Kāli plays a prominent role in my book, but who or what is she really?
First, Kāli’s dark. Very dark, which signifies that she’s the hidden principle of creation sometimes described as night (rātri). If you imagine her as an infinite, multi-dimensional expanse of darkness, bubbles that arise within are our consciousness of the universe, which is presented by Kali as a shadow (chāyā) behind which a difficult-to discern and grasp substance lies. Kāli is indescribable (avarņanīyā) and indefinable (anirdeśyā) and thus completely screened off from our view. She is dark because she absorbs all colors, which emanate from the same colorness (varņahīnā) source into which they finally merge (vilaya). She is the source of all colors and their absorber (nilaya + vilaya).
The word ‘varņa’ (color) has three senses: functionality (jāti), letter (akşara) and color (ābhā), but Kāli cannot be fully described by any of these senses. She is self-revealing (svaprakāśa svarupa) and is the active principle in the presentation of the universe to our view. She creates the world and invests it with an infinite variety of colors (varņa), forms (ākŗti), and classes of functionality (jāti). This is where, out of the primordial soup of the union of primitive unified matter and energy she puts into place within its matrix the physical laws and constants such as the speed of light, the fine structure constant, the multi-furcation of primitive unified energy, the masses of bosons and leptons, the entire variety of particles and so on. Her self-revealing nature is symbolized by the dazzling white of Śiva at her feet. The physical constraints of the universe are actually set by a collusion with Śiva. In this sense, you could say that if Kali is matter/energy, that Śiva is consciousness.
Kāli’s mass of scattered hair is symbolic of the veil of ‘māyā’ by which the reality principle (satya) has been covered (pihita) and a universe of multifarious things and relations is projected like a film on a screen. She has created insatiable lust (kāma) and thirst (tŗşņā). Lust is personified by the demon, Raktabīja, whom if a drop of blood from his body is shed in the universe, another demon springs into existence. This is the endless activity and undying nature of lust throughout creation. Kāli kills him with her sword and laps up his blood with her tongue so that not a drop falls to the ground, thus destroying the Raktabījakūţa, the entirety (samūha) of evil forces. The tangled mass of her hair is the veil of ‘māyā’ which creates the illusion of many and her protruding tongue (lolajihvā) points to her power of destruction and its redness indicates the blood-germ of Raktabīja, who is destroyed on her tongue. She is thus the soured of creation and the agent of destruction.
Yet her exquisitely beautiful face has been concealed from our view. She does not reveal her intrinsic nature and the cloud that has gathered in the sky of consciousness (ciḍākāśa) is the primary form (ādima rūpa) of condensed energy before its radiation. The seeds of all things are stored up in that condensed for of energy called ‘mahāvŗşa,’ that is, a cloud sprinkling rain. Mahākāli becomes active in the form of ‘mahānāda,’ the great upheaval (āloḍana). This upheaval or flow of energy has been manifest in the creation of the world in the form of sounds or words (vāṅgmaya). Thus behind her dark appearance there is supreme effulgence (parama jyoti) and beyond the upheaval there is quietude (turīya sānta or parama nāda), which sets at rest all stirrings in the universe.
Nityakāli (the eternal Kāli) is not a separate entity dependent on the absolute principle of reality (paramatattva). She is the essence of the absolute, non-different (abhinnā) from it and in unison (sāmarasya) with it. (We can recall here that sāmarasya is a yogic expression of the absolute union of the male and female principles in love) She does not separate anything from herself but is the string attached to the myriads of kites flown in the sky. If any kite’s connection with the string is cut off, it returns to the same field from which it was launched. Anything that appears in the mirror of our consciousness is invested with form (rūpa), measure (māna) and so on, by Nityakāli. She upholds everything and attracts everything towards herself.
