I do not worship Kali as a mother. Kali has no children. Her body is not a vessel of reproduction; it is a tool for terror and destruction. Kali does not carry a child; she carries a sword. Kali does not feed an infant; she feeds herself, on blood shed by her own hand. She may be viewed as beautiful, but she may also be viewed as grotesque; she is raw, naked, radiant, wild, and inspires both awe and horror. Her role is not inherently subservient, gentle, or nurturing. She kills, she fucks, she feeds, she screams. I worship Kali because I feel an affinity for Kali, I feel a desire within me to be among her witchy cohorts who slaughter, laugh playfully and terribly, and inspire fear. I’d sooner bear a weapon and take down life than bear life within me. I worship Kali as a goddess who is not confined either by her beauty and desirablity, nor by her fertility and maternal qualities. She is no goddess of love, nor of motherhood.
Even Parvati, who is indeed a wife and mother, is more than a benevolent “mother” goddess. She is an ascetic, who undertook extreme austerities to win the attentions of her husband, Lord Shiva, whom she now joins in a life of empowered renunciation on Mount Kailash. Her children, Ganesha and Kartikeya, are not the product of ordinary conception and impregnation. Kartikeya was born from six flaming droplets of Shiva’s spilt seed placed in the Ganges, producing six children which Parvati combined into one. Ganesha was made by Parvati as she was bathing, by scraping the sandalwood paste from her skin and forming it into a child. She utilized external resources and her own internal potency to shape and create these very powerful entities. In her role as Parvati, she is instrumental in bringing these demigods into existence and influencing them so that they may engage in the divine activities set out for them. But she engages in her own divine activities other than motherhood when there is need, by taking one of her many forms, and in the meantime she meditates on Kailash, still, potent, and ready.
This is why I turn to the Hindu understanding of female divinity (and divinity in general) most readily: it is thorough, encompassing the many aspects of power and pastime, rather than trying to pigeon-hole this understanding into limited, generalized definitions. There are many goddesses exhibiting many attributes, just as there is broad variety in the appearance, abilities, and personalities of human women. A goddess may be worshipped as beautiful, but another goddess may likewise be worshipped as ugly. You may worship a youthful goddess, or an elderly one. You may propitiate a martial goddess or a maternal one, according to her pastimes and yours. You may ask a goddess for health or wealth, for knowledge, for domestic comfort, for inhuman strength, for vengeance. A goddess may be gentle in nature, or she may be stern. A goddess may be compassionate, or she may be bloodthirsty. A goddess may be earthly, or she may be cosmic. There are any number of forms, and behind all of these forms is power. It is not superior to worship power without form anymore than it is practical to try and harness electricity without proper appliance. A goddess is not just an idea, a figure to be conceptualized and boiled down into some more easily comprehended notion: this is a “mother” goddess, this is a “war” goddess. Divine femininity is not a notion to wrap up female power into terms of sex, beauty, chastity, motherhood, &c., nor should these aspects be denounced or denied in favor of one over another. There is power in beauty, there is power in wisdom, there is power in rage, there is power in birth, there is power in austerity, there is power in desire, there is power in cruelty, there is power in calmness, there is power in effort, there is power in charity, there is power in struggle, there is power in labor, there is power in contemplation, there is power in harshness, sweetness, action, and inaction.
Kali may be a mother to one man, and a fright to another, and she may be turned to for protection from the horrors of everyday existence, or she may be sought out for benediction in enacting brutal duties. She offers solace with one hand, and blood with another. This is not conflict; this is completeness. I admire Kali as a being unto herself, and worship her in a sisterly mood, as the sister of Krishna, and a sister I would wish to have of my own. There are those who turn to her and love her for reasons other than my own, and she has the capacity to satisfy these relationships, just as an ordinary, individual human woman may play many parts to many people, yet always remain essentially herself. Kali has a female body, but she does not produce children, yet she is found to be nurturing by those who ask it of her. She is by her nature fierce, but she has the capacity for compassion. This is power. The potential for one form of power, without necessarily utilizing it (childbirth), the inherent, essential power of one’s nature (ferocity), and also the willingness and ability to assume forms of power deeper than or beyond one’s inherent nature (compassion). For me, Kali is about violence, wrath, and lust, but I love her all the more that she may also convincingly play the mother while her blade hovers threateningly. Such is the truth of divine femininity.
Kumari Puja, in which young girls are worshipped as manifestations of the goddess Durga.
Hindu scriptures like the Jñanarnava Rudrayamala tantra assign different names to a Kumari depending on her age. A one year-old girl is called Sandhya, a two year-old girl is called Sarasvati, a child of three years of age is called Tridhamurti, on her fourth year she is Kalika, on fifth she is Subhaga, on sixth she is Uma, on her seventh year she is called Malini. an eight year girl is called Kubjika, on the ninth year she is Kaalasandarbha, on reaching tenth year she is Aparajita, on eleventh she is Rudrani, on twelfth year she is named Bhairavi, on thirteenth she is Mahalakshmi, on fourteenth she is Pithanayika, on fifteenth she is Kshetragya, and on sixteenth years of her age she is Ambika.
Kali slaughters the demons and drinks their blood.
