by Raja Ravi Varma (CC BY-SA)
Kali is the Hindu goddess (or Devi) of death, time, and doomsday and is often associated with sexuality and violence but is also considered a strong mother-figure and symbolic of motherly-love. Kali also embodies shakti – feminine energy, creativity and fertility – and is an incarnation of Parvati, wife of the great Hindu god Shiva. She is most often represented in art as a fearful fighting figure with a necklace of heads, skirt of arms, lolling tongue, and brandishing a knife dripping with blood.
Kali’s name derives from the Sanskrit meaning ‘she who is black’ or ‘she who is death’, but she is also known as Chaturbhuja Kali, Chinnamastā, or Kaushika. As an embodiment of time Kali devours all things, she is irresistibly attractive to mortals and gods, and can also represent (particularly in later traditions) the benevolence of a mother goddess.
The goddess is particularly worshipped in eastern and southern India and specifically in Assam, Kerala, Kashmir, Bengal, – where she is now worshipped in the yearly festival of Kali Puja held on the night of a new moon – and in the Kalighat Temple in the city of Calcutta.
There are several traditions of how Kali came into existence. One version relates when the warrior goddess Durga, who had ten arms each carrying a weapon and who rode a lion or tiger in battle, fought with Mahishasura (or Mahisa), the buffalo demon. Durga became so enraged that her anger burst from her forehead in the form of Kali. Once born, the black goddess went wild and ate all the demons she came across, stringing their heads on a chain which she wore around her neck. It seemed impossible to calm Kali’s bloody attacks, which now extended to any wrongdoers, and both people and gods were at a loss what to do. Fortunately, the mighty Shiva stopped Kali’s destructive rampage by lying down in her path, and when the goddess realised just who she was standing on, she finally calmed down. From this story is explained Kali’s association with battlegrounds and areas where cremation is carried out.
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