A garland of heads that bounce off
Your heavy hips, chopped-off hands
For a belt, the bodies of infants
For earrings, and the lips,
The teeth like jasmine, the face
A lotus blossomed, the laugh,
And the dark body billowing up and out
Like a storm cloud, and those feet
Whose beauty is only deepened by blood,
So Prasād cries: My mind is dancing!
Can I take much more? Can I bear
An impossible beauty?
-Ramprasad Sen’s Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair
The Goddess Kali is worshipped as one of the strongest entities in Hindu Mythology. I remember how in my childhood my mom used to make me sing bhajans of the goddess and how lessons would teach me stories of this powerful woman who defeated asuras that were never conquered by the gods
With a bare, naked body, flowing hair and an outstretched tongue, Kali represents the free spirit of nature that cannot be contained by man. But more importantly, she represents a woman who is not bound by the inhibitions of social constructs. Wearing nothing but huge ornate ornaments and a long garland of the heads of asuras that she has slain, she represents a woman who is completely comfortable with her sexuality and who she is.
Her outstretched tongue, as she stares unashamedly at you, shows her mocking of all the rules that are supposed to bind her while she dances on top of Lord Shiva, the Mahadev. She is fearless as she defeats Raktabija, an asura who even the Gods had difficulty dealing with – showing that there is always the means of finding a solution to the problem – if people would just think out of convention and stop sticking with the norms.
Unlike other portrayals of the Goddess, Kali shows a wild and ferocious side, warning all those that would cross her. While she is called Ma mother, she breaks all the ‘norms’ of a loving mother and takes on the role of a protector instead. She is often shown as holding the head of an asura dripping with blood – a substance that women are so very familiar with, that overflows onto her feet. The representation of the very womb and the shedding of its lining that we treasure – a right to our own body.
“Kali with the most primal form of nature, before culture and outside culture, unaffected by rules and opinions of humanity. She is power, raw and elemental, both venerable and frightening. Human society is created within her; she ultimately consumes human society.”
― Devdutt Pattanaik 7 Secrets Of The Goddess
Kali Ma is a true icon for the fourth wave of feminism that seizes the world today. A woman who stands true to herself – her identity, her sexuality – and doesn’t let the world tell her that she is not supposed to be the way she is. She is the embodiment of nature that cannot be controlled by man and later consumes him. For such an image, what could be more apt than a fearsome goddess that embraces her natural physique and stands at the chest of man?
Mother, incomparably arrayed,
Hair flying, stripped down,
You battle-dance on Shiva’s heart
-Ramprasad Sen’s Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair
There is this theory that we often come across as we talk about feminism. The idea says that a woman is portrayed in either one of two ways – an ‘angel’, a calm, peaceful, motherly entity who only does good or that of a ‘monster’ who is ruthless and does what she likes regardless of consequences.
Like every other human being, there are different sides to the goddess. The people I see around me are no different from Kali Ma – neither are they fully docile and domestic, nor are they completely wild and destructive. But in the end, they are usually labelled as one or another.
Although Kali, in her complete form, is the ferocious woman that I have described so far, the numerous different projections of her portray her in different forms. While Smashan Kali becomes one of the wildest forms of Kali, Dakshina Kali becomes a benevolent mother who protects her children from mishaps.
But in the end, all these forms essentially become different parts of one being.
Mankind is nervous of the unknown. So, we learn everything that we can and label them according to their properties. But with this, we disregard the complexity of the identities around us.
Kali, as a goddess, is someone who represents ideas that stood against all that society had carefully developed. The fear that follows the thought of womankind taking inspiration from the goddess to rise to a position of complete liberation is one that definitely makes a lot of people nervous. And because they were scared of what she stood for, they were scared of her.
But with the coming of a new age comes yet another recognition of Kali Ma. Yes, she is still feared by a lot of people, but for those who fight for equality and the freedom to be who they really are, Kali has emerged as a new icon – the free self.
The era of the fear of Kali is setting for the rise of the Age of Kali – the Kaliyug.
About the Author
Uma Anilkumar is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in English Studies. She is often captivated by new, interesting ideas, especially that of pop culture and is always in search of learning something new. A lover of all kinds of art, she is a writer and poet during her free time and dreams of publishing her own work in the future.