She is one of the most beloved and worshiped Goddess in Hinduism and one of the most difficult to describe. She is a multifaceted deity with many forms and just as many names. So we are going to do our best to give you a great introduction to one of the most powerful and Cosmic Goddesses in Hinduism.
She is the Goddess who liberates souls.
She is the Mother of Language and all Mantras.
She is the Divine Protector and destroyer of demons.
She is the primordial black mass of which all life arose.
She is Shakti.
She is a SAVAGE.
She is Kali Ma.
The Cosmic Goddess.
Her name means both Time and Darkness. Followers of Tantra suggest that Kali is the highest reality, and that Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (the Hindu male Trinity) all arose from HER. She is a Threefold Goddess; she is a Creator, Preserver and Destroyer Goddess all in one. As a Creator, she is the womb of which everything was created. As a Preserver, she is a Mother and nurturer to all who are devoted to her. As a Destroyer, she is the one who liberates you from the Karmic cycle of birth, death and rebirth. She is most often portrayed in her “Destroyer” role but Kali is above all, a Creator-Mother Goddess who gave birth to the Universe and all of its creatures. Everything is said to evolve from Kali and everything will resolve back into her. She is both “womb and tomb”. She is considered the primordial mass from which all life arouse. She is dark matter, dark energy and the big bang, all rolled up. Her physical form is said to be clad in space; this is why she has a blue/black skin and often naked. She is cosmic and infinite therefore no clothing can cover her. She is the mother of language and all mantras. It is said that the primordial sound "OM" was the pregnant Kali rubbing her belly as she gave birth to the Universe. Let that sink in. . .
She is well known and easily identified by her appearance in her Destroyer form. Let’s be honest, she looks wild AF and scary AF but understand, to be a demon slayer you gotta look the part and sometimes that means, being a wild ass woman. She wears a rosary of 50 skulls around her neck that have the Sanskrit alphabet engraved on them. She is usually bare breasted with skirt of arms around her waist, and she is holding a knife and most likely a decapitated head, with her mouth agape sticking out her tongue stepping on her man Shiva. If you are to ‘Google’ Kali, this is most likely the form you will find. But to understand this form and begin to understand her, you need to know about the first time Kali took psychical form. Once you know the story of Kali, you may not fear this version of her. So let’s talk about her ‘emergence’.
The Emergence of Kali
Kali is what is and what always will be; both Time and Space, so her story isn't a birth story but more of an 'emergence' story. The first time Kali takes physical and visible form, is on the battlefield as the most ferocious form of Durga, the Warrior Queen Mother Goddess.
So the world is being terrorized by demons and it's gotten to the point where shit is going down. There are theses two nasty ass, rude ass demons named Chanda and Munda on the battlefield, and when they come face to face with Durga, THE MF Warrior Goddess, they began to mock and laugh at her. Durga becomes so enraged that her face turns dark and Kali sprouts out of Durga's third eye like a tornado. And when Kali appeared, she came to slay. Her body is black and her hair is wild. She wears tiger skin like her man Shiva and a garland of human heads. Once Kali emerges, shit. Goes. down. She kills the two demon generals, where she earns herself the name Chamunda. She literally killed the demons and took their names! Kali stomps through the battlefield slaying every demon in sight, where she faces Raktabija, who is undefeated due to the fact that he is able to reproduce himself with every drop of blood that touches the ground. When Kali realizes this, she begins to eat his clones AND lick every drop of blood before it ever touches the ground. This is why she is infamously described as “blood thirst” and ferocious. When she faces the single, final and original Raktabija she slices his head off and and drinks every drop of blood until he drops to his feet. She defeats the undefeated. So after helping save the entire world she does what anyone would do. A victory dance.
So she dances. And dances.
Her dance is so rhythmic that it begins to shake the ground. So the Gods go to Shiva and are like yo, we are really grateful for your girl showing up and saving the World and all... but can you ask her to chill, she’s causing earthquakes.
And Shiva is like, I’m meditating.
So Kali continues to dance and she is fucking shit up at this point. She is the wife of Shiva, who is also called Nataraja or King of the Dance, so you can imagine she has some moves. The Gods visit Shiva again and are like: You. Need. to. Control. Your girl.
