Other names for this goddess include Kalika, Kala (in the feminine form, meaning black or dark, also ‘appointed time’ or death), Kali Ma, Kal (time) and she is typically protrayed as the consort of Shiva.
Associations for Kali include war, time and change / force of time, eternal energy, creation protection and destruction and the mother goddess.
Other goddesses revered as Kali are Bhavatarini, Durga, Bhadrakali, Sati, Rudrani, Parvati and Chamunda.
Kali is a very misunderstood Goddess in that while her outward appearance is fierce and horrible, with her garland of fifty skulls (which actually represent the fifty letters of the Hindi alphabet and thereby also refer to great knowledge) and skirt of disembodied forearms, she is actually a peaceful and loving Goddess. The physical aspects of Kali represent the ego and once stripped of this exterior, she symbolised the loving, nurturing spirit of the divine mother.
Kali is typically represented as having either four arms, one of which carries as sword and another of which holds a severed head, or as having ten arms. The sword she carries signified Divine Knowledge and the head is that of the demon Raktabija, who when she fought she found that for every drop of blood of his that she spilt to the ground, another clone of his emerged. In some pictures Kali is holding a bowl or skull cap under the severed head to catch the blood so that it could not spill to the ground and cause the demon to multiply, another reinforcement of Divine Knowledge prevailing.
She is often depicted standing with one foot on the thigh and the other on the breast of her husband, Shiva. Kali is usually shown with either black or dark blue skin, representative of the nothingness from with everything is born and to which everything will return. The colour of her skin is likened to the colour of the night sky being black, yet of all that creates it being colourless, and the colour of the sea being blue but of water itself up close having no colour.
Kali is often depicted in a cremation ground where she meditates and challenges us to overcome our fear of death by facing her in this location. The purpose is not to glorify death or to enhance the ego with the challenge to meet on these terms but to highlight the contrast between the temporary physical body and the eternal spirit that exists once the impermanent body is surpassed.
Kali does signify death, but not physical death. She is symbolic of the death of the ego and therefore the release of the spirit, our true, liberated selves. She is sometimes referred to as the Goddess of death, sex and violence but this is only true in that death and sex are required for rebirth and violence in terms of battling one’s demons. In essence, Kali is the goddess of enlightenment and liberation.
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