Kāli’s sword (khaḍga) is a symbol of her power of making the undivided whole (akhaņḍa) appear as torn into pieces. She has created a network of causes and effects and spatial and temporal relations by which things are held together. These are the laws and constants of physics, chemistry and biology. Thus the indivisible and indefinable reality has become divisible and definable. She has created the illusion (bhrāti) and the demons representing birth, death, pain and chains (pāśa) of attachment have come to play their part in this world of illusion. She is the root of all delusion (bhrānti) but she is also the fountainhead of mercy (dayā) which alone can kill the demons. The sword symbolizes the power of destroying evil. In her hand there is a head severed from the body and around her neck there is a wreath of severed heads, meaning that she is the sustaining principle both of the individual (vyasta) and the whole (samasta). She is both ‘vara’ (blessing) and ‘abhaya’ (fearlessness). She is blessing in the form of ‘sandhi’ or link between the individual and the universal and ‘abhaya’ indicates a stage beyond all differentiation. She is the supreme source of joy and quietude (parama śānti). Thus both prosperity (abhyudaya) and higher bliss (niḥśreyasa) are grounded in the Absolute Being. Hence she is represented as distributing ‘vara’ and ‘abhaya’ by her two hands.
Kāli is the self-revealing effulgent principle which illuminates everything. But why is there a difference between the observer and the observed (draşţā and dŗśya)? She is ever free (nityata kaivalyarūpa) and the root cause (bīja) of everything in this universe. She is the bliss principle (ānandarūpiņī) which becomes manifest in her consortship with Śiva. If Śiva is divorced from her, he is Śava (a lifeless corpse) so the play and upsurge of joy and bliss is caused by the partnership with Śiva. Thus ‘cit,’ the conscious principle never becomes the knowing principle (citti) without companionship with her. She is the all-pervasive conscious principle (citirūpeņa yā kŗtsnām etad vyāpya sthitā jagarat) in which the entire creation is revealed as ‘known.’ It is through her agency that Saccidānanda Brahman has expressed himself. He is an ocean of which the three currents are knowledge (jñāna), desire (icchā) and action (kriyā). The ‘Sat’ as ‘jñyea’ or knowable is manifest as truth (satya) and the ‘cit’ is differentiated into knower-known and bliss (ānanda) is exhibited in the display of love (rāsalīlā).
Kāli is ‘nişkalā’, beyond all determination, but the crescent (śaśikalā) on her forehead indicates that she is the center from which ‘nāda-bindu-kalā’ have originated (perfect patency, potency and the connecting bridge of laws and relationships).When her self-willed expression (svakalpita kalā) is complete and perfect, she appears as ‘Umā’ with the glamour of the full moon (purņamāsi) and she is known as Mahālakşmi or Śri Vidyā. But in her own fundamental nature she is ‘Amā,’ or hidden from our view and is therefore dark in appearance. ‘Umā’ (light) and ‘amā’ (darkness) are the two poles between which ‘a,’ ‘u,’ and ‘ma’ are the three measures (mātrātraya) in which infinitely varied partials (kalā) are manifest.
The ‘ākāśa,’ which represents the bliss principle (ānandarūpa) is also the conscious principle (jyotirūpa). The effulgence (jyotiḥ) has been scattered in countless particles (kaņā) and has pervaded everything in and outside ourselves. Kāli has set up vibrations (spandana) in that ‘ākāśa’ of joy and effulgence (ānandajyotirūpa vyomah) and thus she appears as a great upheaval (nāda) which is without limit (sīmā) and ever expansive (vistīrņā). She also withdraws herself into a ‘bindu’ (perfect potency – the naked singularity). Nāda – the fully expanded limits of the universe – and ‘bindu’ – the completely compacted universe – taken together constitute her full being (pūrņatā). Expansion via the ‘big bang’ and contraction via the ‘big crunch’ have been going on endlessly, and the process (gati) of one following the other is this creation, which is currently in a phase of expansion. These functions have two aspects, one being eternal time (nitya mahākāla) not yet having differentiated itself into successive moments and appearing as the basis of all that is. The other is the potency aspect (bindurūpa) appearing as points in a series (karma) of creations. That is why Mahākāla is lying under the feet of Mahākāli, and the necklace of heads stands for the ‘bindurūpa’ or ‘baindavī mūrti,’ the entire infinite series of creations hand around her neck.
