Kali, in Hinduism, is a manifestation of the Divine Mother, which represents the female principle. Frequently 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, and 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. Therefore, Kali is Shiva’s Shakti, without which Shiva could not act.
It is thought with much certainty that Kali is a pre-Aryan goddess, belonging to the civilization of the Indus Valley, because there is no evidence that Aryan people ever raised a female deity to the rank that she held in the Indus and currently maintains in Hinduism. Speculation is that she was an aboriginal deity of vegetation and agricultural; but evidence that animal and human sacrifices were offered to her suggests that Kali became a fertility deity. Animal sacrifices are still made to her, notably in temples such as the one at Kalighat in Calcutta, where a goat is immolated 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.
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, where she is often worshiped as Durga, Devi, Shakti, Sati, Uma, Parvati, and other names under which she appears as the consort of Shiva. Kali also is the goddess Kundalini, the Serpent Power, who arises from the depths of the body in tantric yoga so to bring the devotee to nirvana. A.G.H.
Rice, Edward, Eastern Definitions: A Short Encyclopedia of Religions of the Orient, Garden City, New York, Doubled