The Origins and Myths of Goddess Kali

Kali, in Hinduism, is the goddess of supreme power. She is the symbol of destruction and creation. Kali is the ultimate manifestation of Shakti. She is the fierce manifestation of the goddess Parvati. Her other names include Mahakali, Bhadrakali, or Kalika.

She is the goddess of war, anger, and time. As the embodiment of time, she represents a full circle of life. She is the feminine form of Kala (time), which is a form of Lord Shiva. She also is known to be the goddess of battlefields.

Kali represents the most basic desire, love. And also perfect eternal bliss, which in her case is Shiva, the eternal being’s presence. She is classified as a Nirguna. So, she has no permanent qualities, and she will continue to exist even when the universe ends.

Kali Origins

According to one legend, Kali was born from the sleeping body of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu was supposed to protect Lord Brahma and the world from the two demons Madhu and Kaitabha. She appeared as the goddess Yoga Nidra to wake him up. So, when Vishnu woke up, he waged war against both of them. After a long battle, two demons were still undefeated. So, Yoga Nidra took the form of Mahamaya to enchant and distract the two demons. They were enchanted by the beauty of Mahamaya, and in that time of their weakness, Vishnu killed them.

Battle between good & evil
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In one story, the mortal and immortal worlds were terrorized by the demon Daruka. He could only be killed by a woman. As a result, the gods requested that goddess Parvati kill the demon. She responded by jumping down Shiva’s throat. The poison present in Shiva’s throat combined with Parvati, and she transformed into Kali. Then, after coming out of Shiva’s throat, she immediately killed Daruka, and peace in the world was restored.

In another story, demons Chanda and Munda attacked goddess Durga. Goddess Durga responded with such anger that her face turned black, and Kali emerged from her forehead. She defeated both demons.

Once, Lord Shiva was laughing at the dark color of Parvati’s complexion as Durga. Irritated by his taunts, she went to do penance so that she could change her color. Pleased by her penance, Lord Brahma granted her a blessing. Goddess Parvati shed her dark cells and emerged fair-colored. The dark cells developed in the form of Kali and Parvati in her fair form, then known as Gauri.

Representation: A fearsome warrior

Goddess Kali is portrayed as having a dark blue complexion and being gaunt with sunken eyes. Her eyes are red with intoxication and anger. She wears a red sari and a garland of human heads (usually numbered 51 or 108). Her hair is disheveled, and her tongue is red and out. She sometimes has small fangs protruding out of her mouth. Her depiction is fierce but her face is shown as calm. This calmness signifies the goodness in her heart and in her deeds.

She is often portrayed with four arms. Her hands carry a sword, a trident, a severed head, and a skullcup. The sword signifies divine knowledge, and the human head symbolizes the human ego. It represents that the human ego must be slain by divine knowledge. Only in this manner can moksha be attained. She is also sometimes shown as the “ten-armed Mahakali.” As Mahakali, she has ten feet, ten heads, and three eyes on each head. These three eyes represent the sun, moon, and fire.

She wears a skirt made of human arms or sometimes tiger skin. A serpent and a jackal are also seen near her, while Lord Shiva stands calm. The serpents and jackals are shown drinking the blood of Rakt-Bheej’s head while the goddess carries it in her hand.

Legends of Kali

The most popular legend has her assisting the goddess Durga in her attempt to kill the demon Mahishasura. Mahishasura was a half-buffalo demon. He got the boon from Lord Brahma that only a woman could kill her. When he began terrorizing the world, the gods sought the assistance of goddess Parvati. And from her, the goddess Durga was born. But as the demon was changing forms every time the goddess came near to kill him. So, she needed help, and Kali was said to be one of the goddesses who helped her in his defeat.

How Kali got a red tongue

Another story tells us how her tongue got red. There was an asura lord named Shumbha who proposed to the goddess Ambika. She challenged him to show that he was stronger than her. To show this, Shumbha dispatched an army, but she and the goddess Kali (a form of Durga) killed the entire army.

Shumbha, now infuriated, concluded that she needed to be humbled. So he himself marched out in front of his large army. He showed a magnificent demonstration of strength. Goddess Ambika gave birth to a new goddess, Chandika, to oppose him and his army. Shumbha retaliated by surrounding Chandika. At this moment, other gods and goddesses came to her rescue.

On seeing this, Shumbha released Rakt-Beej. Rakt-Beej was a boon given to him. According to this, if even a drop of blood from his body fell to the ground, another demon would emerge, fully formed and ready to battle. The clone’s blood also generated more clones. Thus, it made him unstoppable.

Chandika used a variety of weapons, but as blood streamed from his wounds, thousands of clones swarmed the battlefield. Chandika said to Kali that, in order to defeat him, not even a drop of blood should fall on the ground. So, Kali extended her tongue out and raced over the battleground. She captured every drop of blood that fell. Shumbha and his clones, now unable to expand any further, charged towards Chandika but died at her hands.

