It was a cold December night. I held my two-year-old daughter bleeding profusely in my arms. She had been hit by a wrought iron swing at a marriage celebration. My brother-in-law took us to the nearest nursing home and they refused to admit her. The doctor had retired to his house behind the nursing home. I pleaded with the receptionist to call the doctor for the sake of my daughter. My hands were numb from holding an ice pack to the two-inch gash on her head.
When the attendant rudely refused, I began to shout and demanded to see the doctor at once. If then he had not dialled the phone, I could have hit him for his apathy. My brother-in-law was shocked to see his usually well-behavedbhabhi turn into a menacing fighter. The doctor arrived, and so did my husband. His comforting presence drove away my rage and I mellowed to a tender mother again. Instead of acerbic loud words, I was shedding tears at the plight of my child.
When a child’s life or his rights are threatened, a peaceful loving mother transforms into Kali, the fierce mother. She defies the rules of society. From a soft-spoken, nurturing woman, she turns into an angry spitfire. She forgets her tenderness; only her wild rage consumes her. Overcome by a desire to destroy all that jeopardises her child’s future, she goes on a wild rampage.
A mother’s anxiety knows no bounds, unless she has the reassuring presence of her husband to protect her children. Only when the father intervenes and guarantees that he will protect her child, she becomes conscious of her incensed state and returns to her calm self again.
Kali or Kalratri is prayed to on the seventh day of Navratri. She is the fierce form of the mother goddess. In three hands, she holds a decapitated head, a khadga (sword) and a begging bowl full of blood, yet the fourth hand is a gesture of protection and benevolence.
Her eyes are bloodshot with rage, her hair dishevelled and her blood-smeared tongue hangs out. She is usually shown nude, with sometimes a skirt of severed human arms around her waist and a garland of heads or skulls around her neck. A female form that is fierce and defies the rules of chastity the society imposes on her. Nature in its raw form.
In the legend of Kali, Parvati saw that the demon Raktbeej was beyond young Kartikeya’s power during a battle. Whenever he was injured, a limb grew again; each drop of blood that fell on the ground gave rise to a clone. Finally, Parvati came to the aid of her son, in the form of Kali. She licked up all the blood before it touched the ground. No new demons were hence born. Kartikeya was able to kill him.
It is said that once Raktbeej was slain, Kali became intoxicated with the blood she had licked, and danced in a mad frenzy. Her rage was capable of destroying the universe; therefore, urged by the devas, Shiva took on the task of calming her down. He lay on the ground in her way, but the infuriated Kali could not recognise him among the corpses; she stepped on him.
The touch of Shiva immediately reminded her who she was and she was mortified to find her foot on him. Her anger vanished and transformed into guilt, she stuck out her tongue and bit it. There are innumerable paintings, sculptures and idols of Kali with Shiva under her right foot and in this pose she is known as the Dakshina Kali (One theory for the origin of this name is that dakshina means ‘gift’. Gifts are usually given with the right hand. Shiva is seen to be receiving her grace via her foot on his chest.)
Shiva at her feet is also seen to be symbolic of the relationship of matter with energy, static with dynamic. Dynamic energy cannot be contained unless there is matter. Together they become creative and complementary and create the world.
Kali is just another manifestation of the mother; she exists in all of us.