“Energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but in can neither be created nor destroyed.” Hinduism does not deny this truth. Sanatan Hindus worship Shakti (energy) in the form of Great Goddess or Divine Mother. In other words, Sanatan Hindus’ worship of Adishakti or Shakti means worship of Divine Mother. The devotees of Hindu Shakta sects believe in Her variety of forms and names, including Uma, Parvati, Sati, Amvika, Kali,Durga, Lakshmi,Shitala etc. but they love to call Her Kali Mata (Mother). They also believe that Kali is the Supreme Being, Adi Shakti, Parama Shakti and the feminine form of Almighty. According to Hindu philosophy, She enlightens the devotee’s entire life removing the ego and liberating his/her soul from the cycle of birth and death.
The name ‘Kali’ is derived from the word ‘Kala’(time). She is one of Dasha (ten) Mahavidya. The Tantras mention over thirty forms of Kali. The Universal Mother is also known as Kali Ma, Maha Kali, Nitya Kali, Shamshana Kali, Raksha Kali, Shyama Kali, Kalimata, Kalaratri etc. Many think that She is the Goddess of destruction. But they are mistaken. Actually She destroys the ego and ignorance of our mind. She is the consort of Lord Shiva and so, She is Shiva Shakti (energy and inspiration of Shiva). She is equated with the eternal time and the transcendental power of time.She came before the time came, which means, before sun and light came or before the day and night was being counted She appeared. So, She is called by the color of dark ‘Kali’. She is named Kali as She devours Kala (time). Scientifically She can be illustrated as the black hole in the space.
The story of the goddess Kali is described in the Devi Mahatmya of the Markandeya Purana. Once the demons Shumba and Nishumba defeated the gods in a battle took over the three worlds. So, the gods went to mount Kailash to ask Devi Durga for help. Then Durga appeared and out of Her body came Her another form known as Amvika or Kaushiki. During Amvika’s battle with Shumba and Nishumabha’sAsura army, She was confronted by a pair of Asura generals named Chanda and Munda. To defeat them, Amvika created Kali out of her forehead. Her appearance was black, gaunt with sunken eyes, and wearing a tiger skin and a garland of human heads. Kali defeated Chanda and Munda and brought Amvika their heads, for which She is also known as Chamunda. Kali holds a sword and freshly severed heads dripping blood. This terrible appearance of Mother Kali is also associated with a myth. Once the world was threatened by the Asuras (demons) The Asuras wanted to overthrow the gods and take control of the three worlds. The leader of the Asuras was Raktabija, the demon general. As Raktabija was granted by Brahma, he (Raktabija) had a power to increase by a thousand every time a drop of his (Raktabija) blood was spilled. His (Raktabija) unbearable disturbances forced gods and sages to seek help from Shakti (Goddess Kali), the divine manifestation of eternal energy. In the battle field Goddess Kali stabbed Raktabija with Her spear and then with Her enormous tongue drank the whole blood from the wounds created. Thus Devi prevented the rebirth of Raktabija and killed him. Yet, Kali continued dancing. Nothing could stop Her and again the creation was on the verge of collapse. Shiva called Her again and again but She did not pay heed to Him. At last, Shiva threw Himself down beneath Her feet. This quickly brought Her out of Her trance and Devi got back Her previous form.
The exceptional appearance of Kali Mata (Mother)has some symbolical meanings. The blackness of the Goddess symbolizes Her comprehensive nature as in black all colors merge. Her nakedness symbolizes the liberation from the illusion of materialistic world. Kali wears a garldand of fifty skulls and a skirt of severed human hands. This appearance of Mother Kali makes us understand that the ego arises out of identification with the body. In fact, we are beings of spirit and not flesh. So, liberation can only arise when our attachment to the body detaches. Besides, Fifty skulls in Her garland represent fifty letters of Sanskrit alphabet which symbolizes knowledge and wisdom, he severed human hands in Her girdle signify the action of Karma (work), Her four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction and Her three eyes represent the sun, moon and fire with which She observes past, present and future. This is actually the origin of the name of Kali, the feminine form of Kala (time).The Goddess is seen on Shiva with white skin (in contrast to Her black or sometimes dark blue skin). Here, the Goddess is the Parama Prakriti or World (female) as opposed to Lord Shiva, the Purusha or Consciousness (male). Shiva represents pure formless consciousness of sat-chit-ananda (being- consciousness-bliss) while the Goddess symbolizes ‘form’ eternally supported by pure formless consciousness. Again, Shiva and Shakti are partners in darkness. Their dancing mode represents the cycle of life and death. She is regeneration and rebirth. The devotees love to see Her in shmashana (the cremation ground) where Panchamahabhuta (five elements named Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth) are dissolved and where She takes life and recycles new life. They also pray to Her sacred heart on the auspicious days. The sword and severed human heads in Her hands represent the tools of eradication of evils and ego and enlightening the entire human life.In reality, the form of Kali is not a form at all. It is transcendental to all forms and the three Gunas of Prakriti(Satva, Rajas and Tamas) for She is the embodiment of Absolute Truth. Both Shiva and Shakti are present within Goddess Kali and they (Shiva and Shakti) are inseparable. The Divine Mother has dual forms – Saguna and Nirguna. When Nirguna, She is Parambrahman. When Saguna, Kali is Ardhanarishwara and manifests into the dual forms of Shiva – (Mahakala) and Shakti (Mahakali). When Nirguana, Kali is neither Purusha nor Prakriti; when Saguna, Kali alone appears in the dual form of both Purusha and Prakriti to Her devotees. Kali, the Divine Mother, has blessed many of Her great devotees and enlightened their human lives since the creation of our planet. The names ofSadhakBamakhyapa, SadhakRamprasad Sen, Ramkrishna Paramhamsa, Ma Sarada, Swami Vivekananda are mentionable among them. In 1897, Ramkrishna’s chief disciple Swami Vivekananda founded Ramkrishna Mission which forms the core of a worldwide Shakta spiritual movement known as the Ramkrishna Movement or the Vedanta Movement. Shakti, the strong mother-figure, is the symbol of the eternity of Nature.
Despite the terrible form of goddess Kali, She is often considered the kindest and most loving of all goddesses as She is the Mother of the whole Universe. Though She has a terrible form, She is often seen as a great protector in a devotee’s life. She creates and nourishes and She skills and destroys. The whole world we see around us is nothing but the play of Maya, the veiling power of the Divine Mother. Let’s chant – Om Krim Kalikayai Namah [I bow my head to the Goddess Kali]