KALI: Kali, is an important aspect of the primordial Mother-goddess in her angry or violent form. Her anger or violence according to the Kamadhenu-tantra was occasioned by the victory against the wicked asura (demon) in the battlefield and the ferocious venom settled in Shiva’s throat.

In this print by the Ravi Varma Press derived from a painting by Raja Ravi Varma, probably the description of Kali as found in the Kala-tantra has been followed. It describes Kali as having terrible fangs (ghora-damshtra), having let her hair loose (mukta-kesha), with four arms carrying a human head severed just then (sadyaschinna-shirah) , a sword, gestures of boon bestowal (varada) and protection (abhaya). She stands upon the chest of Shiva who lies prostrate like a corpse. In this print, the protection gesture is replaced with her holding a tray.

The representation of Shiva lying like a corpse is explained in the Tripura-rahasya which explains that Kali, after her victory over the asura, began a wild dance which was even more destructive than the one when she battled the asura. In order to bring her back to her senses, Shiva lay down like a corpse and during the course of her dance, Kali stepped upon Shiva. She suddenly realized the impropriety of the act and the sudden realization is depicted as her tongue rolling out.

The representation of Kali in this form is replete with symbolism. The angry and aggressive form is meant to destroy evil and protect good. The severed head is symbolic of ignorance and the demon destroyed represents infatuation.


  • Title: Goddess Kali
  • Creator: Ravi Varma Press Karla Lonavala, Raja Ravi Varma
  • Date Created: Circa 1910
  • Physical Dimensions: 50 x 35 cms
  • Provenance: The Hemamalini and Ganesh Shivaswamy collection, Bengaluru.
  • Subject Keywords: Raja Ravi Varma, Hinduism, Raja Ravi Varma
  • Rights: The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation, Bengaluru

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