Kali (goddess)

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Kali dances on Shiva
Kali sanctuary on the edge of the village in West Bengal
Kali in union with the god Bhairava , 18th century, Nepal

Kali ( Sanskrit , f., काली, kālī , lit .: "The black one") is an important goddess of death and destruction, but also of renewal , in Hinduism . In Indian mythology , she represents an embodiment of the wrath of the Durga , from whose forehead she is said to have sprung and then filled the universe with her terrible roar. In other myths she is the dark side of Parvati and one of the Mahavidyas . In the popular belief of the Hindus, Kali is one of the few goddesses who can grant wishes.

Kali and Shiva

Many texts describe Kali as being independent of a male deity. However, if one does appear, it is Shiva , as his consort or wife, who incites him to wild, uncivilized behavior (see Bhairava ). Many pictures show how she dances or stands on Shiva, because the myth tells that once Kali, drunk with the blood of her enemies, danced triumphantly on the battlefield, and to stop her raging, Shiva lay down like a corpse. It was only when Kali danced on him that she recognized and complied with her husband. She stuck out her tongue in shock and shame about her behavior.

On another level of meaning, the image of Kali on the lifeless body clearly expresses her superiority: She is Shakti , which means energy - the dynamic aspect of Shiva. “Shiva without Kali is Shava”, is a common saying among her admirers. Sanskrit shava means "lifeless, corpse". But ultimately Shiva and Kali are an inseparable unit. She shows tantric works in love union , as parents of the universe. In another myth, it is Shiva as a child who awakens her maternal side. In Tantra , the severed head is interpreted as a symbol of liberation from the ego idea, identification with the transitory body.


The iconography shows Kali mostly in black, sometimes in blue. She has several arms, usually four or ten, and wears a necklace made of skulls, a skirt made of severed arms, and sometimes a dead child hangs from her ear. The attributes in her hands can vary: Mostly she holds a severed skull, a threatening sickle and a blood bowl. The “third eye” is on the forehead and she sticks out her tongue, but in many depictions her right hand is raised and shows the blessing and comforting hand gesture ( mudra ).

In both mythology and iconography, female golden jackals are Kali's most important companion animals. In Vasantaraja Sakuna, a book about omen evoked by animals, 90 verses are dedicated to the female jackals, and many worshipers of the goddess consider them auspicious messengers. Accordingly, the believer who hears the jackal howl in the morning should greet the goddess.


Kali's importance is not limited to the death aspect. In spite of her terrible figure, the believers also see her as the protector of human beings and the divine mother, as Kalima, since her destructive anger is not directed against human beings, but against demons and injustice. In this terrifying manifestation, the goddess is responsible for the dissolution of the universe; the sickle in the hand indicates the harvest, the end of life. Kali is also “Kala”, time, and time destroys and devours everything. The sickle is not only a symbol of death to its followers, but can also be understood as a tool of redemption: it cuts through confusion, ignorance and bonds and thereby clears the way to redemption. Kali is therefore also regarded as the destroyer of the negative forces and illusions that prevent people from achieving salvation and liberate the mind in order to escape the cycle of rebirths, samsara .

As the goddess of death, Kali is also a goddess of transformation, she is the mother who gives life and it is also she who takes it back. In Shaktism she is considered a manifestation of the Most High and is revered as a gracious mother and redeemer .

A well-known mythological story is that of the battle with a demon named Raktabiya who threatened to upset the world. Whenever he was injured and a limb or a drop of blood fell from him to the ground, a second raktabiya emerged - he was invincible. The gods in their distress turned to the mother goddess Devi , who manifested herself in the form of Kali and attacked the demon. She cut off his head and drank any blood that came out. Thus Raktabiya was completely destroyed. Kali is therefore the goddess of complete annihilation, but also mother earth to whom everything returns and who ensures that nothing is lost.


Kali is particularly popular as a divine mother nowadays in Bengal and Nepal , but she also plays an important role in Tantrism , which is spread across India, and personifies the highest here.

It plays a prominent role in the later religious Bengali literature. In contrast to the attitude of the tantrics, who fearlessly confront Kali and want to find out her magical secrets, poets often take on the role of helpless children who seek redemption from Kali, her mother. Although she makes death clear, her followers hope that with her help, they will overcome their fear of death.

The most important holiday in Kali is Kalipuja, which is celebrated on the same day as the Diwali Festival of Lights , usually at the end of October / beginning of November according to the lunar calendar. Hindus in the east of India worship Kali, the dark side of the goddess on this day, while others worship her at the same time as Lakshmi , the radiant, auspicious goddess.

Kalighat Temple

One of the most famous temples in India is the Kalighat Temple in Calcutta (originally: Kali- Ghat = "Kali bank staircase"), an important Hindu pilgrimage site. Her statue is a huge black boulder that, according to one legend, was found in the river, and according to another, grew out of the earth. In the course of time, visitors gave him golden limbs and magnificent clothing and now worship “Kalima”, her divine mother, in them.

Dakshinkali Temple

One of the most important and popular shrines in Nepal is the Dakshinkali Temple south of Kathmandu . Hundreds of uncastrated male animals (mostly roosters and billy goats) are sacrificed here every day. The heads and fur of the animals remain in the temple, the meat is prepared by the victims and their family members at a picnic in the forest or taken home.

See also


  • David Kinsley: Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions , Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1987, ISBN 81-208-0379-5 .
  • David Kinsley: Indian Goddesses. Female deities in Hinduism. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt 1990, ISBN 3-458-16118-X .
  • Ajit Mookerjee: Kali: The Feminine Force , Destiny Books, New York 1988, ISBN 0-89281-212-5 .
  • Shoma A. Chatterji: The Goddess Kali of Kolkata , UBS Publ., New Delhi 2006, ISBN 81-7476-514-X .
  • Elizabeth Usha Harding: Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar , Nicolas-Hays, York-Beach, Maine 1995, ISBN 0-89254-025-7 .
  • David Kinsley: Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine , Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, Calif. 1997, ISBN 0-520-20499-9 .

Web links

Commons : Kali  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Kinsley, David: Freedom from Death in the Worship of Kālī , In: Numen, 22. 1975, 3, p. 200
  2. http://www.payer.de/kamasutra/kamas301.htm