- Religion and Philosophy»
KALI: THE DARK GODDESS
An Aspect of Parvati
The Kali Puja Festival is celebrated this year on October 26, in conjunction with Diwali. Shiva is called Kala, the Lord of Death and Time. Kali takes her name from being the consort of Shiva, so she's the goddess of Death and Time. Calcutta takes its name from the phrase Kali Ghatt or "steps of Kali."
The first time I saw a picture of Kali I did not know what to say about her other than she was a fierce, dark warrior goddess who had a very long tongue. I knew there must be a fascinating story behind this image. She is the goddess most closely connected with Tantra. The black color has a profound symbolism. In black all colors merge and disappear. Black is the absence of color and a symbol of the nature of Kali as the Ultimate Reality. She transcends all forms. She is really there in front of you, full-breasted, never denying her Mother-feminine aspect. Her garland of 50 skulls around her neck represents the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, the symbol of knowledge and wisdom. She helps you deal with your karma. Her four arms represent the cycle of creation and destruction. She, like Shiva, has three eyes, which represent the sun, moon and fire from which She can observe the three modes of time: past, present and future. Kali, as a form of Parvati, is the power behind Shiva. She is the i in his name. Without the i Shiva becomes Shva, Sanskrit for corpse. So without Kali Shiva can not do anything.
So what is the story behind this powerful image? To read Kali's original story, you need to look at the Devi Mahatmya. She is very much the warrior goddess when she first appears in this powerful text. In this story Durga Mother needs to defeat the demons, Canda and Munda. Durga changes form in order to defeat these nasty demons. Kali appears suddenly from Durga's forehead. She immediately destroys them with her bare hands. Later Durga needs to defeat the other nasty demon, Raktabija, who automatically reproduces himself whenever his blood touches the ground. That long tongue becomes a very important weapon against the demon. With the long tongue she sucks the blood from his body and destroys numerous "copies" of the demon by throwing them all into her mouth. She is the fierce aspect of Parvati. In another great story Parvati enters Shiva's body and becomes Kali who defeats the nasty demon, Daruka.
As part of Diwali Kali is worshipped through the Kali Puja on the new moon night in Kartik (October/November in the Western Calendar). She brings good luck to all who worship her on this night. Farmers, during Diwali, place oil lamps in rice fields to control insects and offer fruit, flowers, oils and food to Mother Kali, the Sustainer of Life. Kali Festival is Mother's Day in India, where women receive new clothes and jewelry and are honored on this day. Offerings of rice and curds are very much part of Kali Puja. Kali teaches us that death is part of the cycle of life. It is through Kali Ma you can discern the reality behind the illusion and perceptions of life.
Kali Ma is also found in various different forms in other countries, cultures and traditions. The Aztecs have a goddess called Coatlicue who looks very much like Kali Ma. In Ancient Greece goddess Rhea is another similar goddess. The Irish Celts worshipped Cailech. Scotland was once called Caledonia, a land given by Cale. In Christianity she appears as the Black Madonna. So you see She is the Universal Goddess and Universal Truth.
Although a minority of people in India and Nepal worship her using goat's blood, most offer her what Krishna asked for in an offering: fruits, flowers and water. Killing an animal for worshipping the Mother Kali is not a very great way to honor this great Mother. What she really promotes is loving her fellow human being. Seva (Service) is very much the heart and soul of Diwali and Kali Festival. It was out of her great love she defeated the demons, which plagued us all. When she sucked up the blood, she sucked up all our negative tendencies. The demons of greed, violence, spouse & child abuse, corruption, oppression, depression, injustice, spiritual poverty, racism, sexism, drug & alcohol addiction and disrespect for Mother Earth are some of the our modern demons. She helps us deal with these negative tendencies. She is one great form of the Mother. Several pandits, non-profit organizations and spiritual communities have many social service and green projects you can volunteer for or donate money to which promote the common good. What a great way to honor Mother Kali!
JAI SHRI KALI! JAI SHRI MOTHERS!