With Indra’s city still under siege, the gods arrange the marriage of Siva and Tripura-sundari. After some time the goddess, with her female associates (saktis), goes off to battle Bhanda and his army. Tripura-sundari produces many weapons from the noose and goad that she carries in her hands. Bhanda is amused by the army of females and predicts that they will be as ineffective in battle as the name of their leader, Lalita (soft and delicate), suggests. Tripura-sundari and her army, however, turn out to be superior to Bhanda and his army. In the course of the battle the two chief protagonists, Tripura-sundari and Bhanda, produce various beings from their bodies. Bhanda creates a number of demons that are well known in Hindu mythology, and Tripura-sundari counters by bringing forth a corresponding deity or avatara to defeat the demon. Bhanda, for example, creates Hiranyakasipu. Lalita in turn produces Prahlada, who in the well-known Vaisnava myth defeats Hiranyakasipu. Bhanda brings forth Ravana, and Tripura-sundari creates Rama from one of her fingernails. In the course of the battle Bhanda also creates Mahisasura. The goddess responds by producing Durga, who is ornamented with jewelry given to her by many male gods. Durga then slays Mahisasura, as she does in the famous Devi-mahatmya. Finally, the goddess defeats Bhanda himself. After the battle, the gods, led by Kama-deva’s wife, Rati, implore Tripura-sundari to restore the god of love, whom Siva had destroyed. She does so, and desire is restored to the world. The gods praise her in unison.
Kali is first described in the Devi-Mahatmya, written around 600CE, where she is said to have emanated from the brow of the goddess Durga (slayer of demons) during one of the battles between the divine and anti-divine forces. In this context, Kali is considered the ‘forceful’ form of the great goddess Durga. Other goddesses who are less associated with warfare, such as Parvati, Sita and Sati, are also said to emanate Kali, or even become her, to defeat enemies. These enemies are sometimes only susceptible to female assault, making the intervention of the male consort impossible. In some cases, the Kali produced is even able to destroy a far greater enemy than her consort, as when Sita becomes Kali to defeat a thousand-headed Ravana. As her consort Rama is usually the warrior, but in this case freezes in fear, some take this to be a sign of the great potential power of women, when their Shakti is not controlled by and gifted to a male consort.
Another account of the origins of Kali is found in the Matsya Purana, which states that she originated as a mountain tribal goddess in the north-central part of India, in the region of Mount Kalanjara (now known as Kalinjar). However this account is disputed because of the relatively newly written nature of the Matsya Purana. The Vedas (which were written much before the Puranas) associate the name Kali with the most horrifying, black tongue of the seven flickering tongues of Agni, the Hindu god of fire.
Kali has become massively linked with Shiva in the later traditions. The unleashed form of Kali often becomes wild and uncontrollable, and only Shiva is able to tame her. This is both because she is often a transformed version of one of his consorts and because he is able to match her wildness. His methods vary from challenging her to the wild tandava dance and outdoing her, to appearing as a crying infant and appealing to her maternal instincts. While Shiva is said to be able to tame her, the iconography often presents her dancing on his fallen body, and there are accounts of the two of them dancing together, and driving each other to such wildness that the world comes close to unravelling.
Shiva’s involvement with Tantra and Kali’s dark nature have led to her becoming an important Tantric figure. To the Tantric worshippers, it was essential to face her Curse, the terror of death, as willingly as they accepted Blessings from her beautiful, nurturing, maternal aspect. For them, wisdom meant learning that no coin has only one side: as death cannot exist without life, so life cannot exist without death. Kali’s role sometimes increased beyond a chaos who could be confronted to bring wisdom, and she is given great metaphysical significance by some Tantric texts. The Nirvana-tantra clearly presents her uncontrolled nature as the Ultimate Reality, claiming that the trimurti of Brahma, Visnu and Siva arise and disappear from her like bubbles from the sea. Although this is an extreme case, the Yogini-tantra, Kamakhya-tantra and the Niruttara-tantra declare her the svarupa (own-being) of the Mahadevi (the great Goddess, who is in this case seen as the combination of all devis).
The final stage of development is the worshipping of Kali as the Great Mother, devoid of her usual violence or foulness. This tradition is a break from the more traditional depictions, and as a popular movement with little philosophical or literary backing it can easily be overlooked. The pioneers of this tradition are the Shakta poets such as Ramprasad (1718? - 1775?), who show an awareness of Kali’s ambivalent nature. Rachel McDermott’s work, however, suggests that for the common worshipper, Kali is not seen as fearful, and only those educated in old traditions see her as having a wrathful component.
In most early representations, skulls, cemeteries, and blood are associated with her worship. She is black, naked and emaciated. Her face is azure, streaked with yellow, her glance is ferocious; her disheveled and bristly hair is usually shown splayed and spread like the tail of a peacock and sometimes braided with green serpents. She wears a long necklace (descending almost to her knees) of human skulls or intestines. She may be shown wearing a girdle of severed arms. Children’s corpses as earrings (likeliest representing natural infant mortality and childhood mortality from causes such as disease), and cobras as bracelets or garlands add to her terrifying adornments. Her purple lips are often shown streaming with blood; her tusk-like teeth descend over her lower lip; and her tongue lolls out. She is often shown standing on the inert form of her consort, Shiva. When portrayed in sexual union with him, she straddles his prone body, showing her domination and breaking from traditional gender roles. She is sometimes accompanied by she-demons. In certain representations, her four arms hold weapons or the severed head of a demon, while also making the ‘peace’ and ‘boon-giving’ gestures: these symbolize both her creative and her destructive power, for in some traditions Kali personifies the ambivalence of deity, which manifests itself, according to much of Indian tradition, in the unceasing cycle of life and death, creation and destruction.
This is an excellent clip from the film ‘Raja Kaliamman’ — very powerful portayal of Kali! Highly recommended viewing!