An Indian deity
often regarded as a dark, black and fierce goddess of death, and as the destructive "Power of Eternal Time". However, to her worshippers in both Hinduism and Tantra she is much more, and represents a multi-faceted Great Goddess responsible for all of life from conception to death. Her worship, therefore, consists of fertility festivals as well as sacrifices (animal and human); and her initiations expand one's consciousness by many means, including fear, ritual sexuality and intoxication with a variety of drugs.

A very apt and poetic description of the Great Mother Kali has been given by Pirsig, who wrote the following:
"Kali, the Divine Mother,
is the symbol for the infinite diversity of experience.



"Kali represents the entire physical plane. She is the drama, tragedy, humor, and sorrow of life. She is the brother, father, sister, mother, lover, and friend. She is the fiend, monster, beast, and brute. She is the sun and the ocean. She is the grass and the dew. She is our sense of accomplishment and our sense of doing worthwhile. Our thrill of discovery is a pendant on her bracelet. Our gratification is a spot of color on her cheek. Our sense of importance is the bell on her ankle.
The full and seductive, terrible and wonderful earth mother always has something to offer."
Pirsig. Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. p. 329

Although Kali is worshipped throughout India and Nepal, and even in Indonesia, she is most popular in Bengal, where one also finds Kalighat (S: kaligata), her most famous temple just outside Calcutta. (Considering that Calcutta is simply an Anglicized form of kaligata, the city received its
very name from the goddess.)


It has been said that Kali is "the divine Shakti representing both the creative and destructive aspects of nature", and as such she is a goddess who both gives life and brings death. Clothed only with the veil of space, her blue-black nakedness symbolizes the eternal night of non-existence, a night that is free of any illusion and distinction. Kali as such is pure and primary reality, the enfolded order, formless void yet full of potential.




In time Kali has become such a dominating figure in the Indian pantheon, that many other goddesses have been assimilated into her, and she herself has been ascribed an ever growing number of aspects and manifestations. Many of these, for example the so-called "One Hundred Names of Kali", are names that begin with the letter 'K'. In their translations, these names define the goddess much more directly and intimately than any intellectual summary can do.


The One Hundred Names occur in the adyakali svarupa stotra, a hymn to Kali that is part of the Mahanirvana Tantra. What emerges when reading this hymn, is an exposition of Kali in a variety of strikingly different aspects.

We discover:



Kali as revealer, benefactress and embodiment of the Kula school of Tantrics, their teachings, rituals and lifestyle
Kali as merciful helper and destructress of evil, fear, pride and sin
Kali as young, beautiful, swan-like, sensual and attractive woman
Kali as embodiment of desire and liberator from desire, as a free woman who enjoys and lets herself be enjoyed



Kali who enjoys and partakes of drugs and aphrodisiacs (camphor, musk, wine)
Kali who enjoys and encourages the worship of young women (with wine, drugs and sexual play)
Kali as Queen of the holy city Varanasi (Benares) and as lover, beloved and devourer of the god Shiva (the Lord of that city)
Kali as shape-shifter (assuming any form at will)
Kali of terrific countenance, wearing a garland of bones, using a human skull as cup
Kali as dark night, mother and destroyer of time, as the fire of the worlds dissolution


You can read a translation of the hymn itself in Sir John Woodroffe's Hymns to the Goddess (1913). A revised translation (1927) is given in The Great Liberation (The Mahanirvana Tantra). Although these editions have the benefit of including the 100 names in Sanskrit transcription, they cannot compare in readability and honesty of translation with the hymn as published by Philip Rawson in his Art of Tantra (1973, page 131).

Rawson, Philip. The Art of Tantra. London: Thames & Hudson, 1973
Woodroffe, Sir John (a.k.a. Arthur Avalon). Hymns to the Goddess and Hymns to Kali (1913). Wilmot, WI: Lotus Light, 1981
Woodroffe, Sir John (a.k.a. Arthur Avalon). The Great Liberation (Mahanirvana Tantra, 1927). Madras, India: Ganesh & Co, 1985

See also ~Lilith


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