Sisters of the Burning Branch Gallery Presents...
 The Myth of Kali Ma
by LadyHawke

Mother Kali, A Prayer.

Mother Kali, hear my cries…
Your lessons in this life are harsh.
Double edged swords that cleave away pieces of my soul.
You taught me to survive the touch of man,
Those who would take the white lotus, not yet bloomed.
And when man took the flesh of my flesh, you
Showed me how to forgive the unforgiveable.
You took the flesh of my flesh to teach me loss.
The burn!  Mother, I hated You for a time!
Then You brought me the greatest of loves.
Only to take her to Your bosom before she had even bloomed!
I rage against Your lessons.  Damn you Mother Kali Ma!
I spit at Your wisdom.
And then my rage is spent and I am broken.
I lie before You broken and bruised.
Destructor and Creatrix!
With heart broken and soul in tatters, I wandered lost.
The majesty of Your beauty lost on my watering eyes.
A glimpse.   A splinter of the Light that shone from Your sword.
You were there.
In the majesty of lava spewing from the mouth of the volcano.
From the monsoon spinning deftly off the coast, threatening yet not.
From the swirl of white of the blizzard as You rage at us for harms.
I see You.  I embrace You.
Here, at the end where wisdom lies.
Original work by LadyHawke.  Copyright 2008.


Kali, whose name means ‘the black one’ is a Hindu Goddess known as the Mother Goddess as well as associated with destruction.  Contrary to media representation, what She destroys is ignorance.  She also maintains world order and blesses and frees those who seek knowledge of the Divine.  According to legend, Kali comes from the God of Fire, Agni, would had seven tongues of fire coming out of Him, one of which was Kali.  Kali was known as the black, horrible tongue.  Also, She is known as a lover of Shiva.


Images of Her are grim.  She is depicted as a fearsome Goddess, with large consuming eyes, Her tongue sticking out and four arms.  Most images have Her with a sword in one of her arms, most often the upper left, while her lower left arm holds the severed head of a demon.  The right upper arm is shown with a gesture of fearlessness and the lower right gives rewards to those who honor Her.  She wears a chain of severed heads and a belt of arms.  No wonder She is seen as gruesome!  Many images show Her as the Divine Mother or with Shiva in tantric sex.

Kali Ma is the Goddess most often in Bengal in modern times.  She has temples in Kalighat and Dakshineshvara.

Worship of Kali Ma

When one worships this Goddess, the place is heavy with incense or smoke.  Most often the scene is very similar to the media representation seen in the second Indiana Jones movie.  Burning funeral pyres, ash, lots of scattered bones on the ground, and many types of carrion eating creatures.  A frightening image at best.  However, for the worship of this Goddess, it is what She prefers.  She loves those who are brave and relentless.  A hero in other words.  The person seeking union with Kali Ma has relinquished all worldly goods and only wants to know and have sexual congress with Her.  There is no fear or aversion in the one who adhere to this demanding Goddess.  Most people do not worship Her this way however.  They worship Her in the home, or in Her aforementioned temples.    Most often those prayers are for children, money, food, or liberation from misery.


Temples dedicated to Kali Ma

The temple in Calcutta called Dakshineswar is an amazing architectural feat whose beauty belies the Goddess the temple is dedicated to.  This temple holds that the Goddess is a protectress and not a destroyer as most see Her.

The Shakti worship of Kali Ma can be seen as terrible.  On the one hand,  She is seen as benign, and called Dakshina, while on the other She is seen as fearful and called Smashan, both of which depend on where Her feet are positioned.  If She steps out with Her right foot, holding Her sword in Her left hand, She is the Dakshina Kali Ma.  If She steps out with her left foot, holding the sword in Her right hand, She is the terrible mother, the Smashan Kali Ma.


Why people worship this Goddess

It would seem that no one would want to have anything to do with this Goddess.  However, legend holds that those who are Her disciples gain success very quickly.  The clear images of death and life bring the adherent to the realization that both are transitory and that one can transcend them with the Mother Goddess’ help.  In other words, the dualistic nature of life is embraced and understood, gaining the adherent the gift of God Knowledge.  That someone can face these heinous things is something this Goddess admires much.  Surrounding oneself with the images and hideous symbols of death, dying and all things related to death makes life all the more sweet and seeing the face of Goddess is that much easier.

Instead of having to have a separate form for what would be called evil, Hindu worshippers of Kali Ma  understand that they are two sides of life.  Christendom has its devil which is equally obnoxious and heinous.  For Hindu’s, there are no dual powers, as in God and the devil but rather one universal power that is both and none of them.  Kali Ma is the embodiment of that power.   She is the mother, benign and loving as well as the destroyer.  She creates and nourishes as well as kills and spreads destruction.  Her magic shows that there is no such thing as good and bad but rather one universal that is both.