Kali and the Brahmin monk

One story tells of the encounter between Goddess Kali and some thieves. The thieves wanted to make a human sacrifice in order to please her. But unfortunately, they chose a Brahmin monk for sacrifice. They took him to the nearest temple and started making preparations for the sacrifice. And finally, when they started to make sacrifices, the statue of Kali came to life. She was angry at the thieves for kidnapping the monk. She took revenge and decapitated all of them. The monk escaped and led his life as a scholar and devotee of the goddess.

Manifestations 

Goddess Kali has different manifestations. They are more like different aspects of her nature.

Mahakali means “Great Kali” in Sanskrit. She is the greater form of Kali. She is associated with empowerment. Mahakali is portrayed with ten heads and represents the ten Mahavidyas (the great wisdom goddesses). She is the feminine form of Mahakala (the great time). Her consort is Lord Bhairava, the god of consciousness.

Dakshina Kali is the most popular form of Kali in Bengal, India. She is a benevolent being who shields people from misfortune. Her two right hands are shown in the gesture of blessing. This is her creative aspect. Yama (the Lord of Death) is said to have fled in death after hearing her name. So, her worship is said to be able to overcome death itself.

Samhara Kali is the embodiment of the power of destruction. She is the most dangerous and powerful form of Kali. She brings about death, and thus liberation. Her depiction as standing on a corpse and holding a freshly cut head She is mainly worshiped by warriors and tantrics.

Bhadra Kali is considered an auspicious and fortunate form of Mahakali. She protects the good. According to legend, she killed many demons, the most famous of which was Mahishasura. So, she is the symbol of fortitude as well as fierceness.

Raksha Kali is a local form of Kali, which is said to protect against epidemics and other natural disasters.

Devotion

Goddess Kali is considered by her devotees to be the mother of all living beings. Kali protects the innocent against oppression and injustice. She is also seen as a provider of moksha. She is worshiped as the ultimate reality.

Kali symbols
Raja Ravi Varma, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Her worship is done not only to appease her but also to avoid her wrath. Worshipers offer her blood and sacrifice, which are considered important for her worship. Also, red millet is offered to her as her favorite food.

The goddess is worshiped in homes in the form of idols made of clay and also at night with tantric rites and mantras. She is said to release all karmic bondage, ignorance, and darkness. She helps her devotees realize the power of their inner selves. Kali is said to empower her worshipers by helping them face their fears. They become able to liberate themselves from unhealthy attachments and egoistic thoughts.

Colors 

Blue or Black are the colors of the complexion of the goddess Kali. These signify the sky and the ocean. These colors also represent her as a transcendent power of time.

Red color is also sometimes attributed to her. Devotees offer saris of red color during puja. 

Plants 

Hibiscus: The hibiscus plant is associated with the goddess Kali. Through this plant, she is the manifestation of primordial energy. The petals have the unique ability to emit divine consciousness.

Narcissus: This plant represents the goddess Kali’s creativity, inner vision, and inspiration.

Animals

Tiger: Kali riding a tiger indicates that she possesses unlimited power and uses it to protect virtue.

Lion: The lion symbolizes uncontrolled animalistic tendencies such as anger and greed. Her sitting on the lion reminds us to control these qualities.

Perfumes/Scents

Jasmine: The jasmine scent associated with the goddess Kali brings pure light and joy. It is said to attract physical and spiritual love. It brings all kinds of abundance and heightens spiritual awareness.

Dragon’s blood: It is associated with the fire element of the goddess Kali. It is used to clear negative energies and combat negativity.

Gems and Metals

Black Tourmaline: This stone shields from negative energy just as the goddess Kali does. It is considered to be highly protective against negative thoughts, too.

Smoky Quartz: This stone is said to complete the circuit between nature and man. They help send negative energy back to earth and recycle it for good.

Garnet: It is associated with the goddess Kali as it helps to feel safe and secure and brings a sense of calm.

Labradorite: It also clears the aura and is said to be a magic stone in this sense.

Planet

Saturn: Saturn is the planet associated with the goddess Kali. It represents her as she eliminates problems from our lives. For oppressors, she is the angry one, but for devotees, she has a very kind heart.

FAQs about Kali

What does the goddess Kali represent?

Kali is the goddess of war, destruction, fierceness, and strength.

Who is the goddess Kali’s consort?

Lord Shiva is the consort of goddess Kali, who is the manifestation of goddess Parvati.

Is Kali a reincarnation of the goddess Parvati?

Kali is the manifestation of the goddess Parvati. She is said to have emerged from it.

Where is the goddess Kali’s abode?

Goddess Kali’s abode is said to be at the cremation grounds.

Other Goddesses

If you enjoyed this post we are sure you will enjoy getting to know some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.

Featured Image Credit: Subhrajyoti07, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons