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Kali-Ma: Mother and Destroyer
In Hindu India, all goddesses are ultimately one: Devi, whose name simply means "the goddess." Kali is the destructive aspect of the goddess. Kali who perpetually transforms life into a fascinating dance of death.
Kali is all things, womb and cremation, giver of life and devourer. There can be no life without death and no death without life. They are a gift to each other. Through her destruction she creates the way for life to emerge. Kali is the destructive warrior goddess, the beloved and gentle mother.
She stands as a symbol of the worst we can imagine, as the most extreme picture of our fears, she offers us a chance to face down our own terror of annihilation. Once faced and understood, Kali frees her worshipers of all fear and becomes the greatest of mothers, the most comforting of all goddesses.
Kali's four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction, which is contained within her. She represents the inherent creative and destructive rhythms of the cosmos. Her right hands, making the mudras of "fear not" and conferring boons, represent the creative aspect of Kali, while the left hands, holding a bloodied sword and a severed head represent her destructive aspect. The bloodied sword and severed head symbolizing the destruction of ignorance and the dawning of knowledge. The sword is the sword of knowledge, that cuts the knots of ignorance and destroys false consciousness (the severed head). One right arm gestures to dispel fear and the other encourages all to spiritual strength. Kali opens the gates of freedom with this sword, having cut the eight bonds that bind human beings. Finally her three eyes represent the sun, moon, and fire, with which she is able to observe the three modes of time: past, present and future. This attribute is also the origin of the name Kali, which is the feminine form of 'Kala', the Sanskrit term for Time.
Kali is depicted with black skin - dark as midnight. Her blackness symbolizes her all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because black is the color in which all other colors merge; black absorbs and dissolves them. 'Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her' (Mahanirvana Tantra). Black is also said to represent the total absence of color, again signifying the nature of Kali as ultimate reality. In both ways Kali's black color symbolizes her transcendence of all form.
It is she who will annihilate all and anything that is not worthy of keeping.
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