Image used with permission.

Basic Description:   Kali, one representation of the goddess Devi.  She is the goddess of violence and cruelty, but all of that force is said to be directed against evil.  She is worshipped primarily by the Shaktism school of Buddhism and by the lower castes of Hinduism, especially in the Bengal region.  The reason that Kali is seen as cruel is because she is also known as Power-of-Time.  Time eventually brings on the death of everything, and this is what Kali symbolizes and is in control of.  In her depictions, she laughs because she knows that no one can escape the ultimate end of time, no matter how hard they try.  Kali is the only one that is beyond fear and Kali-worshipers believe that when they accept the harsh truths that Kali represents, that they too will be relieved of fear.  Death to the ego is her primary concern: removing the self-centered illusion held by most humans, thereby eradicating fear.  Although Kali is such a vicious goddess, according to Ramakrishna (a 19 th century Bengali saint who had visions of Kali) she is actually the goddess of tender love, if one can see the “Divine Mother” beyond the eternal aspects of Time.  Her power is greater than any other god’s.  Calcutta was named after the goddess Kali because she was the primary deity of the city.

Alternate Names:   Mahakali, Kala, Durga, Chandi

History/Practices:   Kali is worshiped through blood sacrifices, primarily animal.  The cult of the Thagis, who worshipped Kali, used to sacrifice human beings to the goddess up until the late nineteenth century when it was prohibited by the British.  The English word “thug," is derived from the name of this cult.  Goats are still sacrificed to her daily at temples, especially in the well-known Kalighat temple in Calcutta.

Iconography:   Kali's body is typically shown as black or dark blue which symbolizes the abyss of time.  She is typically naked with sagging breasts.  She wears a necklace of skulls which symbolize the inseparableness of life and death, and a belt of severed limbs from the victims of Time.  She is sometimes pictured with a snake around her neck as well.   Her face is in a grimace, with her blood-red tongue hanging out and down her lipless mouth with fangs on either side.  She has four arms, two of which holding weapons and employed in the work of death, one pointing downwards and alluding to the universal chaos that surrounds her, and a last one which points upwards promising the regeneration of nature by way of a new creation.  Kali is depicted either standing on a tiger or, more often, standing or dancing on Shiva’s prone body.  This gruesome form of Kali is meant to frighten sinners into repentance and virtue.

Mythology:   Kali’s Taste for Blood: Kali is said to have developed a taste for blood when she was asked to kill the demon Raktavija.   When this demon’s blood fell to the earth, he made 1000 more of himself to appear with each drop.  Thus, Kali has to drink every drop of Raktavija’s blood before it reached the ground after piercing him with a spear and holding him above her in order to defeat him.

Riding Animal:   Tiger

Consort:   Kali is considered to be one of Shiva’s many consorts, however she is not considered to be a loving, faithful wife.  The energy that she gives Shiva is destructive, with an all-pervading time aspect.  Since her power is so great, she annihilates the power of the male counterpart.

Other References on the Karma-to-Grace website:
Is there a Devil in Hinduism?
Vankateswami and the God of the Untouchables.
Scared of My Eternal Destiny by R.


Collier’s Encyclopedia.  “Kali”.  New York P.F. Collier. 1995.

Corduan, Winfried.   Neighboring Faiths .  Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.  1998.

Dani é The Myths and Gods of India.  Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International. 1985.

Encyclopedia Americana.  “Kali”.  Danbury, CT: Grolier, Inc. 2001.

Moor, Edward.  The Hindu Pantheon.  Los Angeles: The Philadelphia Research Society, Inc.  1976.

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