The many names of Kali Ma

One of Hinduism’s greatest prophets, Sri Ramakrishna, spoke of the many names of Kali Ma.   She is known by The Black Goddess.  Maha Kali, Nitya Kali, Smashana Kali, Raksha Kali, Shyama Kali, Kalikamata, and Kalaratri.  She is mentioned in the Vedas, and is known by the Tamils.  She is known from Tantric philosophy.  Depending on what one wishes to achieve is how one chooses Her form.  For example, if someone wants to get rid of fear, one would use the form called Shyama Kali.  If there were disease or some other disaster afoot, the form would be Raksha Kali.

Kali Ma Symbols

Kali Ma, at least the part Kali, comes from the word kala which means time.  Kali Ma cannot exist without Shiva and Shiva cannot reveal who or what he is without Her.  Kali Ma is the manifestation of Shiva’s power.  For example, Kali Ma is depicted as black while Shiva is seen as snow white, polar opposites in other words.  Her hair, which is always seen as disheveled, means freedom from repression.  Kali Ma’s three eyes mean wisdom, the three eye most often correlated with the Third Eye Chakra. The four arms depict both good and bad, a dualistic position of the Goddess.   Kali Ma is seen as the power of the Divine, or God in all that there is.  Fragrances most often associated with Kali Ma are jasmine, rose and sandalwood.  Her blackness is seen as depth, fathomless depth that cannot be comprehended.  She is thought to have originated on Mt Kalanjara. Located in north central India.  She is first seen in Sanskrit literature somewhere between the 8th and the 5th centuries BCE.

Kali Ma’s forms.

Kali Ma has many ways and forms that may be used to worship her.  For example, when there is a disaster, she is worshipped as Rakshakali.  Or when one travels to magnificent Calcutta and visits the Dakshineswar temple, she is young and beautiful  and known as Bhavatarini, the Goddess who saves the universe.  There are 30 different forms of Kali Ma in the Tantras, from the Divine Mother to the Black Goddess to Nitya Kali.  She is also one of the creation Goddesses, Maha Kali, The Great Power, The Absolute.  She has a softer aspect known as Shvama Kali that one would see in households in India where She can either dispel gifts or fear, depending on the need. When times are difficult, such as when the Tsunami came a few years ago, the people called on Shamshan Kali, the power of destruction in the form of earthquakes, droughts, and as was in this case, the Tsunami.  One of the four forms of Buddhism, this the Yogic form, or tantra uses Siddha Kali to attain Boddhisatva status, the highest one can get in this faith.   Before the time of the Christ, She was known as Kalika, but over time, Her name was shortened.  In that form, She was the embodiment of perfection of wisdom.  In some places, She was known as the consort of the Buddha.  This form developed into Tara, the one who saves the world through being the consort of the Buddha, and became known as The Compassionate One.  One theorist and expert on Buddhist traditions, Dr.  Ben Bhattacharyya, states that Her name, known in some places as Kadi or Kakaradi, has all of the various letters of the Sanskrit alphabet contained therein, therefore equating Her with the highest form of Deity.

Similiarities to other world Goddesses.

Just as Isis was the impetus for Mary, the Holy Mother, so too is Kali Ma found worldwide.  She is found in ancient Aztec lore as Coatlicue.  This Aztec Goddess is both protector and destroyer, as is Mother Kali.  Rather than a necklace of skulls, Coatlicue has a skirt of serpents.    Similarly, Tlazolteotl and the twin Tonantzin, respectively the Goddess of Filth and Our Mother Goddess, became, of all things, the sanctified Virgin of Guadalupe, the one dark faced Madonna.   She, too, wears a skirt of serpents but this one is closer to Mother Kali as She has a necklace of human hearts.

In Crete, She was known as Rhea, the Aegean Universal Mother.  Great was Her sphere of influence.  She even extended into ancient Russia and was known as Rha.  She became the Celtic Goddess Rhiannon, who was known to have devoured all Her own children, one at a time.  Rhea’s consort, Chronos, known then as Father Time, also consumed his own children to emulate Mother Kali or Rhea.  Chronos, in myth, castrated his own father and in turn, was castrated by his son, Zeus.  All to emulate Rhea Kronia, or Mother Time, who was the direct reflection of Mother Kali.  Rhea is also known as the Grim Reaper, a very familiar symbol in current lore.

In Ireland, Kali took the form of Caillech, or Cailleach.  An ancient name for the Mother Goddess who is also the great destroyer.  Cailleach made the world, but also destroyed it.  Scotland called Her Caledonia.  A very familiar song if one listens to Celtic music.  Scotland, in fact, is named after Scotia, what the Romans called the “black Aphrodite”.  Scandinavians knew Her as Skadi, which reflects the close association in spelling of the name Kali.  Finlandians called Her Kalma, once again reflecting the obvious associations.  Think of Kali more formal name, Kali Ma and you can see how close Kalma is.  Gypsies, from the eastern woodlands of Europe, knew Her as Sara-Kali.  In France, the festival of Ste Marie De La Mer, is held in honor of Sara of the Gypsies.  A common Gypsy name is still Kaldera and as anyone who plays role playing games knows, Morrowind uses Caldera as one of its towns.  Druids call Her Kauri and Her depictions are very similar to the images offered at the beginning of this discussion.  Some argue that modern Christian representations of the Dark or Black Madonna are in fact, Kali Ma reborn.

