Tantra Magazine

All the representations of the goddess have the following fundamental elements in common: Shiva‘s dead body, her glorious attitude, the black color; but they may differ in other details, that underline her specific role in the universe, as it is characteristic to the particular representation.

One representation of Kali reveals her in an imposing attitude, meditating in a state of infinite bliss on Shiva’s chest. Another representation is of her shooting an arrow, with her right foot bent upon Shiva’s chest.

Both figures (Kali and Shiva) are in a place used for cremation, suggesting that all illusonary things are finally reduced to ashes, burnt in the fire of time, or that they return to their primordial essential state.

Usually Kali’s skin is black, the source of all colors. This also indicates the fact that she is associated to the depths of God’s mystery.

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Nevertheless, she is surrounded by a white halo, a gentle light whose nature is amrita and which brings peace to the eye. In this representation, Shiva’s body indicates the fact that the power of God’s consciousness is inherent to unanimated matter as well.

Kali’s mouth is wide open and she pushes her tongue out, symbolizing the mudra of devouring or consuming the universe.

However, this terrible and scary aspect is backed up by her smiling attitude, she is a goddess looking upon the being of the universe with kindness and affection, sustaining life and nourishing them with her immense breasts.

Her ironic laughter is for all those who, due to ignorance regarding laws of harmony and balance, imagine that they can elude spiritual evolution. The Great Goddess has three all-seeing eyes, “supervising” the universes from the past, present and future.

In her other hand she holds a skull whose significance is double: on one hand it is the receiver of universal mysterious teachings, and on the other hand it is a reminder of what endures after the dissolution of the universe.

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In another hand Kali holds a sword (khadga) whose role is to cut all worldly connections and attachments, so that the worshipper is prepared for ultimate spiritual freedom.

It is also important to notice that her hair is long and disheveled, which actually represents the power of all-pervading grace, manifested by Kali.

Her benevolence and compassion are represented by two of her hands which perform a gesture of casting away fear and that of offering spiritual gifts and powers.

Around her neck there is a necklace made of skulls belonging to various demons and other malefic entities; these symbolize her complete victory over evil.

Her naked body is splashed with the blood of these entities, and her earrings are in fact two decapitated human bodies. This is Kali’s complex representation in her terrible form, also known as Dakshina Kali or Shyamakali.

In Hindu iconography Kali appears under a number of other forms, with minor differences in the number of arms, faces and symbolic objects that she holds.

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Thus, Shamasana Kali, Siddha Kali, Maha Kali and Guhya Kali represent just as many aspects of the Goddess as are worshipped in different areas of India.

Remarkable among these forms is the form of Bhadra Kali, described in Tantasara as a hungry deity, ready to devour any illusonary aspect of the universe, having three eyes, four hands, holding a skull, a drum, an ax and a trident.

A variant of Bhadra Kali is Chamunda Kali, who although pleasant to the eye has terrible teeth and holds a long human bone with a skull at one end, a sword, a chain and a human head. Unlike the other representations of Kali, Chamunda Kali wears a tiger’s fur and sits on a body.