Legends of Hindu Goddess Kali: the Dark One

fierce form of Devi hindu goddess Kali

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According to Hindu teachings, Kali is Goddess of time or change, but is most notably known by non-Hindus for her darkness and violence.  Much like Shiva in the form of Bhairava, her earliest incarnation was that of an annihilator of evil within the world.  She is often depicted in grotesque fashion as her terrifying eyes and shrieking expression horrify. Kali is referred to as ‘the black one’ as she is thought to have been the first creation before light itself and her very presence is said to convey death and destruction.

Within her most famous Hindu legend she comes to the aid of Hindu Goddess Durga and her assistants as they attempt to slay the demon Raktabija.  They attempt to wound him with various weapons but come to find that with every drop of blood they inflict he only multiplies in form.  His duplicates overwhelm them and they call upon Kali for aid.  Instead of Kali being summoned, however, Durga herself manifests into Kali’s form.

‘Out of the surface of her (Durga’s) forehead, fierce with frown, issued suddenly Kali of terrible countenance, armed with a sword and noose. Bearing the strange khatvanga (skull-topped staff), decorated with a garland of skulls, clad in a tiger’s skin, very appalling owing to her emaciated flesh, with gaping mouth, fearful with her tongue lolling out, having deep reddish eyes, filling the regions of the sky with her roars, falling upon impetuously and slaughtering the great asuras in that army, she devoured those hordes of the foes of the devas’

Kali slays the Raktabija by sucking every last ounce of blood from his body and devouring his duplicates.  She rejoices in victory and dances upon the fallen in triumph.  Her ferocious celebration is said to have consumed her fully, unable to stop herself from stomping on the slain.   In order to snap his consort Kali out of her violent elation, God Shiva laid down amongst the dead beneath her feet.  The instant her foot touched her beloved Shiva she was able to calm herself.  This is why Kali is often depicted standing atop Shiva.

Although Kali is often seen as a terrifying and vicious slayer of demons, in union with Shiva she is said to help create and destroy worlds.

Hindu Goddess Saraswati: Goddess of Knowledge

“May Goddess Saraswati, who is fair like the jasmine-colored moon, and whose pure white garland is like frosty dew drops, who is adorned in radiant white attire, on whose beautiful arm rests the veena, and whose throne is a white lotus, who is surrounded and respected by the Gods, protect me. May you fully remove my lethargy, sluggishness, and ignorance.”

Within Hinduism, Saraswati is the Goddess of knowledge, art, music, and science. Companion to Brahma, it is said that Saraswati was key to his creation of the Universe.  As his source of vital spirit and energy, she along with Goddess Kali and Lakshmi played pivotal roles in helping the gods shape and maintain the universe.  Saraswati also plays an important role in Buddhism as sacred devotee of Gautama Buddha making sure his teachings live on in practice.   She is daughter to Durga and sister to Ganesh.

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Saraswati is thought to contain the divine flow of all things serving as a beautiful body of knowledge and catalyst of learning throughout the world.  Her sultry appearance is striking and the epitome of feminine and divine beauty.  Her beauty is strategic in order to make knowledge and learning alluring to onlookers.  She is often depicted in flowing white to symbolize her purity and unmatched mind while seated upon a lotus flower which represents the light in knowledge.  By worshiping Saraswati one is able to realize the possibility of infinite knowledge and an endless quest of enrichment.  She embodies not only knowledge itself, but the highest of spiritual knowledge, much like Buddhist teaching of the Gautama Buddha reaching enlightenment.  Her potential is fully realized and as one follows her example they too can become enlightened.

Many devotees believe strongly in offering honey to goddess Saraswati during worship as a symbol of the purest of knowledge.

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Indra: Hindu God of War, Heavens, & Thunderstorms

‘He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots, the villages, and cattle;
He who gave being to the Sun and Morning, who leads the waters, He, O men, is Indra.’
Rigveda

God of War, Indra Hindu god

Indra Hindu God of War

Originally, Indra was one of the most prominent deities within the Rigveda as the leader of the Gods and Lord of Heaven according to Hindu myth.  He was the God of war, storms, thunder, and the ultimate warrior carrying his famous lightning bolt, Vajra, as weapon protecting Dharma alongside Vajrapani, the Chief Defender. Indra, Agni’s twin, was said to be the strongest of all beings defending all the Hindu Gods and humans alike from danger.  Indra was described as being very powerful with either two or four very long arms wielding his bolt or at times bow or hook. His parents were the sky god Dyaus Pita and the earth goddess Prthivi.  It is even said he was born fully grown and fully armed from his mother’s side ready to defend the world.

