Of all the forms of Hindu deities, Goddess Kali or Kali mata stands out due to her fearsome and strange appearance, which looks very different to the modern mind.
To understand Kali and her strange appearance, one needs to know about the Goddess Kali story, her origin, forms, symbolism, and even more.
In this article, we put forward all the details of Hindu Goddess Kali that you need to know.
Who is Goddess Kali
Goddess Kali, also called Kali mata or Mother Kali, is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati or Durga that originated to kill the demons Rakthabija and to aid the battle with demons Mahishasura, Chanda, and Munda.
She is considered one of the most important and powerful goddesses in the Hindu pantheon and is the consort of Lord Shiva, the most powerful God in Hinduism.
Coming to the appearance, Kali has a dreadful appearance, with matted hair, wearing a garland of skulls or severed heads, and having the human arms worn as a cloth around the girdle.
Despite her appearance, she is considered as a mother Goddess who cares about her devotees.
In Hinduism, She is considered the Goddess of Time and destruction and even as the Goddess of Death (doomsday).
Kali is a goddess, who is usually perceived as a loving primordial mother who is involved in nurturing and devouring all the beings in the universe.
She is also called with other names like Mahakali, Bhadrakali, Dakshinakali, Adyakali, and Kalika. Although all these forms are slightly different, they all refer to the Goddess Kali alone.
The word Kali means the Goddess of Time. This attribute came due to her attachment to Shiva. Lord Shiva is called with the name Kala, where the word Kala means the God of Time.
This name Kali is the feminine counterpart of Kala, representing the energy or the power of Time.
Coming to the meaning of words Maha Kali and Maha Kala, they represent the transcendental Time and its power.
There are also several other meanings to the word Kali like the black one, which indicates the dark complexion of the Goddess.
About her Appearance and Iconography
The appearance of Kali is a personification of the primordial energy in the cosmic drama of creation and destruction.
She is a warrior goddess, a power symbol, and is shown as the divine feminine form filled with mighty strength, intensity, and energy that can shatter all the obstacles in her way.
With long disheveled hair and red eyes, Goddess Kali is usually represented in a dark complexion either in black or dark blue color.
She is usually shown with four hands carrying a sword, severed human head, rakta patra (bowl to collect meat and dripping blood), and gestures of assurance and bestowing nature.
Another popular form of Kali is the Maha Kali or a greater form of Kali. She has ten hands holding Khadga (swords), Trishula (trident), Chakra (disk), Dhanurbhana( bow and arrow), Gada (mace), Shankha (conch), Munda (severed head), Patra (bowl with fire), and Mudras (gestures of bestowing).
Mahakali can also be represented with eight arms holding conch, bow, severed head, rakta patra, disk, mace, trident and a sword.
This four-armed Kali and eight-armed Maha Kali are the most popular forms described in Hindu scriptures and are the most common ones in how Kali is depicted in her paintings and statues.
Coming to the general appearance, She is usually seen filled up with dripping blood coming from the garland of severed heads and wears a girdle made of human hands.
Bedecked with golden ornaments, kali mata is shown adorned with a crescent moon on her head. Her tongue lolls out and looks dreadful with all her appearance. Her eyes are usually seen sunken.
In the Hindu scriptures, it is described that Kali makes strange sounds and fearsome laughter. The Kali Purana describes her as four armed with a sword and blue lotus in left hands, while the right two hands showing Varada and Abhaya postures, seated on a lion, dark and youthful.
Several other Goddesses like Chandi, Bhairavi, and Chamunda have a close connection to Kali. But what distinguishes them is the outstretched tongue of Kali mata. Also, some forms of Kali, like the Bhadrakali doesn’t have stretched red tongue.
Coming to the representation of this goddess in the Hindu tantric way, she is usually shown seated on a corpse or on Shiva. where Shiva is the consciousness and kali is the power, the confluence of Shiva and Shakthi (consciousness and power) is the ultimate reality.
Forms of Kali
Goddess Kali is usually represented in nine or twelve forms as per the Hindu scriptures
The popular Nine forms of Goddess Kali are
- Dakshina Kali
- Smasana Kali
- Siddha Kali mata
Although all these nine different forms of Kali have regional and temporal variations, they all have commonalities that make them identified as Kali.
Coming to the twelve forms of Kali, Hindu sanskrit scriptures like the Jayadratha yamala mention the details of twelve forms of Kali. They are
- Raksha Kali
All these twelve forms of Goddess Kali represent the state of consciousness. The highest is the ultimate consciousness which is none other than Goddess Kali.
There are also several other forms of Kali that are described in holy manuscripts. However, the above mentioned are the most standard and accepted by Hindu aesthetics.
The Famous Dakshina Kali Form
Of all the forms, Dakshina Kali, also called Shyama Kali, is the most popular and important form of Goddess Kali.