And still, Shiva ignores them, but her dancing begins to reach the mountains where Shiva is meditating and it to actually begins to wake him from his meditative state. What you need to understand is that Lord Shiva is the creator and Master of Meditation and Yoga. So to wake the master of meditation out of his meditative state… is a big MF deal. He finally comes down to earth and tries to get his girl’s attention. But any man knows, trying to get your girl to stop twerking in the middle of her favorite song is quite difficult. So he did what he knew would get her attention. He laid on the ground beneath her feet and once she notices she had stepped on her beloved, Lord Shiva, she stopped her dance and instantly calms the fuck down.
Her emergence into physical form gives back drop to why she is so often depicted as a bloodthirsty demon slayer, but Kali has many, many forms.
The many forms of Kali
The Mahavidyas are Wisdom Goddesses and symbolize the various states of awakening. Kali is always listed as the first Mahavidya and what we found in our research is that it appears that the Mahavidyas originate from Kali, or are in some way different embodiment's of her. The 10 forms represent aspects of divinity to guide spiritual seekers towards liberation.
Kali is the first Mahavidya in her classic form, on the battlefield that was described earlier.
(from left to right)
Tara is the second. She has both a gentle and fierce side. Tantric Tara closely resembles Kali. She has 3 eyes that can see the past, present and future. She offers ultimate knowledge and is said to be a more approachable version of Kali.
Tripura Sundari is the 3rd Goddess and is the most beautiful in the three worlds.
She is the one who provides perspective; how we regard beauty in our own world. In her 4 arms she holds a noose, a goad, a bow, and five arrows. The noose represents the power of beauty. The goad is the ability to disconnect from the ego. The bow symbolizes the mind and the five arrows made out of flowers are a representation of the 5 senses. She sits on the body of Siva who lies on top of a four legged throne-looking bed that is being held up by Brahama, Vishnu, Rudra, Ishana and Sadashiva.
Bhuvaneshwari is the known as the 'world mother' and personifies the entire Universe. She is the Queen of all the Worlds and the Ruler of the while Universe. Her skin is the color of the rising sun with 4 arms and 3 eyes. She sits on a bed that resembles a throne. She protects the seen and unseen worlds. Bhuvaneshwari represents space and is complementary to Kali, who represents Time. The two goddesses represent the two main forces of the Great Goddess, Shakti.
(from left to right)
Bhairavi is the 5th wisdom Goddess. She conveys the three different stages of consciousness; active, dream state and deep sleep. Once we have her grace, we can realize Shiva consciousness. Her name means both 'terrifying' and 'awe inspiring'. It said that she lives in the root chakra. she is also known as Tripura Bhairavi which means that she is the supreme terror in the three worlds. She is often depicted in two forms; a calm and benevolent form as pictured above and then the fearsome form where she resembles O.G. Kali Ma.
Chhinamasta is known as the 'decapitated Goddess'. This form of Kali is holding her own severed head that drinks the blood coming out. There are 2 other streams of blood dripping out of her neck which is falling into the mouth of her female companions ; Dakini and Varnini. The three of them represent the 3 basic universal energies; life, death and rebirth. All 3 ladies are standing on top of a couple that is having sex. Chhinnamasta represents the nature of self and sublime spiritual truths. The image represents the beauty of the Self and how it is indestructible. Chhinnamasta is not dead nor alive in the image, she is in a state of transcendental consciousness. The overall image teaches us the power to claim your desires but having control over your indulgences. Having awareness of the ego is liberation from the constraints of the 'body'.
Dhumavati is considered the 'Smoke Goddess' and is a widow. When we pray to her, we are praying for her to go away from our homes. She represents the opposite Lakshmi who is the embodiment of all things good and auspicious.
(from left to right)
Bagalamukhi is the 8th Goddess of the Mahavidya and she is the Goddess who has the power to control and paralyze her enemies. She is depicted with golden skin, sitting on a lotus and cutting the tongue of a demon. She is worshiped to win court cases and success in competitions.
Matangi is the 9th Mahavidya and she governs speech, music, the arts and knowledge. She is known as the Tantric Saraswati but her main distinguishing factor is that she is described as an outcast. Leftover food is given to her as offerings. She can assist in attracting people to oneself and mastery over the arts. She has emerald green skin, four arms, wears a red dress and gold jewelry sitting on a golden seat.