His most notable achievement was fighting the asura Vrita who in form of a mighty dragon stole all the water from the earth.  When Indra was born he heard of the offenses of Vrita and fought to reclaim the precious water he had stolen form the world.  He rode forth to seek him out, smashed through all 99 of Vritra’s fortresses, and battled Vrita as dragon and destroyed him.  Water began flowing from his fallen adversary after battle which restored the earth from its perpetual drought.  Replenishing the land of its most necessary nutrient, Indra became a hero not only to the people, but to the Gods alike.  In show of allegiance the gods elected him as their king.

Although a notable deity within the Rigveda, over time Indras importance as a prominent deity began to diminish in favor of Vishnu and Shiva.  More recent accounts of his famous battle even include his rescuing by Vishnu and Shiva in order to defeat the dragon.  He was eventually demoted to that of simply god of weather and of the lesser gods.

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Shiva as Ardhanari: ‘Lord Who is Half Woman’

red marble shiva as ardhanari statue

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Shiva as Ardhanari, or Ardhanarishvara, translates to ‘Lord who is half woman.’ Ardhanarishvara is the androgynous combination of Shiva and his consort Parvati, split down the middle as half man half woman. Shiva, usually depicted on the right, is often adorned with headdress of a half crescent moon, serpent earring, third eye upon the center of his forehead, and wears a sacred thread across his chest. Parvati down the left is commonly portrayed with basket shaped crown, kundala earing, red dot matching Shiva’s third eye, and multi-colored or white linen dress. Visually, Shiva and Parvati embody their corresponding gender vigorously so as to starkly contrast their opposing counterpart.

Ardhanarishvara is said to characterize the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies of the world and exemplifies how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God. The merger between these masculine and feminine energies is regarded as the root of all creation.

God is both Shiva and Parvati, “both male and female, both father and mother, both aloof and active, both fearsome and gentle, both destructive and constructive” and unifies all other oppositions of the universe.

It is believed that Parvati is not just Shiva’s consort, but an actual part of him.

Ardhanari is one of the most popularly worshiped forms of Shiva and can be found in virtually every temple or shrine throughout India and south-east Asia. It is often regarded that the ultimate goal of a devotee is to be united with Shiva as Parvati is in the Ardhanarishvara form.

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Learn to Quiet Your Anxious Mind with Shiva as Dakshinamurthy

The practice of yoga in the United States has been on a constant rise over the last 30 years since its introduction in the 1980s as a wonderful form of physical health and well being regardless of its original religious context.   As of January 2012 it was estimated that over 20 million Americans regularly practiced yoga as both a form of exercise and spiritual release, up from around 4 million in 2001.

It is no question that given the swelling numbers many have found value in the practice to both their physical and mental health.  Today yoga is even used as cancer treatment to decrease symptoms of depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue in patients.  Hatha yoga specifically has become very popular in the west for its incorporation of physical exercise, breathing control, and meditation.  If you are looking for a way to reduce stress, symptoms of tiredness, increase general mood, and to get your body in shape, yoga is a great practice for all age groups and gender.

Slowing down and taking the time to become in touch with ones body can be a highly fulfilling practice as we all struggle with the stresses of daily living in our modern fast paced society.   As the Buddha said,

“Meditate. Live Purely.  Be quiet.  Do your work with mastery.  Like the moon, come out from behind the clouds!  Shine.” 

Almost all of us have a special place we hold dear and go to clear our heads and think…a favorite park bench, out for a run, sitting with our toes in the sand.  But what many don’t realize is that it isn’t the destination that is key, but actually the state of mind that place brings to you.  Instead of escaping somewhere external, try yoga and meditation.  Anyone can develop inner peace, without really going anywhere but in.

To help with your practice, add a Dakshinamurthy statue by Lotus Sculpture to your meditation corner.  Shiva in the form of universal teacher, Dakshinamurthy, can help guide you in your path to inner awakening.