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Kali as the Goddess
in the Kalika Purana

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The Kālikā Purāṇa 1 is a śākta Hindu text compiled around one thousand years ago, containing sacred stories, passages of praise, rituals (including sacrificial rituals), and descriptions of sacred places.

In this text, the Sanskrit word kālī (काली)) and its variant kālikā (कालिका) are names of a universal feminine power at once terrible, charming and beneficent. In simple English: the Goddess.

A major theme of the Kālikā Purāṇa is the way this Goddess incarnates, first as Satī and later as Pārvatī. In these forms, she emulates the yogic practices of Lord Śiva. She entices him out of his tranquil detached spirituality, and into an active involvement with the manifest world.

Kālī’s incarnations

एवं काली महामाया योगनिद्रा जगत्प्रसूः।

पूर्वं दाक्षायणी भूत्वा पश्चाद्गिरिसुताभवत् ॥

evaṃ kālī mahāmāyā yoganidrā jagatprasūḥ,

pūrvaṃ dākṣāyaṇī bhūtvā paścādgirisutābhavat.

Chapter 44 verse 54

Thus Kālī Mahāmāyā Yoganidrā, the world's birthgiver,

first became Dakṣa's daughter, and afterwards the daughter of the mountain.

Context: This verse appears towards the end of a series of chapters describing in detail Śiva’s marriage to Satī, and later (after Satī's death), to Pārvatī.

Notes: In this passage, the word kālī, the word mahāmāyā and the word yoganidrā are synonyms -- words which name and describe the same world-mother. Dakṣa's daughter (the goddess Satī) and the daughter of the mountain (the goddess Pārvatī) are incarnations of the world-mother.

Kālī’s voice

इत्याकर्ण्य वचस्तस्य काली लोकविमोहिनी ।

ब्रह्माणमूचे जगतां स्रष्टारं घनशब्दवत् ॥

ityākarṇya vacas tasya kālī lokavimohinī,

brahmāṇam uce jagatāṃ sraṣṭāraṃ ghanaśabdavat.

Chapter 5 verse 59

Having heared what he said, Kālī, the world-enchantress

said to Brahmā, the creator of worlds, in a voice like thunder…

Context: Brahmā has been performing austeries to gain the blessing of the Goddess. He wants her to incarnate and persuade Śiva to marry her. She agrees to do so.

Notes: A passage which attests to Kālī's old and pervasive association with rainclouds.

Kālī’s appearance

सिंहस्थां कालिकां कृष्णां पीनोत्तुङ्गपयोधराम ।

चतुर्भुजां चारुवक्त्रां नीलोत्पलधरां शुभाम॥

वरदाभयदां खड्गहस्तां सर्वगुणान्विताम ।

आरक्तनयनां चारुमुक्तकेशीं मनोहराम ॥

siṃhasthāṃ kālikāṃ kṛṣṇāṃ pīnuttuṅgapayodharām,

caturbhujāṃ cāruvaktrāṃ nīlotpaladharām śubhām.

varadābhayadāṃ khaḍgahastāṃ sarvaguṇānvitām,

āraktanayanāṃ cārumuktakeśīṃ manoharām.

Chapter 8 verse 9-10

Mounted on a lion, Kālikā was dark with full and prominent breasts,

four arms and a beautiful face, and held a blue lotus. She was radiant. Fulfilling wishes and giving fearlessness, sword in hand, possessing all qualities,

with reddish eyes, beautiful free-flowing hair, captivating the mind.

Context: This is a description of the Goddess as she appears to Brahmā's son Dakṣa, who has been practising austerities in order to gain her blessing. He is about to ask her to incarnate as his daughter (Satī). She agrees, but goes on to warn him that she will end her incarnation if he treats her with disrespect.

Notes: In this description there are a number of attributes -- the unbound hair, the sword, the actions of fulfilling wishes and giving fearlessness -- which have continued to be associated with Kālī to this day. The lotus and lion may be less familiar; yet in the central shrine of the Kālī temple at Dakshineswar, there is a large lotus beneath the feet of Kālī's image -- Lord Śiva is lying on the lotus -- and there is also a small lion near Kālī.

The word translated as "quality" guṇa, can be understood on different levels. It can simply refer to the desirable qualities of a woman or a man. Or to the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas, (light, colour and darkness) which are mentioned a few verses later in the text (chapter 8 verses 13 - 14).

Kālī as Nature

त्वं कालरात्रिस्त्वं शांता त्वमेव प्रकृतिः परा ॥

tvaṃ kālarātristvaṃ śāntā tvameva prakṛtiḥ parā.

Chapter 8 verse 23

You are Kālarātri, you are tranquil, you are ultimate Nature (Prakṛti).

Context: Part of Dakṣa's praise of the Goddess, immediately after she appears before him in the form just mentioned.

Notes: The term Kālarātri -- Night of Kāla -- has been associated with Kālī at least since the time when the epic Mahābhārata was compiled.

After she incarnates, is she still called Kālī?

तैर्जांबुनदसंभूतैर्योजितैर्गिरिजातनुः ।

विभाति जलदापूर्णे कालिकेव तडिद्गणैः ॥

सर्वैर्दिव्यैरलंकारैर्नानारत्नैः सदंशुकैः ।

संपूणमंडिता काली सादृश्यं प्रकृतेर्दधौ ॥

tair jāmbunadasambhūtair yojitair girijātanuḥ,

vibhāti jaladāpūrṇe kālikeva taḍidgaṇaiḥ.

sarvair divyair alaṅkārair nānāratnaiḥ sadaṃśukaiḥ,

sampūrṇamaṇḍitā kālī sā dṛśyam prakṛter dadhau.

Chapter 45 verses 44 - 45

Girijā’s body, adorned with those golden items,

shone like a full dark bank of raincloud where lightning flashes.

With all those divine ornaments, various gems,  and fine fabrics,

Kālī was lavishly clothed; she had the beauty of nature.

Context: Lord Śiva is expressing affection for Pārvatī (the name Girijā, like Pārvatī, means daughter of the mountain) by giving her clothing and jewelry.

Notes: Here again we see the name Kālī associated with raincloud. Also significant is the word prakṛti (nature), which appears here in the form prakṛter (of nature). As we have just seen, the Goddess before she incarnates is praised as ultimate Prakṛti.

Kālī’s gifts

कालिकायै नमस्तुभ्यमिति यो भाषते स्वयम् ।

तस्य हस्ते स्थिता मुक्तिस्त्रिवर्गस्तु वशानुगः ॥

kālikāyai namas tubhyam iti yo bhāṣate svayam,

tasya haste sthitā muktis trivargas tu vaśānugaḥ.

Chapter 90 verse 28

One who personally declares “Kālikā, reverence to you.”

has liberation in his hand, and the other three goals of life at his command.

Context: This verse appears close to the end of the last chapter of the Kālikā Purāna.

Notes: Mukti or liberation, is considered the ultimate goal of life. The other three goals are dharma (fulfillment of duties), artha (prosperity), and kāma (desire – equivalent to the Greek "eros"). For the Kālikā Purāṇa, as for Rāmprasād, Kālī is a deity who responds to personal devotion, and who can grant both worldly and spiritual fulfillment.


1Tarkaratna, Pañcānana (ed, trans); Kālikāpurāṇam [Sanskrit in Bengali characters with Bengali translation]; Navabhārat Publishers, Calcutta, 1977.

cf Shastri, Biswanarayan (ed, trans); Kālikāpurāṇe Mūrtivinirdeśaḥ [Sanskrit and English]; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1994.

Article © Colin Robinson 2010

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