Kamala is almost always listed as the last Goddess of the Mahavidyas. She is considered the most supreme form of the Goddess and is Tantric Lakshmi. She bestows prosperity, wealth and fertility. She wears a red dress and is adorned in gold jewelry. She is four armed, sits upon a lotus in the midst of the ocean. She is surrounded by four elephants who are performing a ritual of pouring sacramental liquid over a statue of a deity.
Kali is a mother, and like a mothers love, sometimes it tender and sometimes it’s tough. Either way, she does it out of the eternal love she has for her children. So when it is time to face Kali, there is no time for bullshit. You are either ready to kill the ego or you are not. Either way, Kali is here to get it done. It is said that if you are fearsome of Kali it is because you have no yet faced or are willing to face your Ego and demons. The demons Kali slays represent the demons on earth like ignorance and greed, as well as the demons within, such as our ego and shadow side. Kali shows you your ego and cuts it off at the source. This is why she is so often seen carrying a decapitated head. It symbols detachment from the body, one of the biggest symbols of the ego. We are not our body, we are a soul inhabiting a body. It is our spiritual goal to realize this and this is why Kali is the liberator of souls and deliverer of Moksha. By cutting off the head, she symbolizes the removal of maya, which is illusion. She lifts the veil of lies and ego to help you see the truth.
Shiva and Kali
Shiva and Kali represent divine unity which is called Shiva-Shakti. Shakti is divine feminine energy in its rawest form. When Shakti manifests herself, she takes the form of Durga (remember, shes the one who summoned Kali from her 3rd eye and is the warrior form of Parvati). In relation to Shiva, Kali plays the opposite role or alter ego of his wife Parvati. Parvati calms Shiva. She brings him back to reality when he begins his creative and destructive dance. Parvati is the lady in the streets. Kali on the other hand, is the freak. She provokes Shiva and encourages him in his mad and disruptive habits, she is the one who sparks his fire; and because of this, it is Shiva who must calm Kali. Just as we learned when he laid beneath her feet during her celebratory dance.
There are a few misconceptions about the Cosmic Goddess. Here are a few lies about Kali.
Kali is a Demon or Dark Goddess. For some reason it is easier to call her a Demon Goddess than to call her a intergalactic cosmic mother ego slayer, because that is what she truly is. She has a fierce image but its for good reason. As we learned in grade school, never judge a book by its cover.
Kali represents evil. For some reason (or many reasons) here in the West, we have trouble with understanding and accepting death and darkness. Its as if death is a symbol of evil and it better left unacknowledged and that makes it unreal. But that is so far from the truth. Death is as natural as life. We should see Kali and her fierce form as a Guide to understanding that death is not the end, but a beginning of a new cycle.
Human sacrifices are really not her thing, contrary to what pop culture like the movie 'Raiders of the Lost Arc' may show you. There is a story about how a couple of thieves wanted to make a human sacrifice to honor the Goddess Kali and chose a Brahman monk. Well Kali took living form, killed the thieves by severing their heads and then drank their blood. So decapitation and blood drinking... that, is her thing.
Honoring the Cosmic Goddess
Cemeteries and crematorium are sacred grounds for Kali Ma, much like the Greek Goddess Hecate. Death is the one true factor in the defeat of the ego. Death is the great equalizer, and in death is where Kali liberates the soul.
There are Mantras and Yantras that specific for Kali Ma in order to connect with the Goddess. Click here for a great Mantra and Meditation to connect with Kali.
When you want to release or end something in your life, you can call on Kali Ma to assist in moving what ever is blocking you. But be aware that Kali doesn't come to play, she comes to slay. When you ask her to remove something from your life, she removes it completely. When she is depicted as drinking the blood of slaughtered demons, it is because she is devouring every single drop of maya (illusion). When she removes something, she rips it at its roots, to ensure it can never grow back again. By doing this, removing ego at its roots and core, she ensures that there is nothing left to haunt us, therefore delivering our soul true liberation. That is why one of the most important aspects in honoring the Cosmic Goddess is honesty. In order to truly connect to Kali Ma you must be willing and open to face your demons. If you are not ready to enter the unknown and move past the ugliness that the ego can contain, you will find Kali appearing in her warrior form, ready to annihilate. The more open you are to battling your ego and moving through the world with your soul, you will find Kali showing herself in more benevolent forms.
Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines by Patricia Monaghan, PhD, 2014
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects by Barbra G. Walker, 1988
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, 1983