One of the most horrible and venerated aspects of the Goddess is Kali, which means Mother Time. She is still worshipped in India and her sacred city is Calcutta, â€˜Kali Ghatâ€™, meaning "steps of Kali".
Kali is usually depicted as a fearsome four-armed figure with a garland of fifty skulls, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. These magical rune-like letters symbolise the underlying principles and fundamental vibrations of the universe. Kali was thought to have brought the written word to India.
Although Kali seems terrifying she is much loved by theIndian people, and has many faces. Raksha-Kali, The Protectress, is worshipped in times of natural disaster, epidemic, famine, earthquakes etc. Her gentler form, Shyama-Kali, has a place of honour in Hindu households where she answers prayers and grants boons. Contrary to her appearance Kali, when approached in the correct manner, dispels fear, cuts through pretence and illusion, and is the vehicle of bliss.
The myths of Kali are numerous. She is said to have first manifested when the demons seized power and threatened the kingdom of Shiva. At that time Shivaâ€™s wife, Parvarti was battling the demons and assuming many terrifying shapes. In her battle form Parvarti was known as Durga, and it was from the intense brow of Durga that Kali sprung, flashing her three eyes, her four arms brandishing weapons. She immediately set upon the demons with great enjoyment.
After the fighting was over, Parvarti tried to recall Kali, but once born, Kali would not be re-absorbed. She remained an aspect of Parvarti, but complete in her own right, and uncontrollable. Kali, now unleashed, rolled her red tongue, which dripped blood from the battle. Her dark skin glowed, shining with exertion, skulls rattled from her earrings, and severed hands hung from her girdle.
Durga/Parvarti said from her lion, "From my brow you were born, yet you refuse to obey me." Kali responded, "Durga, you must know me. I am Kali-Ma, great Mother Time. Neither god nor human can control me. When there was nothing, neither sun, nor moon, nor stars nor world, I was there. When there was darkness I held the seeds for the new universe. For I am the Formless One, Maha-Kali, The Great Power; Maha-Kali, the Absolute."
Once Kali defeated the greatest demon of all, Raktavija. Having seen his army of demons slaughtered by Kali, the great demon attacked the goddess himself. Kali taunted him, but as they fought she found that each drop of the demonâ€™s blood gave birth to a thousand more monsters. The world was full of the demonic force, everywhere demons raged and gods blinked in horror at the bloodshed.
Even Lord Shiva, looking on, could see no way Kali could overcome the force of evil. Then Kali lashed her enormous tongue and licked a drop of Raktavijaâ€™s blood. A surge of demons were born within her and then destroyed by her immortal essence that consumes all. She rolled her eyes and moved closer to the demon cutting him with her many swords and spitting words of power which could be uttered by no other immortal. The demon shrank back as she smote his leg, her great tongue licking up his vile blood. Raktavija felt his power weakening and tried to escape, but Kali had a taste for blood and pursued him relentlessly.
By drinking all the blood of the giant demon, Kali was able to defeat him and his demonic forces.Victorious, Kali emitted a deep sound that echoed through the universe, and began dancing furiously on the demonâ€™s dead body. Leaping and twirling the whole universe began to shake. Shiva called for her to stop but Kali danced on. Again and again he commanded his wife to stop, for the sacred madness of her dance threatened the fabric of all being, all order. But Kali danced on, her eyes and ears numbed to all but the dance.
When Shiva approached her, he too was absorbed by her powerful dancing and soon lay beneath her pounding feet. The order of existence whirled and spun in fiery circles as she danced."Maha-Kali, Kali-Ma! Mother!" Shiva called in desperation, feeling his essence breaking down under the power of this great goddess.
"Maha-Kali, Kali-Ma! Mother!" Shiva called in desperation,feeling his essence breaking down under the power of this greatgoddess. At once Kali listened. "Someone calls me Mother, Kali-Ma,Mother." She slowed her dance and heard the cry again from under her turning feet. "Mother, Kali-Ma!" "Surely a monster, a demon, cannot speak my sacred name," she thought.
Then horror and shame struck into her heart when she saw her husband under her feet covered in the blood of the monsters. She cradled him in her motherâ€™s arms. Crooning with tenderness and sorrow, she cleaned and comforted him."Sweet Lord, I did not hear you," she said rocking him in her arms. With infinite tenderness she placed Shiva in the burning circle where he held order in the universe.
Shiva gazed into the dark eyes of Kali the kind, Kali the terrible, Kali the absolute and felt his essence illuminate with understanding. Between them passed an intense look, a shudder of complete joy, and bliss permeated Shiva and the universe that day and forever.
Because of this story, Kali is entreated as the Great Mother, who will always hear the true cry from the deep heart of any of her children.
Adapted from "The Goddess â€“ myths and stories" by Lindel Barker-Revell.
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