Kali – The demon of Kaliyuga


In Hinduism, Kali is the being who reigns during the age of the Kaliyuga and acts as the nemesis of Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of the Hindu preserver deity, Vishnu.

Description in Kalki Purana

The Kalki Purana describes him as a huge being, the color of soot, with a large tongue, and a terrible stench. From his birth, he carried an Upasthi (worship) boon. The Kalki Purana says that this asura (demon) chose gambling, liquor, prostitution, slaughter and gold as his permanent abodes.” The Sanskrit-English Dictionary states Kali is “of a class of mythical beings (related to the Gandharvas, and supposed by some to be fond of gambling)”.

Bhagavata Purana description

The Bhagavata Purana describes Kali as wearing the garments of a king’ and portrays him as a brownish-skinned asura (demon) with a dog-like face, protruding fangs, pointed ears and long green bushy hair, wearing a red loin cloth and golden jewelry.

Origin of Kali

It is believed by some that the names of the four yugas of time—Satya, Treta, Dvapara and Kaliyuga—are named after “dice throws” from a game of dice popular during the Vedic period. Their order coincides with the favorability of each throw: Satya is the best throw, whereas Kali is considered the worst. During the Mahabharata, King Nala exorcises the disembodied spirit of Kali to a vibhīdaka tree (Terminalia belerica), whose fruits contain nuts which were used as the dice for the vedic dice game. Therefore, not only Kali’s name, but his penchant for gambling and reputation as being evil might have originated in this dice game.

Story of birth of Kali

According to a lesser known Madhva version of the legend, during the churning of the ocean of milk, a great poison known as Halahala was produced, which Vayu, the god of wind, rubbed in his hands to reduce its potency. Then a small portion was given to god Shiva, turning his throat blue. The rest was collected in a golden vessel and digested by Vayu. (One source states he drank the Kalakuta poison of Vasuki naga. Still others more commonly state that Shiva drank alone. A little portion of poison that wasn’t swallowed by Shiva became the body of Kali. From this poison also came, “cruel objects like snakes, wolves, and tigers.

Later, when the asura Rahu was decapitated by Vishnu’s Mohini Avatar, the demon’s allies attacked her and all except Kali were killed. Having the power to possess the bodies of immortal and mortal beings, he entered the hearts of man and escaped, using the men he possessed to corrupt the primordial scriptures by deliberately miswriting them, generating widespread chaos. Because Kali was “invisible, unimaginable, and present in all” the only way to correct the chaos born from the miswritten texts was to completely renew the sacred scriptures entirely. Thus Vishnu descended to earth as Vyasa, the compiler of the sacred scriptures Vedas and the writer of the Puranas.


Start of Kaliyuga

The Bhagavata Purana states the very day and moment avatar Krishna left this earth, Kali, “who promotes all kinds of irreligious activities”, came into this world. The age of Kaliyuga started.

After setting off to wage war against the evils of the world with his armies, Emperor Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, came across a Sudra dressed as a king who was beating a cow and an ox with a club. Parikshit immediately led his chariot over to the scene and angrily berated the sudra for abusing the sacred cow and her mate. However, this was no ordinary sudra and these were no ordinary bovine, for the sudra was Kali and the cow and ox were embodiments of the earth goddess and Dharma. The Emperor noticed the ox was standing on one of his legs because the other three had been broken by Kali.

Parikshit and Kali

Dharma explained his four legs represented “austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness”, but he had only the leg of “truth” to stand on since the other three had been broken by kali over the preceding yugas. Kali was intent on breaking all the legs that supported the reign of dharma so he could effect the expansion of his own dark reign on earth. The earth goddess cried for she had once been plentiful, but when Krishna ascended to heaven, she was forsaken and all of the prosperity left from the world. She feared evil kings like Kali would continue to lay waste to the earth.

When Parikshit raised his sword to kill Kali, the sudra stripped himself of his royal garments and prostrated himself at the emperor’s feet. The emperor knew Kali tainted the world with his evil and so had no place in it and raised his sword once more. But Kali interceded again and begged the emperor to spare his life and allow him a place to live within his empire. Parikshit decided that Kali would live in “gambling houses, in taverns, in women and men of unchaste lives, in slaughtering places and in gold in Kaliyuga”.

And as long as Parikshit ruled India, Kali stayed within the confines of these five places in Kaliyuga. This act allowed Dharma to regain his legs and the earth to be relieved of much burden. However, Parikshit was later cursed to die by snake bite after hunting in the forest and throwing a dead snake on an unresponsive sage practicing austerities. Upon the emperor’s death, Kali made his way to other places like wild fire and established his power throughout the length and breadth of the whole world.

