The meaning of Kali ma, in Hinduism and hindu mythology is a manifestation of the Divine Mother. It represents the female principle. Those not comprehending her many roles in life call Kali the goddess of destruction. She destroys only to recreate, and what she destroys is sin, ignorance and decay.
She is equated with the eternal night, and is the transcendent power of time, Kali or Maha-Kali, is the consort of the god Shiva. In myth, it is Shiva who destroys the world, and Kali is the power or energy with which Shiva acts. So, Kali is Shiva’s Shakti, without which Shiva could not act.
Kali ma is a pre-Aryan goddess. She belongs to the civilization of the Indus Valley. There is no evidence that Aryan people ever raised a female deity to the rank that she held in the Indus. And currently she maintains it in Hinduism.
Goddess of vegetation
She was an aboriginal deity of vegetation and agricultural. But there is evidence that animal and human sacrifices were offered to her. This suggests that Kali became a fertility deity.
Animal sacrifices still exist because of her. In temples such as the one at Kalighat in Calcutta, where there is a goat immolation in her honor every day.
On her feast in the fall, goats and buffalos are the usual victims, along with certain types of vegetation. Although human sacrifices have been banned, there are occasional reports of alleged sacrifices to authorities from remote areas.
Representation of Kali ma the hindu goddess
In her iconography Kali is fearsome. She is presented as black, standing over the white corpse of her consort Shiva, who is inert without her powers. Her tongue lolls, she is naked, and wears a garland of skulls.
She has four arms representing the four directions of space:
One hand holds a sword, the power of destruction;
Another a severed head to show the living their destiny;
A third is an attitude to remove fear;
And the fourth bestows bliss.
Her cult is especially strong in Bengal and eastern India. There she is often worshiped as Durga, Devi, Shakti, Sati, Uma, Parvati. Also other names under which she appears as the consort of Shiva.
Kali also is the goddess Kundalini, the Serpent Power. She arises from the depths of the body in tantric yoga so to bring the devotee to nirvana.
Kali Ma the dark mother of creation and destruction
Kali Ma, called the “Dark Mother,” is the Hindu goddess of creation, preservation, and destruction. She is especially known in her Destroyer aspect. She appears squatting over her dead consort, Shiva, devouring his entrails while her yoni sexually devours his lingam, penis.
Kali, in this aspect is said to be “The hungry earth, which devours its own children and fattens on their corpses…”
In India the experience of the Terrible Mother has been given its most grandiose form of Kali. Is not simple imagery. It is the image of the Feminine, particularly the Maternal. In a profound way life and birth are connected to death and destruction.
Kali serves as the archetypal image of the birth-and-death Mother, the womb and tomb, giver of life as well as the devourer of her children: the identical image was portrayed in a thousand ancient religions.
Current psychologists face this image with an uneasy acknowledgement of its power. The image of the angry, punishing, castrating Father seems less threatening than the destructive Mother. Perhaps because she symbolized the inexorable reality of death. Whereas he only postulated a problematic post-mortem judgment.
This is one reason the Roman Catholics maintain the teaching of purgatory, to divert the final end.
The full importance of the meaning of the functions of Kali as the live-giver, preserver, and destroyer have been dismissed or destroyed over the centuries. Also have been the aspects of other manifestations of the goddess.
Many western interpretations of Kali in art and literature depict the destructive aspect of this goddess. It tend to portray her as fearsome and evil. In the London Museum is an image of her which is labeled “Kali-Destroying Demon.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica devotes five columns to the Christian interpretation of the Logos. And dismisses Kali’s part in the creation of the world. This deity is in a brief paragraph as the consort of Shiva, and “a goddess of disease.”
In Hinduism Kali’s has three functions to the gods:
Vishnu, who brought the world out of the primal abyss, wrote the following about Kali:
“Maternal cause of all change, manifestation, and destruction…the whole Universe rests upon Her, rises out of Her and melts into Her.