The redness of Kāli’s tongue is a symbol of the flame arising out of the sacrificial fire by which all obstacles in the way of specific accumulation (vyāhŗti) of power (mantra śakti) are removed. Her three eyes – ‘arka, agni and soma’ – are the witnesses to the performance of the ‘mahāyajña,’ and they also point to the creation, preservation and dissolution/destruction/ultimate contraction of the universe to a naked singularity called ‘bindu.’ (We could also here present the ‘vishkalan krīyā’ descritption of yajña but this will be a digression from our examination of the nature of Kāli and will be presented in another blog post)
If we consider the principle of Kāli (Mahākālikatattva) from the point of view of ‘vāk’ (speech), her tongue represents the ‘vaikhari vāk’ or expressed speech (sphuţavāni) and its three varieties are oral (vācika), non-vocal (upaṁśu), and mental (mānasa) and the partially open teeth stand for ‘madhyamā vāk,’ or the intermediate stage of transition from ‘vaikhari’ to ‘paśyantī,’ and the glare of her eyes stands for ‘paśyanti vāk,’ or inner vision. She has made all her designs (yantra) and functions (tantra) fully explicit in the realization of ‘parāvāk,’ or transcendental speech.
But how is there an evolution of the ‘om,’ the essence of speech from the ‘parāvak’? Kāli is not only the final rest (śantā) and supreme transcendent (śāntātitā) but has assumed two forms (tuṣṇī – nāda) – ‘tuṣṇī’ is Śiva and ‘nāda’ is also Śiva, and when these two are combined, they appear as perfect potency (bindu). She is the mantra personified, and that mantra is the basis of the mantras of Kāli, Saraswati and Lakşmi.
Kāli as mother is ‘ādyāśakti, the prime/primal energy resident in the core/heart of creation. The heart is the nucleus of all energy-transformations in the smallest particle as well as in the whole universe (virāt viśva) and is called ‘dhara’ for it is the limit of subtlety/smallness ‘sūkşma parākaşţhā’ and the mother resident in the ‘dahara’ is the subtlest of all the levels of subtlety, several levels of subtlety below the Planck limit. She transcends all measures and magnitudes and is therefore not only ‘sūkşmatamā’ but also ‘dūratamā.’ No measure is adequate to encompass her. She is the basic pattern of power and as such is called ‘tanutamā,’ and as a basis of the recurring creation and dissolution of the universe, she is ‘urutamā.’ She is the inexorable law of the universe and therefore is ’dŗḍhatamā,’ and at the same time she is al-merciful (madhutamā) and supremely fit (paţutamā) in setting at rest all discordant elements of our being.
Kāli is ‘kaivalyadāyinī’ or the giver of salvation. She is ‘guņātmikā,’ or qualified by the ‘gunas’ (a subtle level of the basic building blocks of matter) as well as ‘guņātītā,’ or beyond all ‘gunas.’ She is ‘Brahmaśmi,’ or identical with Brahman, and her sword (khaḍga) represents the power of knowledge by which all illusions are removed. She is ‘Tattvamasi’ – ‘That thou art’ – and therefore the heads severed by her sword are not thrown away. “Sarvam khalvidam Brahman’ – all is Brahman – and therefore she holds round her neck a necklace of infinite universes. She is the consummation of ‘bhakti, mukti, jñāna and prema’ – emotional devotion, freedom, wisdom and love.
– Re-worked from the works of Pratyagatmananda Saraswati and his expositors, especially S.N. Roy, former principle of B.N. College, Patna University, along with my adjustments.
Kāli plays a prominent role in my book, but who or what is she really?