Hindu goddesses personify Nature – its bounty, beauty, wisdom and mystery. In benevolent forms, they nurture life. But in malevolent forms, they destroy everything. They are therefore adored and appeased with offerings of flowers and bridal finery. Unlike most other religions, Hinduism does not advocate the worship of one particular deity. There are numerous gods and goddesses worshipped by Hindus all over India. Among these is Kali, the black earth mother whose rites involve sacrificial killing. She is associated with dark, obscene rites and devil worship. She has black skin and hideous tusked face, smeared with blood. Kali is the Hindu primal Mother Goddess who brings Life and Death, from which all things sprang. She is the furious embodiment of the divine feminine that is released when she becomes enraged. In general we might describe Kali as a Goddess who threatens stability and order. She is the destroyer of the very world She is supposed to protect.
Kali was the basic archetypal image of the birth-and-death Mother, simultaneously womb and tomb, giver of life and devourer of her children: the same image portrayed in a thousand ancient religions.
One legend says that Kali manifested when the demon Daruka appropriated divine power and the powerful Goddess Parvati knitted Her brows. From Her fury sprang Kali, armed with a trident. She dispatched Daruka and remained in existence, beyond even the control of Parvati, of whom She is an aspect.
Kali is still one of India’s most popular Goddesses. In fact the city of Calcutta is an anglicized version of the name Kali-Ghatt, or “steps of Kali”, Her temple. The bloody rites of Kali worship are sometimes so terrifying, that few understand them. Kali is a symbol of the worst we can imagine and by knowing Her, we can overcome the terror of our own death and destruction. Once faced and understood, Kali frees her worshippers of all fear and becomes the greatest of mothers, the most comforting of all goddesses.
Kali is an important figure in Hinduism, despite Her intimidating appearance and ghastly habits. She takes a central role in Tantrism, where an underlying assumption if ideology is that reality is the result of the symbiotic interaction of male and female, Siva and Sakti – polar opposites that in interaction produce a creative tension. In Tantra it is Kali’s vitality that is sought through techniques aimed at spiritual transformation. She is affirmed as the dominant and primary reality.
Kali is regarded as the supreme goddess of the Saktas, who almost always associate her with Shiva. As the latter’s consort or associate, she plays the role of inciting him to wild behavior. As a goddess having an awful, frightening appearance, she is addressed as Siddhasenani (general of the Siddhas), Mandaravasini (dweller on the Mandara), Kali (black or dark), Kapali (wearer of skulls), Bhadrakali, Mahakali, Chandi (formidable), Karali (frightening), etc. To many of her devotees, she is also Kumari (virgin), Tarini (deliverer), Vijaya (victory), Jaya, `younger sister of the chief of cowherds’, `delighting always in Mahisa’s blood’, Kausiki, Uma, `destroyer of Kaitabha’, mother of Skanda, Svaha, Svadha, Sarasvati, Savitri, `mother of the Vedas’, Mahadevi, Mohini, Maya, Hari, Sri, Sandhya, Vindhyavasini (an epithet of Durga), Chamunda, etc. Mahakali is very dark, usually naked, and has long, disheveled hair, a girdle of severed arms, a necklace of freshly cut heads, earrings of children’s corpses, and bracelets of serpents. To add to her dreadful appearance, she has long, sharp fangs and claw like hands with long nails and blood smeared on her lips; she laughs loudly, dances madly. She is a goddess who, in the words of David Kinsley,”… even in the service of the gods, she is ultimately dangerous and tends to get out of control. In association with other goddesses, she appears to represent their embodied wrath and fury, a frightening, dangerous dimension of the divine feminine that is released when these goddesses become enraged or are summoned to take part in war and killing”. In relation to Shiva, she appears to play the opposite role from that of Parvati. Parvati calms Shiva, counterbalancing his anti-social or destructive tendencies. It is she who brings Shiva within the sphere of domesticity and who, with her soft glances, urges him to moderate the destructive aspects of his tandava dance. Kali is Shiva’s “other” wife, as it were, provoking him and encouraging him in his mad, antisocial, often disruptive habits. It is never Kali who takes Shiva but Shiva who calms Kali. Her association with criminals reinforces her dangerous role in exchange for society. She is at home outside the moral order and seems to be unbounded by that order.