The Goddess Kali
Kālī, also known as Kālikā is the Hindu goddess associated with power, shakti. The name Kali comes from kāla, which means black, time, death, lord of death, Shiva. Kali means “the black one”. Since Shiva is called Kāla—the eternal time—Kālī, his consort, also means “Time” or “Death” (as in time has come). Hence, Kāli is considered the goddess of time and change. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilation still has some influence. Various Shakta Hindu cosmologies, as well as Shākta Tantric beliefs, worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also revered as Bhavatārini (literally “redeemer of the universe”). Comparatively recent devotional movements largely conceive Kāli as a benevolent mother goddess.
Kālī is represented as the consort of Lord Shiva, on whose body she is often seen standing. She is associated with many other Hindu goddesses like Durga, Bhadrakali, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati and Chamunda. She is the foremost among the Dasa Mahavidyas, ten fierce Tantric goddesses.
Kali is portrayed mostly in two forms: the popular four-armed form and the ten-armed Mahakali form. In both of her forms, she is described as being black in color but is most often depicted as blue in popular Indian art. Her eyes are described as red with intoxication, and in absolute rage, her hair is shown disheveled, small fangs sometimes protrude out of her mouth, and her tongue is lolling. She is often shown naked or just wearing a skirt made of human arms and a garland of human heads. She is also accompanied by serpents and a jackal while standing on a seemingly dead Shiva, usually right foot forward to symbolize the more popular Dakshinamarga or right-handed path, as opposed to the more infamous and transgressive Vamamarga or left-handed path.
In the ten-armed form of Mahakali she is depicted as shining like a blue stone. She has ten faces and ten feet and three eyes. She has ornaments decked on all her limbs. There is no association with Shiva.
The Kalika Purana describes Kali as possessing a soothing dark complexion, as perfectly beautiful, riding a lion, four-armed, holding a sword and blue lotuses, her hair unrestrained, body firm and youthful.
In spite of her seemingly terrible form, Kali Ma is often considered the kindest and most loving of all the Hindu goddesses, as she is regarded by her devotees as the Mother of the whole Universe. And, because of her terrible form she is also often seen as a great protector. When the Bengali saint Ramakrishna once asked a devotee why one would prefer to worship Mother over him, this devotee rhetorically replied, “Maharaj, when they are in trouble your devotees come running to you. But, where do you run when you are in trouble?”
According to Ramakrishna, darkness is the Ultimate Mother, or Kali:
My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is Akhanda Satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same; The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali.
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