Happy Mother’s Day to all my pagan friends! Whenever Mother’s day happens I love to focus on the Hindu goddess Kali ma. (Or dark mother goddesses in general.) I have had a pretty dark life myself and issues with motherly figures in my life, this is a time for me to reflect.
Kali is a Hindu goddess of death is what most basic information will give you. But she is so much more than that, in fact it would be better to say she represents triumph over death! She is associated with black and time, due to the Sanskrit name being derived from the word “Kala” which means both black and time. She inherits titles such as “she who devours time” for this reason. In some Tantric circles, she is seen as the ultimate being since she is basically the one who absorbs time.
Starting from the beginning, the goddess Parvati is the origins of Kali. Parvati is Lord Shiva’s wife. Ma Durga, a fierce from of the devi (Parvati), who slayed the powerful buffalo asura. She arose out of Brahman (like primordial chaos) to stop the demon because the others gods could not and were in desperate need of help. In a later battle with others, out of Ma Durga’s fury, Kali ma was born from her brow. (These are the most popular origins stories, but there are others.) Parvati, being the wife of Shiva, is the mother of the god Ganesh. This explains the pictures above on why Kali appears as his mother instead of Parvati.
In Bengali tradition, Kali’s darker attributes still exist among them. However, she is transformed more into a dark mother goddess. In some cases she is benevolent. One of the most famous of writers paints her in a dark light.
Ramprasad Sen lived in the 1700’s in Bangladesh. He was a devotee of Kali ma. Many of his poems are reflections of him addressing her. Many of these poems have him speaking about how she does not act as a typical [benevolent] mother:
Can mercy be found in the heart of her who was born of the stone [a reference to her being the daughter of Himalaya? Were she not merciless, would she kick the breast of her lord? Men call you merciful, but there is no trace of mercy in you. Mother. You have cut off the headset the children of others, and these you wear as a garland around your neck. It matters not how much I call you “Mother, Mother.” You hear me, but you will not listen”
Some of his best poetry, in my opinion, is how he speaks of his suffering in life. Including living in poverty. Kali does not bless him with such gifts that are left to the material world. (Money, fame, fortune, etc.) Kali’s blessings are oft on the immaterial planes of existence. (Such as courage when confronting her or as triumph over time. [time=death] )
Mother who art the joy of Hara’s [Lord Shiva’s] heart, and who dost bring to naught the hopes of men, thou hast made void what hope was left to me. Though I place my soul an offering at thy feet, some calamity befalls. Though I think upon thy loveliness, unceasing death is mine. Thou dost frustrate my desires, thou art the spoiler of my fortunes. Well do I know thy mercy. Mother of mine. Great were my desires, and I spread them all out as a salesman does his wares. Thou didst see the display, I suppose, and didst bring confusion upon me. My wealth, my honour, kith and kin, all have gone, and I have nothing now to call my own. What further use is there for me? Wretched indeed am I. I have sought my own ends, and now there is no limit to my grief. Thou who dost take away sorrow, to me most wretched hast thou given sorrow. And I must all this unhappy lot endure.
While in other poems he offers more positive aspects, some of his best social commentaries of his time was on how humans try to understand the complex nature of Kali:
You think you understand the Goddess?
Even philosophers can not explain her.
The scriptures say that she, herself,
is the essence of us all. It is she, herself,
who brings life through her sweet will.
You think you understand her?
I can only smile, you think that you can
truly know her? I can only laugh!
But what our minds accept, our hearts do not.
Ants try to grasp the moon, we the goddess.
- Hindu Goddesses by Dan Kinsley
- Ramprasad Sen’s Wiki page