From Her crystallized the original elements and qualities which construct the apparent world. She is both mother and grave… The gods themselves are merely constructs out of Her maternal substance, which is both consciousness and potential joy.”
As a mother
As a Mother, Kali name was Treasure-House of Compassion (karuna), Giver of Life to the World, the Life of all lives.
Despite the popular western belief that she is just a Goddess of destruction. She is the fount of every kind of love, which flows into the world through women, her agents on earth. Thus, it is said of a male worshipper of Kali, “bows down at the feet of women,” of them as his rightful teachers.
Some say the name Eve originated from Kali’s leva or Jiva, the primordial female principle of manifestation. She gave birth to her “first manifested form” and called him Idam (Adam). She also bore the same title given to Eve in the Old Testament: Mother of All Living (Jaganmata).
Although referred to as “the One,” Kali was always a trinity Goddess: Virgin, Mother, and Crone. This triad formed nine or ten millennia ago has been manifested in many cultures:
the Celts with their triple Morrigan,
the Greeks with their triple Moerae,
the Norsemen with their Norms,
the Romans with their Fates and triadic Uni (Juno),
Her trinity is recognized in the Christian triple Godhead; some conclude this Godhead is all male, not nothing that in the Hebrew Old Testament the word for Spirit, ruwach, was of feminine gender.
Blood sacrifice was important in the worship of Kali as they were in the worship of the early Biblical God, the commanded that the blood must be poured on his alters (Exodus 29:16) for the remission of sins (Numbers 18:9), but there were differences.
Jewish priests ate the sacrificial meat themselves. Whereas the devotees of Kali were permitted to eat their own offerings as in Calcutta.
Kali demanded only male animals be sacrificed. A custom dating back to the primitive belief that the male had no part in the cycle of generation. The god Shiva, Kali’s sacrificial spouse, commanded that female animals must not be slain on the altar.
Kali was the Ocean of Blood at the beginning of the world. She might be the primordial mass from which all life arouse. And her ultimate destruction of the universe is prefigured by the destruction of each individual, though her karmic wheel always brought reincarnation.
Kali and the tantric
After death came nothing-at-all, which Tantric sages called the third of three states of being. To experience it was like the experience of Dreamless Sleep. Another name for this state was “the Generative Womb of All, the Beginning and End of Beings”.
Kali devoured Time, she resumed her “dark formlessness,” which appeared in all myths of before-creation and after-doomsday as elemental Chaos.
The Tantric worshippers of Kali readily acknowledged and accepted her Curse. They willing accepted her terror of death as well as they accepted her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. They knew the coin of life has two sides, life and death; one cannot exist without the other.
Kali’s sages communed with her in the grisly atmosphere of the cremation ground, to become familiar with the images of death. Her devotee would say, “His Goddess, his loving Mother, in time who gives him birth and loves him in the flesh, she also destroys him in the flesh. His image of Her is incomplete if he does not know her as his tearer and devourer.”
The name Kali Ma comes from Kalma. It is a hunter of tombs and eater of the dead. She had this name in Finland. Also the name of the Black Goddess.
European “witches” worshipped her in funeral places. For the same reasons, the Tantric yogis and dakinis worshipped her in cremation grounds, as Smashana-Kali, Lady of the Dead.
Former pagans adored her in cemeteries as the Black Mother Earth. There the Roman tombstones invoked her with the phrase Mater genuit, Mother receipt-the Mother bore me, the Mother took me back.
Sometimes Kali, the Destroyer, wore red symbolizing the blood of the life that she gave and took back. “as She devours all existence, as She chews all things existing with Her fierce teeth. So a mass of blood is the apparel of the Queen of the Gods at the final dissolution.”
The gypsies in their worship of Kali, the Goddess of disease, clothed her in red, the proper color of gypsy funerals.
Walker, Barbara G, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, New York, HarperCollins, 1983, pp. 488-494 Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1978, pp. 211-212 Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, pp. 69-70