Meet a Goddess: Kali

Kali is a powerfully interesting goddess. She defies expectation and turns cultural expectations on their heads. A modern woman can really relate to her life outside of social norms.

She is not beautiful by the standards of society. She is full of the kind of female power that terrifies most people.

Kali is a goddess of death, of time, of change. She is often shown with blood dripping from her mouth and the severed heads of men decorating her neck.

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It is sometimes said that she is dark because she has existed since before light was created. The Mahanirvana Tantra says: “Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her.”

She is often seen as a fearsome mother figure with the kind of energy that stops at nothing to protect her children.

This goddess must be approached and worshiped with care. It is highly recommended to give devotion to her under guidance.

This article from DollsofIndia.com has some interesting ideas about how Kali might be a pre-Aryan goddess from before the time of the Vedas. Fascinating!

Kali is not a goddess that I know very much about, but she is someone I would like to become closer to. As a woman in a largely patriarchal world, I have only just begun to explore the female power within me. I am just starting to understand how immense female energy is.

Learn More:

Hindu Holiday: Holi!
Brahma: Everything You Need to Know
Language Learning Update
Can Westerners Gain Enlightenment?
About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.


    @ Ambaa

    I love your articles, they are very informative and short and sweet and that’s what I love about them. No beating about the bush. Sometimes I feel they need bit of clarity added to them to make them more interesting for your average reader. So they are more authentic and closes to the one who is also born in to the culture. This is where I put in my two bits worth.

    So here goes…..

    First, Kali is not a godess for somebody who is born in an Indian culture, She is called Ma, but she is a godess in her own right, from her actions and the things that she has done. You will see my point later . She is known as Mata or Ma and that’s how she is defined. If you look at one of your tag it says Kali Ma. You are probably thinking what’s the difference.

    Ma and Mata existed on the planet for real, like you and me. Kali, Parvati, Durga and Amba ( not you ) existed as a person and it was their action that defined them as godesses, where as Saraswati and Lakshmi are godesses.

    One other point is Mata or Ma, does not have any male companion where as godesses have Gods as male companion. Every Murti of Mata Or Ma will be by it self in every Mandir (temple) and will never be with any male companion eithr, where you will find one with in a godesses temple.

    Next you are going to tell me why is Parvati in the list of Ma or Mata. Well, The Parvati in the list of Mata or Ma I’m talking about is the one known as Adhya Sakti not the wife form of Shiva. All the Ma’s and Matas are born from the same Adhya Sakti ( Parvati ). This is the main reason why Parvati has to be included in the list of Ma’s. There are others also, but I’m not going to make this any more complicated then this.

    There are main four branches of hinduism which you have listed in previous articles, where one of them is dedicated to Adhya Sakti or the godesss part of the religion. So there you go.


    PS I can see lots of typos and mistake, not to worry, I am an Indian after all, I am what you call frugal with words where I like to short change people with letters and words, or maybe I can’t write, thus the typos. LOL

    • Ambaa

      Now, some of the articles said that Kali’s consort was Shiva. What do you think of that?

      • HARRY

        @ Ambaa

        I know what you are saying, but no where I have seen Shiva with Kali in any temple that I have been in. Yes, there are variety of pictures that do depict Shiva in the feet of Kali but never as a consort to Kali, where they are side by side. Shiva is in the feet of Kali because that was the only way Kali could be stopped in her mission to destroy every men that did not conform to society standard and did not respect women as women and as equal and opposite. The birth of Kali was or assumed was from Adhya Sakti, which is pretty much Parvati in nutshell, who was a wife of Shiva in previous life.
        Don’t ask me how I know this, but I do. I cannot explain it at this time.

        When a man comes in a way of a woman it is know as he is always coming under her feet. Thus Shiva coming under her feet stopping her in what she is about to do.

        Articles are written by people and from their knowledge and understanding of culture and purans, they will write anything they want, but puran will never agree with their article concept because it’s not in it, if you see my point.

        But my question is, do you understand the difference between Ma or Mata and goddesses from what I said above ? Like I said goddesses are with their god consort but Ma Or Mata are always alone and anyone who tells you any different is always debatable in what they are told them self. “The proof is in the pudding.”


        • Ambaa

          As I said, I know less about Kali than other gods and goddesses I’ve talked about. So I’m learning from you! And your description of the difference between a goddess and Ma/Mata is quite interesting. I’ll have to look more into it :)

        • sapna malpe

          Hello Harry,

          I am a devotee of Mother Kali…..the more i try to know about her, the more i get confused. Your above explanations are very interesting..but i have few questions…I did understand the difference between Ma and Goddess….I also know that Kali is a Brahmacharini, but then why is she referred as Shiva’s consort by our people…is it a misunderstanding…? and then you mentioned in your post “Parvati, who was a wife of Shiva in previous life”, what does it mean…How do you know these things, is there any particular book…and does “Kalika Purana” mention this..?

  • Sandeep

    “Kali might be a pre-Aryan goddess from before the time of the Vedas. “…….. Just to correct you Aryan is Not an Race…The Aryan Invasion theory was Refuted long Ago….Basically Sanskrit Word “Arya” means Noble mostly used for men for women the word used is “devi”….If you Read Ramanya..or Mahabharta… the Men are generally Introduced with “Arya”

    • Ambaa

      I’ve definitely heard a lot of debate on both sides of this issue. I do not know what the truth is in this matter. However, the article in question does seem to believe in the Aryan invasion theory and it is the article that I am referencing.

