Monday, August 20, 2007

The ‘Other’: Kali and the Feminine Power of Living Space-time

Kali standing on Shiva at Varanasi. Nepalese girls personifying the mother tongue.

If we now turn to the female side of the fatal attraction, there is no personality of more ancient and enduring affection than the black Madonna Kali. She is both the grim black Madonna of creation and destruction and is the most long-lived Goddess we know of, pre-dating the Aryan invasion of the Vedas and harking back to Mojendaro where we find her consort - a trident clad Shiva, and yet alive and manifest in both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, as the original verdant planter Goddess, from whom all fecundity and fertility arises.

Kali in her ecstatic apotheosis as Shakti the erotic cosmic feminine is also at the root of the most sumptuous Tantric creation, eclipsing the parochial sabbatical creation of Genesis, in a true meeting of the complementary aspects of Yin and Yang, the universe beginning in a deep sacred union of female and male, and giving rise to all the manifestations of existential complexity as the lovers retreat from ecstatic union to the relationship of the objective world and its teeming phenomena, reflected in the passive gaze of Shiva’s sentient mind, thereby encapsulating the totality of the existential dilemma. Indeed her ancient primacy is reflected in her being the mother of all the gods and of the three realms:

In the beginning the supreme Goddess Adi Shakti
laid three eggs in a lotus.
From these three eggs emerged the three worlds
and the three gods: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

In contrast to the patriarchal sky Gods, eternal, unchanging and abhorring the impermanent transformations of the physical, Kali acts in space-time in the world of sap and dew, spawning countless offspring from her birth canal and consuming creatures alive, as Lilith was alleged to have done, her body smeared with the blood of sacrifice.

Kali standing on lifeless Shiva with sacrificial goat Kathmandu

Indeed until human sacrifice was outlawed a little over a century ago it was not only black goats that were sacrificed, but humans and particularly those standing in the person of the Lord of Death, in a reflection of the same male sacrifice performed by Inanna, Ishtar, and of the sacrificial principles which saw John the Baptist’s head on a plate after the dance of Salome, and Yeshua, anointed by a woman, hanging on a cross, overlooked by the three Marys, Salome and the women of Galilee.

In the rural areas of the Khonds, whole families were raised to be sacrificed to the harvest, torn slowly to pieces on whirling wooden elephants by the fingernails of frenzied farmers waiting to take back some of the sacred flesh and blood to ensure the coming harvest.

Kali Varanasi

Nevertheless Kali rules over a physical world in which birth and death are the inevitable gateways of living existence, so in an important sense, it is more relevant to worship the Dance of Maya than the inscrutable Nirvana of the Void.

Moreover, in a sometimes damnably patriarchal culture that thinks nothing of killing off its girl children by the thousands, in which young brides are often burned to death for the dowry, and widows suffer death by neglect and attrition, Kali represents the ancient unquenchable spirit of an older Dravidian culture, in which women possessed a degree of power, stemming from the continuity of life that passes in unbroken flesh in the female line, from the bloody birth process, down the umbilical cord to the next generation.

Kali thus represents female power in a way that is psychologically redeeming. In the words of Rani Jethmalani, Kali is an energizer and saviour of oppressed women through social and political empowerment. “It is possible through the revival of an energized feminine principle symbolized by Kali, ethically dynamic and control free, autonomous and active, who challenges the civilized order and status quo”.

Certainly, in coming to terms with the claims made by monotheism for an abstract God acting in history, even unto the end of days, we have to accept that Kali is where time itself gets its name Kal, and it is time that is the grim reaper that turns our hair grey and ultimately casts us to the winds of entropy.

, , ,


Halley said...

the picture at kathmandu is not of kali . it is the famous statue of kalbhairava -- and expansion of shiva .

Dhushara said...

Well I'm not sure about that. I have pictures of Kalbhairava in Kathmandu as well and was there when he was escorted around for the Kumari festival. This looks like Kali on Shiva to me.