Divine Mother: Inside the World of Ma Kali


World of Maa Kali

What you love, you see everywhere. What you long for even more so. The lover sees his beloved, the parent his child, the idea-driven theoretical context, and the prejudiced confirmation of the same narrow view. That’s how I see Kālī in the world. Everything reminds me of her.

Ma Kali, with her iconographical form, makes people look away. Naked, dark, with a wild gaze and outstretched tongue, with hands holding weapons, a severed man’s head, and a blood-filled bowl. With untied hair, jewelry made of human bones, and a skirt of human arms dangling from her hips. She stands with one foot on the prostrate Śiva’s chest, seemingly triumphant, ecstatic.

Why Ma Kali is Black in Color

Her iconography has been given countless interpretations over the centuries. In the Mahānirvana, her sk in is described as black because she holds everything in the universe. As all colors disappear into the black, and all names and forms disappear into her. Her nudity is explained as her being clothed in space, as she is limitless. Her red tongue is extended as a symbol of nature’s passion and creativity and she stands on Śiva in the form of a pale corpse, who is completely dependent on her capacity to give and take life.

Divine Mother: Inside the World of Ma Kali

How did Ma Kali Appear?

In the Devī-Māhātmya, she breaks forth from the third eye of the Goddess Durgā to annihilate the demon Raktabīja; whose spilled blood spawns new versions of himself. Described as emaciated and bloodthirsty, Kālī pounces on him with a battle cry that shakes the worlds and licks up every last drop of his blood before, intoxicated by her own victory. She nearly dances the world apart.

How Shiva Calms Down Ma Kali

Later texts pick up the story and suggest that Śiva (as the authoritarian husband) was called in to appease/control her. Only when he wears her out by dancing even wilder than her, or alternatively transforms himself into a crying baby that awakens her motherly tenderness, does she calm down and ensure the harmonious progress of the world. When in due course she does, in the form of Pārvatī (daughter of the mountain). Śiva asks her to show him her true form, to prove that she is his beloved Kālī. This time Shiva does not run away, but looks at her in all her glorious, hideous glory and says:
“My heart burned because of the long separation from you. You are the inner controller (antaryāmini), the power that lives in the heart, the great queen. Worshiping you, placing your lotus feet on my lotus heart, I make what was previously on painful fire cool down.”
After that Śiva lies down and established in deep yoga, he places Kālī’s foot on his chest. He looks at her with the deepest respect, and full of bliss, he praises her with her thousand names.

Ma Kali

Mā Kālī, who is the breathtaking vastness of the world, who is the wide-open inscrutability of reality, who is the raw core in the center of love, who is the destroyer of fear, the devourer of karmic action, who is the promise of liberation, the ecstasy of the pulse of creation. Mā Kālī, the darkness upon which all forms of light dance, bless us with your grace, which results in intimacy with the truth. Jai!

How Shiva Meets Sati

In the Mahābhāgavata, MahāDevī is called into the world after Śiva completely ceases to fulfill his cosmic function and instead loses himself in deep meditation. The Gods agree that the only thing that can lure him back into the world is a woman, but not just any woman, but the Goddess herself. She accepts the mission and promises (after three thousand years of persistent worship and mantra recitation by the priest Daksha, after which he is rewarded with a darshan, a vision of her dark form) to be born into the world in the form of the lovely Sati; on condition that you don’t forget who she really is.

Why Ma Sati sets herself on fire

But after she grows up with Śiva in her heart and finally wins him as her husband, both husband and father fail to show her the respect she demands. She then resumes her terrible form (which causes Śiva to close his eyes, despite the fact that he was the only one who was initially not frightened by her appearance but free from fear and loathing sought her as his spouse) and then splits into ten forms (Dasa Mahāvidyās, the knowledge that liberates) that fills the ten directions and stops Śiva’s desperate attempt to escape. Finally, she sets herself on fire through her own tapasya, her own blazing power.

Śiva, full of remorse and devastated by grief is punished by carrying her dead body on his head across the world. But to his surprise, Śiva finds that what he thought would fill him with shame (taking a submissive position under his wife) brings him the greatest joy. He rushes both wild with grief and filled with ecstasy through the firmament before Vishnu (in all benevolence) slices open Sati’s body with a couple of well-aimed throws of his discus. The body falls to the ground creating Śaktipithas (places filled with the power of the goddess). Where Sati’s genitals land, Śiva settles down and falls into deep meditation, intent on making the goddess return to him, in a new form.

In other versions, Śiva lies flat on the ground and lets Kālī dance over him, whereupon she is either pacified by his essence of contemplation and consciousness or stopped by the shame of having danced on her husband (whereupon she is said to bite her tongue in shame and regaining control of her feminine aggression; a version that is not particularly convincing to anyone outside the Indian contemporary context).

Chandi Purana

In the Chandi Purāna, it is described how Durgā was tasked by the gods to defeat a demon that cannot be defeated by a man. What they neglected to tell the Goddess is that the demon in question has been promised that he can only be defeated in battle by a naked woman (he wanted to make sure it wasn’t Vishnu in disguise, as he is famous for his drag tricks). Durgā is thus forced to assume a naked and terrifying form and only when the demon stands staring in wonder at her yoni (yes, it actually says so) is she able to overcome him.
She is then so enraged by the falseness and insolence of the male gods that she threatens to use all her weapons against them, whereupon they flee in all directions of the sky. All but Śiva, who cannot escape. Instead, he begins to dance, slowly and seductively, making Kālī his Ishtadevatā- his chosen, his personal, his consulted deity. He says:

“You are my father, you are my mother. You alone are my friend. I have no one but you in this world. Whether I live or die is up to your wish.”
Appeased by the god’s worship, Devī promises to fulfill Śiva’s wish, asking him to marry her. She accepts, and he closes her to his chest.

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