is not bound to the limitations of time and space. This makes her nature interchangeable. She transcends the laws of physics, and so she has no permanent qualities such as color, looks, or personality. She is also neither “good” nor “bad,” although frightful depictions of her make you assume she is evil. As mentioned before, she is easily misunderstood. It takes a high level of spirituality to comprehend her mystery.
Kali / Parvati / Durga
Due to her limitless nature, Kali does not have one single identity or incarnation. In fact, she has many. Kali is said to be the “dark form” of another goddess. Her most common alternative names are Parvati and Durga.
Parvati is goddess of love, fertility, motherhood, marriage, children, beauty, devotion, and strength. She has MANY alternative identities besides Kali and Durga, which include: Sati, Aid Parashakti, Shakti, Shivani, Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Annapurna, Mahavidya, Shailapurti, Kushmanda, Tara, Aparna… just to name a few! (The list goes on and on!) Parvati is completely benevolent; any dark aspects of her are manifested as a separate goddess, most commonly as Kali.
Durga is goddess of war and justice; she is a warrior. Like Kali, she is depicted with several arms holding weapons. In one of her hands, she holds a lotus flower. Durga is typically represented riding a lion or tiger. She is best known as the mother who fiercely protects us from evil.
Shiva is the husband of Kali. Shiva is also said to be husband of Parvati & Durga. However this does not mean he has multiple wives, as Parvati & Durga are considered alternative forms of Kali. Therefore, Shiva + Kali are monogamous husband/wife.
Shiva is a god who is part of the Hindu holy trinity which also includes gods Brahma and Vishnu. He creates, destroys, changes, and protects the universe. He defeats thieves, vampires, ghosts, and other evil spirits. Sometimes he is depicted with multiple arms.
Just like his wife, Shiva is extremely complex. He is peaceful and kind, yet also dark and fear-provoking. He is a hardcore ascetic with tremendous will-power that allows him to disengage from material pleasures and focus on spirituality — this makes him god of yoga and meditation. At the same time, he is also known for fighting demons, also making him god of darkness and destruction.
Most common myth: Slayer of Raktabija
There was a demon known as Raktabija, who was spreading misery and suffering among the gods and the people. Every time a drop of blood was shed, he multiplied and grew in power. So, Kali was summed to destroy him. At first he continued multiplying but her miraculous power was strong enough to eventually defeat him.
Kali was on a roll and could not stop her violent rampage, destroying everything in sight! The only one able to stop her was Shiva, who threw himself underneath her, causing her to accidentally step on him.
Seeing what she had done, Kali was mortified and bit her tongue in embarrassment — hence the sticking out of the tongue we see in Kali illustrations. This is the most famous scene you will see of her.
Pray to Kali
Call on Kali, or pray to Kali, when you are in need of change. Kali will guide you on a spiritual journey that destroys your ego and takes your soul to a higher level. She will protect you from evil forces and help you overcome fear.
HOWEVER, if you want Kali’s assistance, be prepared. She is a force to be reckoned with. If you show her any fear, she will end up multiplying those fears. If you are not open to change, she will cause immense suffering. Do not come to her if you are not ready or else there will be consequences.
Open your mind and let go of fear. Come to her with faith and a willingness to surrender your ego, and she will save you!
4 thoughts on “Mythology Monday ~ Kali”
Kali is a fascinating goddess! I admit I was often intimidated by images of her, but knowing about the true meaning behind the tongue and her overall humility makes me see those images in a new light. I also love how many Hindu deities manifest in several aspects. It’s almost as if they realize a multiverse of possibilities at once through them.
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Yes, it’s extremely fascinating! Very unexpected and surprising to know about her true nature. And that’s totally true, Hinduism goes deep.
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