Kali, the Hindu Goddess of creation, preservation, and
destruction is the animating force of Shiva, the destroyer
(Lord of the Dance). She symbolizes dissolution and destruction.
She destroys ignorance, maintains and blesses and frees those
who strive for knowledge of God. According to the Vedas, Agni,
the fire God, had seven flickering tongues of flames, and
Kali the black horrible tongue symbolizing devastation.
Tantric literature describes her image as most fearful. She
laughs, showing her dreadful teeth, stands upon the prostate
corpse of her consort, Shiva, and has four arms. She holds
up a bloody sword in her upper left hand, while her lower
left hand displays the severed head of a demon. Her upper
right hand is held up in a gesture of fearlessness even as
her lower right hand confers benefits and benediction. She
wears a garland of severed human heads around her neck and
a belt of dismembered arms. She is naked, clad only in the
vast emptiness of space. Her blackness serves to remind us
that in the power of time, all color dissolves into darkness.
Her disheveled hair indicates that she is beyond bondage.
She is usually portrayed dancing or in a sexual position with
According to Hindu mythology, Daksha Prajapati did not invite
his daughter Sati and her husband Shiva to a yagya. Sati,
though humiliated, decided to attend and tried to coax her
husband into accompanying her. Shiva refused and also forbade
Sati from attending the religious ceremony. Sati, enraged
at this denial, appeared as the Dasha Mahabidhya (the goddess
representing the ten transcendental manifestations of knowledge),
and when Shiva asked her to explain her mysteries, Sati promised
to but on the condition that she be allowed to attend the
yagya. Shiva consented and asked Nandi, his vehicle to take
Sati to her father’s residence. Upon her arrival Sati
rushed towards her father to greet him, but she was roughly
pushed away, and her father proceeded to slander Shiva. Shocked
and betrayed, she stepped into the ritual fire and died. When
Shiva learnt of his wife’s death, he destroyed his father-in-law’s
palace, and carrying his wife’s corpse on his shoulders,
began his terrifying dance of destruction. The dance shook
the world, causing earthquakes and tidal waves. For the sake
of mankind, Vishnu, the protector, hurled his discus at Sati’s
corpse till her body fell to the earth in pieces. When Shiva
felt her weight gone, he returned to Mount Kailash and confined
himself in solitary meditation. One of the forms Sati appeared
in as was Kali, with her fearsome, baleful eyes, blood-red
tongue, and four arms.
Kali is worshipped in various forms in Hinduism. Tantrics
worship her in cremation grounds, where the air is smoky,
laden with specks of ash from burning funeral pyres and where,
the white, sun-dried bones and fragments of flesh, gnawed
and pecked at by carrion birds and beast are strewn. It is
a frightening place for all but the true ‘heroic’
mother worshipper, this is where all worldly desires are burnt
away, and her devotees seek union with her. Kali, who fears
nothing and knows no aversion..
But Kali is multi dimensional. She is venerated in less
threatening places, temples, where reality is a symbol rather
than the truth. She is worshipped more as a benign protector
rather than a destroyer in Nepal. She is neither hideous nor
absurd. She is portrayed as a universal power, beyond good
and evil. She creates and nourishes, as well as kills and
destroys. Worshippers flock to her temples to ask for the
boon of a child, to be cured of diseases and to pledge their
devotion, in the hope that she will liberate them from a troubled
Icons and idols representing Kali have been discovered in
Nepal in various places, like Kirtipur and Patan, the date
back to the Lichchhavi era. Kathmandu Valley is surrounded
by a protective loop of Goddesses, known as the ‘eight
mothers’. The chronicles credit King Gunakamadeva with
placing the eight mother Goddesses in the four directions.
Around the middle of the 14th century, Taleju (Kali) became
the tutelary deity of the Nepali royal family and has been
worshipped ever since by it in her many forms. Many medieval
statues and manuscripts of Kali have been found in Nepal,
attest to her popularity. She has been traditionally worshipped
by both Hindus and Buddhists with equal zeal, and veneration.
Kali is the universal mother, the supreme energy without which
nothing on earth can survive. She provides energy to Brahma,
Vishnu, and Shiva for creation, protection and destruction,
and is associated with them as Saraswati, Lakshmi and Kali.
Volumes can be written about Kali, but to understand her,
one has to be a part of her. It is from her that all begins
and ends. She is the embodiment of time. She is the primordial
energy. Kali is beyond the scope of words, worlds, and time.