1. Um Klim Kalika-yei Namaha [Dm Kleem Kah-lee-kah-yea Nahm-ah-hahl

"Om and salutations. I attract she who is dark and powerful."

2. Om Hrim Shreem Klim Adya Kalika Param Eshwari Swaha [Om Hreem Shreem Kleem Ahd-yah Kah-lee-kah Pah-rahm Ehsh-wah-ree Swah-hah]
"Om and salutations to She who is the first one, dark within her own reality, the supreme primordial feminine, who cuts through illusion to the unabridged truth of existence."

The above written by Thomas Ashley Farrand.  Used by permission.
Prayer to Goddess Kali
OM Sri Maha Kalikayai Namah
Prostrations to Mother Kali

Prayer to Kali

o goddess of black deeds
I have felt the knife's

fury in my wrists, the urge
to throw my baby

down the stairs, the blood
surge making me crazy

or just a lack of sleep
a fever in the chest

never enough rest
stomp yell slap bang

the knife on the counter
instead of hitting him

yet, next moment
all is calm, I soothe his

head, caress him next to
my heart, tell him I am dead

serious. I will not yell
if you don't. bargain, deal

but not beg, only
request. o ungentle goddess,

this anger
is not for him.

help me give tears to my sadness
voice to my rage

The above is original work by Little Mother, 1997
jennifer boire

Kali's Garden

Way down here in Kali's garden
Way down here digging deep
with seeds of anger, betrayal, and the recurrent cry
of the dispossessed, the searing drive for blood and vengeance.


Way down here in Kali's garden
Way down here digging deep
Way down here
while the faithful sleep
The pain of imperfection is always there.
This thing called human difficult to bear.
Only sensory deprivation or sensory overload will make you not care.
Whichever road you take will lead you to death.
Cheers to the few who dance their way through
til death comes into view.
But way down here in Kali's garden
everybody's angry
everybody's got an ax to grind.

From the first war of birth, Kali oversees in blood.
A mythic image cast in a dark shadow to the violence
that leads to the awareness of the human.
Kali receives the prayers of we depraved humans,
the prayers of the downtrodden,
the prayers of our greed,
the prayers for protection in our weakness.

For the awesome power of Kali's image is because we are corrupt,
violent, angry, and seek revenge.
We know of Kali's blood lust so we invoke her.
We know violence, force and fear work more efficiently than meekness
and humble words.
So we invoke her.
We call upon the animal soul and dress it in the trappings of god,
in the ceremonies of the Goddess, in the music of the emotions,
to obscure and sanctify our primordial urges.
Way down here in Kali's garden
Way down here digging deep
Way down here while the faithful sleep.

Way down here in Kali's garden
while the faithful sleep.

Maybe it all started with French junkies or the educated fringe of British colonial aristocracy (more likely the wives), but the patrons of Kali lore, Kali Ma art in the American pantheon of chic intellectual souvenirs of power giving gods (goddesses) of twentieth century boudoirs and drug dens of depravity have surely adopted Kali. Exotic upper class Anglos, intellectual Jews, drugged artists, and the Catholics who will tell you they are no longer Catholics running to and fro in the bank of Asian consciousness always adopting some corresponding icon, or image or artistic representation to pray towards or ask power from, or get blessings from in mirrored reflection of the Catholicism they violently deny.

Words from a Hindu chant familiar around the world, in the unchallenged conditioned mind of the catholic educated Kali becomes Mary. The rest of the world makes no such connection, bemused by the connection to Mary much less in confusion or equivocation with Kali. Cults of Catholic Kali spring like weeds in the unthinking.

Way down here in Kali's garden
where roses bloom in blood and
revolutions spring from angry tombs
Way down here digging deep
while the faithful sleep
Kali's moon is dark
far beneath the earth with motives hidden
The whisper of her lust forbidden
in ceremonies of darkness driven.

Legend has it that Kali was messing around with some pretty boy, and Shiva the big Yang God got very pissed off and cut off Kali's toe,
throwing it in the marsh land from which grew the city of Calcutta ...Kali's toe.

The above was written by The Observant BuddhistŠ used by permission.

Mother Kali

Great Mother, I stand before you humbly
Asking your protection for my son,
And all Your sons and daughters in harms' way.
They feel Your darkest hour before dawn.
The power of Your blackness as You rage.
May You protect them at first light of day.

c  All prayers and pictures used by permission of author or artist.

This page is the intellectual and creative property of Ladyhawke.
November 2008