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Decoding Goddess Kali

In Art, Goddess Kali is mostly portrayed as a fearsome figure with disheveled hair, dark skin, and a lolling tongue dripping with blood. Her artistic representation is highly in contrast with other Hindu Goddesses, who are shown as well-adorned female figures wearing beautiful sarees and lots of jewellery. This difference is what makes Kali a mysterious and attractive figure.

Among all her representations, Kali is mostly depicted as the slayer of demons where she stands or dances with one foot on a collapsed Shiva, her husband. Her unconventional iconography has always been the centre of attention, with many scholars and mythologists deciphering her many layers.

Goddess Kali ( Image Source: Flickr)

One of the most distinguishing features of Goddess Kali is her untied disheveled hair that symbolises her absolute freedom from all societal norms. Thus, Kali represents nature in its raw form that cannot be tamed. Her nakedness covered only by a garland of severed heads and a skirt of severed hands depicts that she is beyond 'Maya.' She is the Ultimate Truth that cannot be covered with the clothes of ignorance. Kali's dark complexion represents the darkness from which everything is born and where everything is ultimately dissolved. The garland of severed heads (fifty in number) that adorns her neck, also called 'mundamala,' symbolises the fifty alphabets of Sanskrit- a language that is the source of true wisdom. While the only garment that she wears- a skirt of severed hands is a symbol of 'Karma,' her third eye is the eye of intuition.

She has many forms, but the most popular one is her four-handed image symbolising both creation and destruction. Her left hands hold a scimitar (Divine Knowledge) and a severed head (Human ego and ignorance), meaning that divine knowledge kills human ignorance and ego. Her right hands are in Abhaya mudra (gesture of fearlessness) and Varada Mudra (symbol of charity), exemplifying her benevolence and protective attitude toward her devotees.

The most debated aspects of her appearance are her stretched tongue and her position with regards to Lord Shiva. Many folklores are associated with the two that were developed according to the societal norms of the period. Some claim Kali’s lolling tongue to be a symbol of shame when she realises she is standing on her husband or ‘pati parmeshwar,’ thus, representing a highly patriarchal view. On the other hand, some consider it is as a symbol of nature's power wherein Kali, with her stretched tongue, mocks at human beings who perceive themselves to be the supreme force by presenting nature's powerful reality to them. She can see the dark desires of humans hidden behind their social facade and thus provokes them to confront their concealed faces.

According to the famous mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, Kali is the epitome of Prakriti (nature), which is free from man-made customs and traditions or Sanskriti. She is wild, she is raw. Like nature is unaffected by what humans think of it, Kali is also indifferent to the human gaze. In all forms, Goddess Kali is truly a divine personification of Mother Nature and Time.


Pratha Editorial Team

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