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The Goddess Kali
Kali, A Hindu Goddess
For years, I've been fascinated by the Hindu Goddess, Kali. She is very much misunderstood by Westerners, who see her as horrific, murderous, and a destroyer.
This is far from the truth; Kali is frightening in some of her aspects, but she is a demon killer, so needs to have that appearance. She is seen by many of her devotees as the Great Mother, Kali-Ma.
The name Kali comes from the word "Kala", which means time, dark, or death.
This article will attempt to show some of the different aspects of Kali, the Great Mother.
Kali Dancing On Shiva
The Birth Of Kali
There are many stories associated with the birth of Kali. This is just one of them:
She was born from the brow of the Goddess Durga during a battle with the demons, when Durga needed extra strength. Kali killed thousands of demons, before finally defeating the demon king Raktabija by drinking his blood.
Drunk on this, she danced madly, endangering the world. The Gods asked her husband Shiva to stop her, and he place himself in her path. Kali did not at first notice she was dancing on her husband's body, but finally she looked down and saw him, and this stopped her dance of death.
This is one of the best books about Kali, and it's very informative.
Kali The Beautiful
The picture above is one of the most beautiful images of Kali I've seen. The picture was taken by Piyal Kundu, during Kali Puja at Naihati, a town in West Bengal, India, in 2007.
Kali Puja is a festival dedicated to the Goddess Kali, and is celebrated during the Hindu month Kartik on the new moon. It is celebrated mainly in the states of Assam and Bengal, and is on the same day as the feast of the Goddess Lakshmi, Diwali, in the rest of India.
The clothing and decoration of the statue show just how venerated this Goddess is.
Had you heard of Kali before reading this lens?
Kali Close Up
Kali In Kolkata
The image above shows Kali in a Kali Puja pandal, Kolkata, 2010.
(Kolkata is Calcutta, and a pandal is a temporary or permanent shelter for a religious ceremony.)
Kali Puja is a cleansing festival, and it is also known as Shyama Puja . People clean and decorate their houses, and decorate shrines to the Goddess. Statues of her are strewn with flowers and other offerings, as the people seek the help of Kali to destroy evil, or negativity, both in themselves and in the rest of the world. Kali will also destroy ego.
Kali Can Be Fierce
Kali The Destroyer
Kali is a transformational goddess, and is sometimes known as Kali the Destroyer. This is not because she destroys people, it is because she destroys ego. She destroys to recreate, and therefore can be seen as a nature goddess.
Many of Kali's devotees worship her in cemeteries, not just because she is the Goddess of Death, but because she destroys the idea of the body, and the ego. Her devotees often see her as a kind and generous mother, which is far from how she is depicted in most images.
Kali is also known as a "Gentle Mother" and a "Fierce Warrior". She is the female energy to Shiva, his wife.
Kali wears a necklace of severed heads, and her skirt is made of dead men's arms. She is black skinned, and her tongue is extended. Her upper pair of arms hold a sword and a severed head, while her lower pair offer sustenance, and blessings, expressing her duality. Sometimes the items held in her hands are in different orders, and she can sometimes be shown with either eight or ten arms.
Kali is transformational, and is sometimes shown with snakes, which are a symbol of transformation. You can see a cobra in the image to the right.
Thuggee, A Kali Cult Of India
The Thugs were members of a cult devoted to the Goddess Kali, but unfortunately, they did not see her as the transformational goddess of many. They saw her as a goddess who craved blood and sacrifice. The sacrifice would be any man who was not a member of their cult. The cult may have been started in the 14th century, and operated for over 400 years.
Thuggee members were forbidden to shed blood, so the murders were usually done by throwing a yellow scarf, called a rumal, weighted with a coin, around the victim's neck, and strangling them. For a change, some victims were poisoned,but this was rare. The victims were robbed, and always a portion of the take was given to the Goddess Kali.
The victims had to be buried in a special manner to complete the sacrifice. It is not known how many people were murdered in this way by the Thuggee cult. Some estimates say over 2,000,000 over many years, while other estimates say 1,000,000 were killed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the 1830's, while the British ruled India, a campaign was begun to eradicate the cult. Was it successful? Perhaps, but who knows whether or not a few Thuggee survived!
A Hymn To Kali - by Ramprasad Sen
Kali In Poetry
Kali has had many devotees over the centuries, and one of them was Ramprasad Sen. He was a Bengali poet, who wrote many pieces, of which many were devoted to Kali. His work is still popular in Bengal, India, today.