("Black" or "the Black One") is the Hindu goddess of death, destruction, chaos
and time. The name Kali
derives from the Sanskrit
root word Kal
which means 'time'. She is the wife/Shakti
and is said to have more than one origin: in one myth
, Kali is a form of Durga
. When Durga was fighting demon
s, she lost her composure and her brow grew dark, and when her forehead split Kali emerged whole and fully grown, similarly to the myth of Athena
's birth. In another, a demon who could only be killed my a woman challenged the god Shiva. Parvati
, his loving wife, dove into his mouth to remake herself in the poison of his throat. When she emerged, she was transformed into the goddess Kali.
Kali is fearsome in appearance. She is said to be black as ash, and many armed: some iconography show her with anywhere from 4-40(?) arms. Most often, she is four-armed, bearing a knife in one hand and a severed head in another. One hand is lowered to confer boons and the other raised in a gesture of fearlessness. She is gaunt, with baleful red eyes and a protuding tounge, usually dripping blood. She wears a girdle of severed arms and a necklace of severed heads, and from her ears dangle the corspes of children. Her hair is long, streaming and black. Her favorite haunts are cremation grounds, where she is accompanied by preta (ghosts and/or demons).
Kali's most famous myth is her near destruction of the world. When the demon Ratabika ("Drop of Blood") was laying waste, Kali came to defeat him. You see, Ratabika had the uncanny ability of reproducing himself through each drop of blood shed on the ground. Kali solved the problem by killing each reproduction and drinking the blood before it hit the ground. Then, when she found Ratabika, she sucked him dry and he was defeated. But Kali grew bloodfrenzied and went on a killing rampage, slaying the people she had previously been defending. Greatly afraid, Shiva threw himself at her feet to stop her, and she trampled him to death. Shocked, she stopped, but somehow he was restored to life and Kali was calmed.
Kali Ma (as she is sometimes called, meaning "Black Mother") is also attributed as a destroyer of ignorance and a keeper of the Divine Order. In Kali's position of destroyer, she represents the things inherent in life the purity minded Hindu society normally don't wish to acknowledge: uncontrolable women, violent death, massive destruction and life outside of the dharma. She not only represents the forces that are often unacceptable to Hindu society, but also offers a way of understanding it through devotion (bhakti, in a sense) to her.