      • HARRY

        @ Ambaa

        I will have to agree with Sandeep on this one, even tho as you say that there are loads of articles on the Aryan theory, but I think that’s all they are. Loads of books and texts are found on the walls of old temples but none of them points to this part of history or theory bearing in mind some of the temples are as old as up to five + thousand years old. Most of the old temples have some sort of history on who build them or which king, and as far as I know, I haven’t come across one yet which says or talks about aryan invasion or theory. Temples weren’t only for worship, they played historical part in Indian society in general, the purpose for builing it and why and who and none of them point this finger at such theories. This is the only reason I will have to agree with sandeep.


  • Arjun

    Kali is one of the best known, but poorly understood forms of the Goddess. She is dark destructive and terrible in image. She is allied to the forces of death and destruction. The most common image of Kali shows her dancing on Shiva. This article aims to give an insight into Hinduism\’s use of such mystic imagery.

    Shiva & Shakti

    Within Hinduism, the divine is not restricted solely as masculine or feminine, which is a unique feature compared with other major religions of today. The divine is not referred to only as \’He\’. In the Shaivite tradition, the supreme divine reality is represented as Shiva-Shakti. Shiva is the masculine force, the power of peace, while Shakti translates to power, and is considered as the feminine force. In the Vaishnava tradition, these realities are portrayed as Vishnu and Laxmi, or Radha and Krishna. These are differences in formulation rather than a fundamental difference in the principles.

    Both Shiva and Shakti have various forms. Shiva has forms like Yogi Raj (the common image of Himself meditating in the Himalayas), Rudra (a wrathful form) and Nataraj (performing the dance of destruction).

    About Kali

    The Sanskrit word Kali literally means \”time\”. Kali is the feminine word for time, for which the masculine is \”kala\”. Time as we are forced to understand it, is the foremost power that we experience. Kali is the personification of time and it is not surprising that the deity of time has a terrifying image. After all, time is the slayer of all. Time is the very stuff that our lives are made of – to waste time is to waste life. The reason as to why time is represented in a feminine form is that time is the great womb – the great mother – from which we are all created – therefore it has a feminine quality. Time is also the force which causes all living beings to perish. Therefore Kali is like the mother who destroys the children which she has created – which is one of her frightful features. Yet, through the action of time, Her action, occurs our salvation. Through time, over repeated births, we experience all that we have to and learn all that we must learn in order to merge back into our eternal existence, from which we fell into limited time and space.

    Why Is She Dancing On Shiva?

    Shiva, in the Shaivite tradition, is the all pervading eternal primeval consciousness of the universe and beyond, who is beyond motivation. Hence, He is commonly shown as meditating in tranquil. His action and motivation occur only prior to the final destruction and dissolution of this cycle of creation. Hence, when Shiva dances, it is considered to be the terrible awesome dance of destruction.

    It is on the passive, ultimate reality of Shiva, that Kali (time) does her dance, causing the constant cycles of creation, life and death of all things in the universe. Shiva is the substratum upon which Kali acts. Hence, in this part of the Hindu spiritual traditions, the entire divine action and existence is represented by the dance of Kali (time) upon the changeless all pervading consciousness, Shiva.

    Does Kali actually have a separate consciousness or is she just a representation of time as an unthinking scientific principle?

    Hinduism personifies what to us are abstract spiritual truths as Gods and Goddesses. Spiritual ideas are clothed in concrete imagery, and approached as living beings. This does not reflect a lack of reasoned thinking, or attachment to form, but rather an experiential contact with the higher truths, as living forces. Hinduism creates a personal relationship between ourselves and the forces of the cosmos, and eventually leads us to realise that these forces are within us rather than separate. All forces of the universe are pervaded by consciousness, hence the reason as to why they are approached as living beings is because in reality, they are. The purpose of vivid imagery is that whilst meditating upon the image, our mind is shocked into thinking into the depths of the concept we are trying to understand and know, beyond our usual conditioned ideas. In that way we can really experience the truth of time as an awesome conscious force and understand how our existence relates to it. Kali is a particularly important deity, because by understanding Her we stop identifying ourselves as only our body – we come to terms with the utter impermanence of our body and begin to perceive the true existence of ours which lies beyond – which most people believe but wish to experience directly. Hence she is said to kill the ego – the attachment to pettiness, which is represented in Her image by the severed head she hold in Her hand.

    A Mantra For Kali

    One important Mantra for Kali is:

    om aim hrim klim camundayai vicche svaha!

    Each syllable of this mantra conveys a distinct vibrational energy, and whoever chants this mantra, after a short while will feel that they are tapping in to a deep spiritual energy.

    Om is the sound corresponding to the absolute reality in its entirety. Aim is the syllable of knowledge (Sarasvati). Hrim is the syllable of purification (Parvathy). Klim is a syllable corresponding to transformation (closely related to Kali). Camundayai is a name of Kali. Vicche means cut (as in to cut of the head of the demon, demon referring to the ego) and svaha ends the mantra.



    @ Arjun

    Wow dude, you went as far as explaining the real thing, which I decided not to explain and no way I could have done it as well as you have here, for that My one thousand Naman. :)
    HAVE A GREAT DAY. Thankyou.