She is a fearsome goddess, has a terrible appearance with locks of hair, wearing a garland of severed heads, and dense cloud composition.
She screams terribly and has her leg on Lord Shiva lying down.
With four arms, kali holds a freshly severed head and a sword with her upper right hand and lower right hand. On the right side, the other two hands exhibit the Abhaya and Varada.
Most of the details mentioned in the Iconography mainly indicate Dakshina Kali.
Several of the Hindu symbols are associated with Kali, mainly the Yantras. Kali yantra is one of the powerful Kali symbol. The presence of Kali or worship of Kali can be done using the Kali yantra symbol as it is considered Kali herself.
Kali is undoubtedly one of the famous Goddesses in Hinduism. She is the symbol of Feminine power and even for radical feminism. Kali is often considered the symbol of mother nature and motherlyhood.
Goddess Kali Story
During the battle with Sumbha and Nisumbha. Devas were unable to fight with those demons and to save the world they all worshipped the supreme Goddess Parvati in the form of Ambika or Durga and asked her for help.
Listening to them, Goddess assured that I will protect you by killing those demons.
Then a Shakthi came out of her body and took the form of a Goddess called Kaushiki. After that, Ambika created another form of herself. Which then changed into another Goddess present in a dark black colour called Kali.
This is how the Goddess Kali had originated to aid the battle of Sumbha and Nisumbha
Another time, during the battle with Chanda and Munda and also the Raktabija, Goddess Ambika got angered with the acts of demons and called Kali shakthi inside her. Then Kali maa came out of Ambika or Goddess Durga forehead and aided the battle.
There are several other stories where Goddess Parvati took the form of Kali and fought with demons, like the story of Daruka, where Lord Shiva asked Parvati to destroy Daruka to maintain peace in Darukavanam. Then Parvati became kali and nullified the activities.
Kali, the Salayer of Raktabija
Battle with the demon Raktabija has great importance in Hindu mythology. It involved several Goddesses like Chandi, Maheswari, Vaishnavi, Brahmi, Kaumari, and others.
The battle started and the army of Raktabija is countered by the Devi ganas. The main among the Raktabija’s army are fighting with Gods and Goddesses.
Rakthabija started the battle and attacked several Goddesses like Vaishnavi. In return, Vaishnavi used chakra (disk) to cut the Raktabija. It tore his body and blood scattered away due to the force of chakra.
Raktabija once did great penance and had a boon from God Shiva that in case of battle, if anyone harms him and if a drop of his blood falls on earth it will give rise to a new Raktabija.
So here, due to the blood scattered away by the chakra, numerous Raktabijas came from every scattered blood drop.
Seeing this, Vaishnavi and other Goddess shocked and attacked further, even worsening the condition. Looking at this, Devas lost hope in battle and were looking Ambika for help.
Ambika then called Kali. Goddess Kali came from her forehead. Ambika asked her to spread her tongue and see that no drop of blood falls to the ground from Raktabija.
Kali spread her tongue all over the battleground like a mat. Ambika shot all the Rakthabijas with powerful weapons and arrows. Kali swallowed each and every drop of blood falling from all the duplicates of Rakthabija.
Only the main Raktabija remained. Ambika used a sword and separated the head and body of the demon. Kali, with great vigor, swallowed him entirely. This is how Goddess kali’s battle with Raktabija ended.
Like that, Kali had aided several battles with demons.
Kali and Shiva- Why Kali Maa has her Tongue Out
Even after slaying all the demons in the battle, Kali with vigor continued the great dance of death.
None of the Gods can even approach her. Kali looked like never before and her forces of destruction were at their highest.
So the gods went and prayed Shiva to help them. Shiva came to the battleground. He then thought he must calm Kali to save the world. For that, he called Kali to calm down, but Kali didn’t hear his words.
Then Shiva tried to control Kali through the inner sense. It is also unheard in her act of the great dance of destruction.
Lord Shiva then laid down in the path of Kali. On approaching Shiva’s body in her uncontrolled walking and dancing mode, unnoticingly Kali mata put her left leg on Lord Shiva’s body, which made kali come out of that trance and calm down.
Kali realized the mistake committed and out of shame, she stretched her tongue, which later became a symbol of Kali.
The Story of Kali Changing to Gauri
The origin of Goddess Gauri is linked to Kali mata. Once Lord Shiva rebuked Kali for being with too dark skin as a joke. But this upset Kali, which made her to do penance and turn into Gauri, a fair and charming form that represents the sattvic guna. This is how Gauri originated from Goddess Kali.
In Hindu tradition wife being obedient and in favor of her husband’s wish is considered a holy duty. Shiva also previously gave his half part of the body to Parvati as Ardhanareeswara signifying the relationship.
