“O Dark Primordial Mother!
Thou gives birth to and protects the universes
and at the time of dissolution
does withdraw to Thyself
this world and all beings.” (Karpuradi Stotra)
Kali, The Black One
Kali (“the black one”) is the Hindu mother goddess, symbol of dissolution and destruction. She destroys ignorance, maintains the world order, and blesses and frees those who strive for the knowledge of God. In the Vedas, the name is associated with Agni, the god of fire, who had seven flickering tongues of flame, of which Kali is seen as the black, horrible tongue. This meaning of the word has meanwhile been replaced by the goddess Kali, the grim consort of Shiva. Her appearance is fearsome: baleful eyes, a protruding tongue, and four arms. In Her upper left hand She wields a bloody sword and in Her lower left hand She holds the severed head of a demon. With Her upper right hand She makes the gesture of fearlessness, while the lower right hand confers benefits. Draped around Her is a chain of severed human heads and She wears a belt made of dismembered arms. As the Divine Mother, She is often represented dancing or in sexual union with Shiva. As Bhavatarini, the redeemer of the universe, She stands upon the supine form of Her spouse.
She is also known as Kalikamata (“black earth-mother”) and Kalaratri (“black night”). Among the Tamils She is known as Kottavei. Kali is worshipped particularly in Bengal. Her best known temples are in Kalighat and Dakshineshvara.
Variations on the name Kali for female divinity can be found in many ancient cultures outside India, which suggests that in the distant past a common or related matriarchal religion pervaded much of the world. For example, in pre-historic Ireland people worshipped a powerful goddess known as Kele (Her priestesses were known as Kelles), in ancient Finland there was the all-powerful Goddess Kal-ma, in the Sinai region of the Middle East there was the Goddess Kalu, and in ancient Greece an aspect of the Goddess was known as Kalli. It is likely that these very similar names for the Great Goddess in different cultures was the result of the export of spiritual ideas and practices “out of India” by early invasions.