Exploring The Many Forms of Goddess Kali: A Divine Manifestation

Goddess Kali is a Hindu goddess who is the representation of time, creation, destruction, and death. ‘Kali’ derives from the Sanskrit word Kala, meaning “time-doomsday-death” and “black”. She is the representation of the violent nature of living beings and describes the need for wisdom and dispassion; the development of good
and evil from a common source and the overcoming of the dark and violent side of life, which paves the way to spirituality.

A common belief shows, that Brahma, the ‘Supreme Truth’ appeared in the form of female energy- Kali. Again, according to Devi Mahatmya, a philosophical text that describes the goddess in the form of Adishakti or Mahadevi as the supreme god and creator of the universe, Kali represents the ferocious form of Goddess Durga. As per the Linga Purana, Kali emerges out of Goddess Parvati as Parvati undergoes a metamorphosis to defeat an Asura, Daruk. Emerging from the forehead of Devi Durga, she killed the asuras (demons) Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija respectively, which even
describe her as Chamunda Devi. Observing her uncontrollable violent and destructive mood, Lord Shiva had to lie on her path and she stepped upon him. Finally, she realised her fault and calmed down, sticking her tongue, the iconic form of Goddess Kali.

Iconographically, Kali has been described as “ Mother Nature”. She is the cosmic vibration ‘Aum’, which includes “…..all matter, all energy, and the thoughts of all conscious beings.” The garland of heads depicts her presence in all minds in invisible form.

Her activities in nature include creation, preservation, and destruction. The posture of her third hand, which seems to be extended in the front, bestows life; her head and sword represent her last two activities. The cascading hair is the depiction of the tremendous energy imbued in her.

In Kerala, it is believed that Goddess Kali known as Bhadrakali has emerged from the third eye of an enraged Shiva to defeat the demon, Darika. The prolonged battle between Kali and Darika ( who ruled the three worlds and engaged in demolishing the good) shook the entire universe.

Another source mentions Kali or Kaushika (the sheath) as an incarnation of Devi Parvati. Kali emerged when Parvati or Gauri (the fair complexioned) shed her dark skin. It is said that Kali symbolizes eternal darkness and has the potential to destroy and create. As per Hindu mythology, Goddess Kali is believed to have the 8, 12, or 21 forms of incarnations in different traditions. Let us get a glance over the 10 most popular forms of Kali, worshipped all over India as the part of Goddess Kali:

  1. Adya Kali: Goddess Adya Kali, or Adya is a form of Kali, Durga, or Parvati and represents the same. Goddess Adya Kali is one of the Dasha Mahavidya and is worshipped in the month of Kartik, on the day of Amavasya. She is one of the divine powers in Hinduism and is worshipped all over India, especially in Bengal. Adya Kali is the source of the primeval power in this Universe.
  1. Matangi Kali: Matangi Kali is the fierce and Tantric form of Goddess Saraswati, the deity of knowledge, culture, and arts in Hinduism. With a complexion of Emerald green, Matangi Kali is associated with death, pollution, and inauspiciousness. Matangi is worshipped with stale food offered with a dirty hand. Matangi Kali is also known as Chandalini and is avoided being worshipped.
  1. Chinnamasta Kali: Chinnamasta Kali is one of the goriest and ferocious forms of Kali. Chinnamasta Kali, also known as Chinnamastika, Prachanda Chandika, or Jogani Maa is one of the Goddesses of Mahavidya (the tradition of Tantra). As per Hindu mythology, Chinnamasta Kali is portrayed nude with her self-decapitated head on one of her hands (Chinnamasta: the one who has a severed head). She is seen to be standing on a copulating couple, Kama and Rati, symbolises Creation and Death and Chinnamasta Kali’s standing position over the couple explains control and resistance over desire and ego. Blood is seen gushing out of the severed neck, and Goddess with her two attendants, Dakini and Varini drank that blood.
  1. Shamsana Kali: Another fierce and powerful form of Goddess Kali is Shamsana Kali. Shamsana, which means the Hindu crematorium grounds is the place of worship for this goddess. It is believed that Shamsana Kali oversees the activities happening on the crematorium grounds. The goddess is seen to be standing with a sword in one hand and is stepping forward with her left foot in front. This form of Kali is a highly revered deity in the Tantric schools of Hinduism.
  1. Bagala Kali: Bagala Kali is another goddess of Mahavidya and is known for her remarkable beauty. She is referred to as the goddess of wisdom and can paralyze the evil forces that try to harm her devotees. She is portrayed a bit fairer than other forms of Kali and takes the tongue out from the mouth of the Asura (Demon).
  1. Dakshina Kali: Dakshina Kali is the most popular form of the goddess Kali in Bengal. She is worshipped in the form of a kind-hearted mother, who protects her children and devotees from ill omen and misfortunes. Dakshina Kali is depicted to be standing on the chest of Lord Shiva with her right foot.
  1. Bhairavi Kali: The fifth goddess of Mahavidya is Bhairavi Kali, another fiercest form of Goddess Kali. She is defined as the Goddess of Decay. Bhairavi Kali is the form of Shakti and belongs to the Patal (underworld). Goddess is decked up in red garments and has the garland of demon heads around the neck.
  1. Tara Kali: With a striking blue complexion, Tara Kali is another severe depiction of Goddess Kali. This form of Kali is naked and has tiger skin covered around her waist area.
  1. Kamala Kali: Kamala Kali is the fierce tantric incarnation of Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is popularly worshipped in southern India, where the goddess is called ‘Gaja Laxmi’ for having two giant elephants beside her.
  1. Dhumavati Kali: Dhumavati Kali, the only Widow deity in the entire Hindu Mythology is another goddess of Mahavidya. Dhumavati Kali is the older form of Kali and is associated with the ugly and inauspicious aspects of Hinduism. She is the goddess of loneliness and unfulfilled longings of Humankind. She is the destroyer of external as well as internal enemies. She is the emissary of timelessness and un-manifestations of life.

It is believed that the renowned 16th-century Tantric scholar, Krishnananda Agamavagisha, once dreamt of the goddess Kali. The goddess, who until then had primarily been associated with mortality and the dark side of the earth, is said to have commanded Agamvagisha to honor her in a way that incorporated her feminine
domesticities. Hence, the worship of a particular image of Kali is believed to have been popularised in Bengal by the Hindu deity Agamavagisha, who is also credited with initiating the oldest Kali Puja in the area. By the latter half of the 18th Century, most of
India was taken over by the British Empire, which led to the rise of nationalism and a sense of social reformation among the native people by the end of the 19th Century. The wave of national reform mainly took place in Bengal, Maharashtra, and Punjab. It was during then, that the practices of several Hindu rituals became active among a more comprehensive section of society. The worship of Goddess Kali was initially limited to fewer lower-marginal social groups. It gained popularity among middle-class Bengalis, after a Hindu Revivalism led by ascetic and mystic Ramakrishna Paramhansa
(1835-1885), who promoted Kali Worshipping in the late 19th Century. The devotee of the Hindu deity Kali, Ramakrishna, was so devout that his religious practices gained widespread recognition and motivated the public, which had already been galvanized by
the Hindu revival, to follow in his footsteps as a symbol of Nationalism. Zamindars of the later centuries carried on this tradition by transforming them into grandiose constructions to demonstrate their wealth and influence. To this day, when Diwali is celebrated in India, Kali puja is one of the most celebrated festivals in Bengal.
There was another reason why Kali worship gained popularity even more in Bengal. Goddess Kali has gained stupendous acceptability from communities like militant nationalists, criminals, forest dwellers, and Tribal. These communities worshipped Kali as a deity who rescues these communities from their downtrodden conditions with her power and virtue. Ichnographically, Kali stands as the epitome of fertility, creation, birth, violence, anger, and martial power. As a part of rising consciousness for Nationalism, Hindu deity worship escalated in every part of Indian Society, and Kali Worship wasn’t
an exception. Hence, with the widespread practices started in the 1890s, Devi Kali has become an integral festival and is widely worshipped all over Bengal and also in other states respectively.


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