What is it about Goddess Kali that makes it so grotesque and repulsive? What is in the depiction of the goddess that invokes a sense of fear and a sense of worry? Her complexion, her nakedness, her blood-lust and her uncivilised conduct is not only deplorable but equally embarrassing for all.
She is quite an antithesis to the very concept of Mother Goddess. Instead of dressing up in bridal finery like all the other goddesses, she shuns clothes. She doesn’t tie her hair like all the other goddesses, a sign of total disdain for homely norms. She does not partake of pleasing food as others, but prefers blood! Unlike all the other goddesses, she is not a meek shadow of her husband; rather she actually puts her foot on him, a concept that is blasphemous to all and sundry. She is a goddess who lacks grace, benevolence and femininity. So what is it about her that could have been misunderstood?
In myths lie messages and the hidden symbolism. If you view Kali through the metaphysical lens, then there is nothing that can upset anybody. She is depicted to shock one and all as she is making a radical statement by her appearance and her conduct.
Kali’s nakedness represents the raw form of nature, that which cannot be bound by the norms of man-defined culture. Hair has always been a metaphor of sexuality. In the olden days, a woman’s hair-do communicated her status. Unmarried girls were supposed to plait their hair; a married woman was supposed to oil and have a centre parting and knot her hair. She was not supposed to be seen with untied hair outside her bedroom. A widow was supposed to be sans-hair. Kali’s disheveled and untied hair indicated that she was not bound by the sexual norms laid down by the people. She represented the untamed, wild aspect of life.
Kali has been the epitome of cultural reversal. She does everything that a ‘cultured’ woman would not dare do. Her lack of dressing, her mad murderous dance and her anti-culture stand, forces one and all to see things that we detest, fear or suppress in our lives. She forces us to see the raw and naked form of things that exist outside the purview of human moral or ethical standards. She is a reminder of the fragility of culture. Her nakedness represents the collapse of modesty and all that culture so strongly tries to uphold. She represents what can happen when a society does not respect the feminine forces of the world. She shows that the same docile woman who is the fountainhead of creation can lead to destruction in the goriest form, if and when provoked.
Her stepping on her husband is a challenge to the institution of patriarchal values. It’s a reminder to the ‘upholders of the moral conscience of the society’, not to rid the woman of her rights and dues and the respect that she so deserves. A woman who is expected to worship her husband can step on him to protect her own self-respect. Many modern writers see Kali as the goddess of feminism.
Our early thinkers who have given docile goddesses, have ensured that the modern-day self-made gods of the world do not get carried away and are kept in check by giving us the likes of Goddess Kali too!