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This article is about the Hindu goddess. Kali is also a martial art. See Eskrima.

Sculpture depicting Kali
Sculpture depicting Kali

Kali is a destructive and creative aspect of God as the Divine Mother in Hinduism. Kali is the fierce aspect of Devi, God's energy, i.e., Shakti or God as the Divine Mother, who is fundamental to all other Hindu deities.

The continuous, ongoing work of Creation is described as "the play of Kali".

Kali is considered to be the destroyer of evil spirits and the preserver of devotees. She is the consort of Shiva. Her name seems to be a female version of the word 'kala' (Sanskrit for 'time' or 'dark'); it also means Black Female, in contrast to her consort, Shiva, who is white; and Kali is the common name for Energy in her form as Shiva's wife, or Shakti. She is also called Durga. Other names are: Bhowani Devi, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati, Chinnamastika, Kamakshi, Uma, Menakshi, Himavati, Kumari. These names, if repeated, are believed to give special power to the worshipper.

Skulls, cemeteries, and blood are associated with her worship. She is black and emaciated. Her face is azure, streaked with yellow, her glance is ferocious; her disheveled and bristly hair is usually shown splayed and spread like the tail of a peacock and sometimes braided with green serpents. She wears a long necklace (descending almost to her knees) of human skulls. She may be shown wearing a girdle of severed arms. Children's corpses as earrings (likeliest representing natural infant mortality and childhood mortality from causes such as disease), and cobras as bracelets or garlands add to her terrifying adornments. Her purple lips are often shown streaming with blood; her tusk-like teeth descend over her lower lip; and her tongue lolls out. She is often shown standing on the inert form of her consort, Shiva. She is sometimes accompanied by she-demons. Her eight arms hold weapons or the severed head of a demon: these objects symbolize both her creative and her destructive power, for Kali personifies the ambivalence of deity, which manifests itself, according to Indian tradition, in the unceasing cycle of life and death, creation and destruction.

Some of her greatest 'bhaktas' (loving devotees) are to be found in the West Bengal, South India and Kashmir traditions. Best known is the saint Shri Ramakrishna. A vast poetic tradition evolved around Kali as a loving albeit often unpredicatble mother, of infinite tenderness to her devotees. Among these greats of the Bengali literature on Kali are Ramprasad Sen .

Some of her biggest temples are to be found in the North-East of India, in particular in Kolkata, West Bengal: Kalighat and Dakshineshwar, and in the equally famed Kamakhya in Assam.

Her poor reputation in the West came from the cult of the Thuggee, Hindus and Muslims who took the goddess Kali as their deity. They robbed and murdered travellers as sacrifices to Kali and were broken up by the British. The common English word thug is derived from this.

For her Tantric worshippers, it was essential to face her Curse, the terror of death, as willingly as they accepted Blessings from her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. For them, wisdom meant learning that no coin has only one side: as death cannot exist without life, so life cannot exist without death.

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Last updated: 10-23-2005 06:28:26
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