Skt., kali: Black One

An Indian deity who is often regarded as a dark, black (Skt., kala) and fierce goddess of death, and as the destructive "Power of Eternal Time". However, to her worshippers in both Shakta and Tantra she is much more, and represents a multi-faceted Great Goddess responsible for all of life from conception to death.

Her worship, therefore, consists of fertility festivals as well as sacrifices (animal and human); and her initiations expand one's consciousness by many means, including fear, ritual sexuality and a variety of drugs.

Kali Poster

Popular Indian Poster

Although Kali is worshipped throughout India and Nepal, and even among the non-Islamic Indonesians of Bali, she is most popular in Bengal, where one also finds Kalighat (Skt. kaligata), her most famous temple just outside Calcutta (now called Kolkota).

It has been said that Kali is the divine Shakti representing both the creative and destructive aspects of nature, and as such she is a goddess who both gives life and brings death.

Clothed only with the veil of space, her blue-black nakedness symbolizes the eternal night of non-existence, a night that is free of any illusion and distinction. Kali as such is pure and primary reality (the enfolded order in modern physics); formless void yet full of potential. It is therefore not surprising that this goddess is also the foremost among the Mahavidya, the ten most powerful and important goddesses of the Indian pantheon. She is also called mahakali (Great Kali) and kali ma (Mother Kali).

In time, Kali has become such a dominating figure in the Indian pantheon, that many other goddesses have been assimilated into her, and/or that She Herself has been ascribed an ever greater number of aspects and manifestations.

Many of these, for example the so-called One Hundred Names of Kali, are names that begin with the letter 'K'. In their translations, these names define the goddess much more directly and intimately than any summary can do. These 100 names occur in the Adyakali Svarupa Stotra, a hymn to Kali that is part of the Mahanirvana Tantra. What emerges when reading this hymn, is an exposition of this goddess in a variety of strikingly different aspects.

  1. Kali as revealer, benefactress and embodiment of the Kula school of Tantrics, their teachings, rituals and lifestyle
  2. Kali as merciful helper and destructress of evil, fear, pride and sin
  3. Kali as young, beautiful, swan-like and sensual woman
  4. Kali as embodiment of desire and liberator from desire, as a free woman who enjoys and lets herself be enjoyed
  5. Kali who enjoys and partakes of drugs and aphrodisiacs (camphor, musk, wine)
  6. Kali who enjoys and encourages the worship of young women (with wine, drugs and sexual play)
  7. Kali as Queen of the holy city Varanasi (Benares) and as lover, beloved and devourer of the god Shiva (Lord of that city)
  8. Kali as shape-shifter (assuming any form at will)
  9. Kali of terrific countenance, wearing a garland of bones, using a human skull as cup (Skt., kapala)
  10. Kali as dark night, mother and destructress of time, as the fire of the worlds dissolution

See also Kali Yantra. For images of Kali, see this small collection.