Significance of Goddess Kali
Goddess Kali is a well-known goddess all over India and in countries with Hindu population. However, her worship is highly popular in the state of West Bengal and also significant in the states of Kerala, Assam, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
However, in South Indian states, Bhadrakali and Mahakali worship are popular to regular Kali or Dakshina Kali. Whereas in Bengal, Dakshina Kali is popular.
- Goddess Kali can help you conquer all your fears.
- She brings courage and supports you in achieving your goals. she is an embodiment of the power.
- Worshiping kali will protect you in all ways and ward off the evil and negativity surrounding you. Her presence brings you auspiciousness.
- Depiction of the divine mother kali as a black goddess shows her as supreme brahman, which means ultimate reality in an unmanifested state.
As a Mahavidya
Mahavidyas or Dasa Mahavidyas are a group of ten Tantric Goddesses who are needed to achieve supreme wisdom.
Out of those Mahavidyas, Kali is one of the important Goddesses and is the primordial one.
The names of these ten deities can vary in some texts. However, Kali’s name won’t change in the list, which says how important kali is in the Dasa Mahavidyas.
How and When to do Kali Worship
Tuesdays and Fridays are considered highly auspicious for Kali worship. As per the thithi’s both New moon day (Amavasya) and Full moon days (Pournami) are good for worship.
Tantric books recommend worshipping Kali on Amavasya, preferably at midnight and in the waning half of the Lunar cycle, as a part of Kali sadhana.
The ultimate aim of worshipping Kali is to obtain the blessings of the Goddess and to get the wishes fulfilled either spiritual or materialistic.
Generally, worship of Kali is mainly done by invoking the Goddess with mantras and with offerings like flowers, food, incense, clothes, lightning diya, and harati.
One can worship Kali devi regularly using the Kali Mantra, yantra, Kali Ashtothram, or by the sacred stotrams like Sri Mahakali stotram, Kali Chalisa, etc.
Whereas the Kali sadhana or more rigorous worship involves several rituals as per Tantra Shastras and Puja vidhi usually under the supervision of a Guru.
Kali worship can be done using both in the Sattvic way or by Tantric way
The tantric way of worshipping follows the Kalikula or the Vamachara, simply called left-handed worship. Which includes extreme activities and uses objects like Alcohol, flesh or meat, body liquids, etc.
In the regular worship, also called Shrikula, Dakshinachara, or the right-handed path, Kali is worshipped in sattvic way with offerings like fruits, vegetables, rice, and others.
One can even visit the Kali temple and pay his offerings.
To know about Kali mata worship, puja, and rituals, one must study the Kali Tantra shastra, a standard book that describes the Mantra Deeksha, Japa, pooja vidhi, dhyana, and even more. It gives detailed instructions on the Sadhana for the devotees.
Whereas Kali Purana in other hand, is a religious text that describes the stories, forms, rituals, and greatness of Goddess Kali.
Goddess Kali Mantra
Ritualistic chants called Mantras play a important role in Goddess Kali puja.
Kali mantras can vary it depends on the bijakshara mantras or the regular ones, which are usually present in Sanskrit.
Here are some of the important Kali mantras
- Om Krim Kali
- Om Krim Kalikayai Namaha
- Om Mahakalyai Namaha
These mantras can be used by the devotees to pray or even to meditate on Kali.
Worship Goddess Kali using the Kali Yantra is very powerful and is one of the fastest ways to get the wishes fulfilled. This is because kali yantra is nothing but the power of kali represented in a geometric way.
Yantra worship is a key thing in tantric pujas.
To worship the goddess using yantra, devotee or sadhaka need to know about the rituals, rules, and method of worship and needs to strictly adhere to those rules.
Hindu Scriptures and Kalika
The name Kali initially appeared in Mundaka Upanishad, where she is described as one of the seven tongues of Agni.
But in Puranas, several tales about Goddess Kali were told. Shiva Maha Purana, Skanda, and Markandeya Purana have several details on Kali. Upapuranas like Devi Bhagavatam, Chandi Purana, and Kalika Purana have detailed stories about this Goddess.
Tantras on the other hand have a great detailing about the worship and rituals of Kali.
Kali, the Goddess of Destruction and Death.
Mostly known as the Goddess of Time, Kali is also considered the Goddess of Destruction and Death. This is because Kalika also symbolizes the power of destruction.
There is a form of this Goddess called Samhara Kali, where the name Samhara itself indicates the term destruction, slaying, and death. This form of the goddess is mainly worshipped in Tantric way and is considered the most ferocious form of Kali maa.
The Samhara Kali is the one who is considered to be involved in the act of destruction and recreation of the universe along with the Great God Shiva. which brought her the name Goddess of destruction and Goddess of death.
Kali is also called the Goddess of creation as she is involved in the acts of recreation of the universe along with Shiva after the end of a Kalpa.