Another story of Kali’s birth by lord Brahma

The beginning of the Kalki Purana describes Kali’s lineage starting with the Brahma, his great-great-grandfather, and ending with the birth of his children’s children. Instead of being born of poison from the churning of the ocean of milk, he is the product of a long line of incestuous monsters born from Brahma’s back. Kali and his family were created by Brahma to hasten the dissolution of the cosmos after the pralaya period was over.

When his family takes human form on earth, they further taint the hearts and minds of mankind to bring about the end of Dvapara Yuga and the beginning of Kaliyuga. During the first stage of Kali Yuga, the varnashrama breaks down and God-worship is forsaken by man. All through the second, third, and fourth stages, man forgets the name of god and no longer offers Yajna (offerings) to the Devas. It is at this point when God Vishnu reincarnates as Kalki in the name of the Devas and all of mankind to rid the cosmos of Kali’s dark influence.

Family lineage

Kali is the great-great-grandson of Brahma. He is the son of Krodha (Anger) and his sister-turned-wife Himsa (Violence). Also he is the grandson of Dambha (Vanity) and his sister Maya (Illusion). He is the great-grandson of Adharma (Impropriety) and his wife, Mithya (Falsehood). Adharma was originally created from Brahma’s back as a Maleen Pataka (a very dark and deadly sinful object).

The growth of this dark sinful object into Adharma seems to, “convey the growth of Kali Yuga and its obnoxious offshoots.

Kali’s family lineage is told differently in the Vishnu Purana

The wife of Adharma (vice) was Himsá (violence), on whom he begot a son Anrita (falsehood), and a daughter Nikriti (immorality): they intermarried, and had two sons, Bhaya (fear) and Naraka (hell); and twins to them, two daughters, Maya (deceit) and Vedaná (grief), who became their wives. The son of Bhaya and Máyá was the destroyer of living creatures, or Mrityu (death); and Dukha (pain) was the offspring of Naraka and Vedaná.

The children of Mrityu were Vyádhi (disease), Jará (decay), Soka (sorrow), Trishńa (greediness), and Krodha (wrath). These are all called the inflicters of misery, and are characterized as the progeny of Vice (Adharma). They are all without wives, without posterity, without the faculty to procreate; they are the terrible forms of Vishnu, and perpetually operate as causes of the destruction of this world. On the contrary, Daksha and the other Rishis, the elders of mankind, tend perpetually to influence its renovation; whilst the Manus and their sons, the heroes endowed with mighty power, and treading in the path of truth, constantly contribute to its preservation.

In this version, Himsa is Adharma’s wife instead of his granddaughter. Kali’s sister-turned-wife, Durukti (Calumny), gave him two offspring: a son named Bhayanak (Fear) and a daughter named Mrityu (Death). His son and daughter gave him two grandchildren: a boy named Naraka (Hell) and a girl named Yatana (Torture) Again, there are some discrepancies here.

The Vishnu Purana says Mrityu and Bhayanak are his brother and sister. Mrityu is even represented as male instead of female.To differentiate him from the goddess Kali, the asura Kali is sometimes referred to as “Kalipurush” (Kali the being), a somewhat ‘understood’ convention since Purusha per se is one of Hinduism’s notoriously non-consensual phrases before which sense of it is intended in a particular usage is also indicated.

Death of Kali

Kali dies one-third of the way through the Kalki Purana. During the decisive battle between Kali and Kalki’s armies, Kali tried to face both Dharma and Satyayuga personified, but was overwhelmed and fled on his donkey because his chariot had been destroyed, leaving his owl-charged war flag to be trampled on the battlefield. Kali retreated to the citadel of his capital city of Vishasha where he discovered his body had been mortally stabbed and burnt during his battle with the two devas. The stench of his blood billowed out and filled the atmosphere with a foul odor.

When Dharma and Satya burst into the city, Kali tried to run away, but, knowing his family had been destroyed, coupled with his grievous wounds, he “entered his unmanifested years”. This might lead some to believe he died, but one version of the Kalki Purana in the book The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology states Kali does not die but, instead, escapes through time and space to live in the Kaliyuga of the next Kalpa.

Unlike most battles between devas and asuras, however, this apparent victory is immediately undercut, for Kali escapes to reappear in ‘another age’—in our age, or the next Kaliyuga. Since he had the power to manifest himself in human form on earth, he was able to forsake his dying corporeal form to escape in spirit.

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