Kali Hindu Goddess Essay, Research Paper
Kali the Dark One:
Understanding the Image and Symbolism Behind the Great Hindu Goddess
During the lecture and discussion of the Hinduism material in class, we covered a specific area dedicated to the 330 million forms or incarnations of God. One of these avitars, or images, which sparked a special interest to me, was of the Goddess Kali.
Although she was only mentioned briefly, I was instantly attracted to her mystery and dark beauty. For this reason, I have chosen to perform my research with the mission of furthering my understanding of the image, symbolism, and history behind this powerful Hindu Goddess.
According to our assigned text, Kali is only one of the many Gods and Goddesses worshipped daily throughout India, having the largest congregation in Bengal. Thousands of people, regardless of caste, gather together at shrines and temples to honor and offer sacrifices to Kali, the black goddess.
Kali is one of four major Hindu goddesses that each have an association with the god Siva. Besides Kali, these include Parvati, Uma, and Durga. Kinsley says that Kali is one of the goddesses who feature prominently in the Sanskrit textual tradition and who are known all over India and describes her as being among the most popular and impressive (131).
From my research, I have found that worship of Kali takes many forms. One form is puja, or the act of worshipping the image or manifestation of God by making spiritual connection with the deity through invocation, offerings, rituals and prayers. At one time human blood and sacrifices were made to honor Kali, however, Walker says that today it is more common for her worshippers to propitiate [her] with the blood of goats (509).
I discovered that Kali, the Primordial Mother Goddess of Hindu tradition, originated in India’s archaic matriarchal culture. Her radiant blackness protected the dark-skinned tribes who worshipped her and inspired fear and dread in their enemies. Originally, she was a warrior goddess, worshipped with blood sacrifice and offerings of flesh and liquor.
She is often described as being all-powerful, awesome, mysterious, fierce, sensual and demanding. To her worshippers Kali is seen as the all-merciful Protectress, full of love and compassion, a Granter-of-boons.
Essentially, Dark Kali was and still is known as Kali Ma, or Kali the Mother, the Cosmic Female Power. She is always serviceable for Her devotees, ready replace their suffering, negative Karma, fear of time and death, with bliss and liberation.
I was surprised to learn that the present depiction of Kali is rather new. Krsnananda Agamavagisa, a Bengali mystic, had a powerful experience which caused him to formalize and tell of a new form of Kali sometime in the mid to late 16th century. Krsnananda has since been credited with the conception of the current image of Kali in Bengal.
Krsnananda Agamavagisa had gone to bathe in a river near a cremation-ground when he came upon a dark-skinned tribal girl bathing. The girl had stripped nude and was washing herself using a discarded skullcap from a nearby funeral pyre, under the assumption that she was alone. She had her long black hair untied and was absorbed in her cleansing. When she realized Krsnananda had interrupted her, she became embarrassed by Krsnananda’s presence and stuck out her tongue in shyness.
Krsnananda had been struggling to grasp the many forms of the Dark Goddess, and desired to get a direct vision of Her. A sudden spiritual insight came to him as he viewed this tribal girl as a living Kali. He took the vision of her dark naked body, long disheveled hair, extended tongue and skull in hand as a new icon of the Great Goddess.
He spread this special form of Kali far and wide, but Krsnananda described other forms of Kali as well. Of these, the form of Daksina Kali, also referred to as DaksinaKalika, is described by him thus:
Disheveled hair, garland of human heads, face with long or projecting teeth, four arms, lower left holding a human head just severed, upper left holding a sword, lower right hand posed as if giving a boon, the upper right hand posed granting freedom from fear, deep dark complexion, naked, two corpses or arrows as ornaments in the two ears, girdle of the hands of corpses, three eyes, radiant like the morning sun, standing on the chest of Shiva lying like a corpse, surrounded by jackals.
Although this vision of Kali is the most common, I saw some representations in photographs from Shearer s book on the Forms of the Formless, which implicate to me that there are many variations of her image.
The goddess has also been described as of dark blue hue, with one face, two hands, and riding on a mule. Kinsley also points out that Kali is typically shown with a sunken stomach which is a symbol of her insatiable hunger and thirst for blood (181).
Her ornaments, which vary from skulls, a necklace of heads, a girdle of snakes, and bone ornaments, represent the terrible, destructive power of Kali according to Basham (90).
Through my research, I have come to know Kali in that she represents both death and rebirth because she has bloody, violent aspects, and yet is called upon for mercy. Kali is the fundamental image of the birth-and-death, simultaneously womb and tomb, giver of life and devourer of her children.
This revelation came to me upon reading saint Ramakrishna s vision described in our text, of a woman emerging from the Ganges, giving birth and a moment later devouring the child, returning to the water from which she came.
I believe that the image of Kali, in several ways, teaches people that pain, death, and destruction are not to be overcome or conquered by ignoring them or explaining them away. For a person to realize the fullness of their being and to achieve their potential as a human being, they must finally accept this component of existence, in so much that with death we are born again.
To me, the importance of Kali s message is acceptance of one’s mortality is to be able to let go of all fear and feel free to do things that make one happy. I think that Kali is Mother to her worshipers not because she protects them from the true reality of death but because she reveals to them their mortality, thus allowing them to act freely, releasing them from the misconceptions of reality.
I must agree with Kinsley as he says that Kali grants the wider vision of reality to those who find the courage to face the darker, more painful dimensions of life and the courage to reflect on one s own finite, fragile existence (134). Finding such strength in one s spirit must surely bring them to a heightened sense of reality and being.
Over all, my research in this paper has given me new insight into my own existence and mortality. Naturally, I have always been afraid of death, but after studying the symbolism of Kali, along with the Hindu concepts, I can say that although I am still afraid of what death will bring, I no longer feel that I could be complete without experiencing this life s end.
Basham, A.L. The Origins and Development of Classical
Hinduism. Ed. Kenneth G. Zysk. Boston: Beacon Press,
Goddess Kali. Text. Kali Mata: Main Page. 2001. 31
Mar. 2001. .
Kinsley, David R. Hinduism: A Cultural Perspective. 2nd
ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1993.
Shearer, Alistair. The Hindu Vision: Forms of the
Formless. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993.
Walker, Benjamin. Kali. The Hindu World: An
Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism. 1st ed, 1968.