Daśa Mahāvidyā दश महाविद्या

1. KĀLĪ काली

Kāla means Śiva. It also means various factors of time including the time of departure (death). It also means black. If we take this to mean Śiva, then Kālī refers to His Consort Kālan-Kālī (like Bhairava and Bhairavi). If we take this to mean time, then Kālī is the Goddess to control the time factor of the universe, as opposed to infinity of Śiva. The vastness of Śiva is bound by Kālī, the Māyāśakti. She is Māyāśakti because of Her intrinsic darkness. Her incarnation is described in Devi Bhāgavata Purāṇa (V chapter). The story goes like this. All gods and goddesses prayed to Supreme Divine Mother Parāśakti to complain about two demons Śumbha and Niśumbha, as they were persistently troubling gods and goddesses. Parāśakti created a śakti from Her body and named her as Kauśika. Kauśika means the one having paws. According to Devi Bhāgavata, She is also known as Bhadrakālī (sometimes identified with Durga) and Kālarātrī (the night of all-destroying time, night of destruction at the end of the world. Kālarātrī also refers to a particular night in the life of a man on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventy-seventh year, after which period, a man is exempt from attending to ordinances prescribed by dharma śāstra-s.)

She is described in different forms. Her unique futures are Her black complexion and a garland of skulls. She has four arms and in these four arms She holds a sickle in Her top left hand, a chopped head in Her lower left hand, Regarding her right hands, description varies. In some of the descriptions, She is said to carry a cup containing blood and in the other hand She shows varada mudra (granting of boons). She is often described in Her standing posture on a corpse. Mahānirvāṇatantra describes Her with two hands, one with abhaya (removal of fear and contextually refers to fear from death) and another with varada (granting of boons) mudra. She is seated on a crimson coloured lotus. She has a protruding tongue, which signifies that She consumes all evil things and gives only the purest to Her devotees.

Her complexion describes both death and infinity; death for the sinners and eternity is Her Nature. She is beyond kāla (time), hence She is eternal. Garland made of skulls explains the entire beings of the universe. The entire creation is symbolically explained as skulls. Why skull? Skull represents the reality of existence culminating into death, which is inevitable. The garland of skull is said to have 50 skulls, each representing 50 Sanskrit alphabets. She is wearing a skirt made of chopped hands, which represents destruction of karmas of those who have surrendered unto Her. In a short of span of human existence, one’s ego plays an important role. Unless one’s ego is destroyed, realization is not possible. When She is prayed in the right way, She removes one’s ego. This is symbolically expressed through the chopped head. The sickle represents Her Grace and the chopped head represents one’s ego. When She showers Her Grace, the first thing She does is to remove one’s ego. Why She chooses to annihilate our ego and what is the need? Tattvabodha explains ego as, “ahaṁkartā ahaṁkāraḥ अहंकर्ता अहंकारः” This means that the thought of doership is ego. Unless ego is destroyed, spiritual journey cannot be pursued logically. She stands on a corpse and more often this corpse is depicted as Śiva, which subtly conveys without Śakti, Śiva is a corpse. Saundaryalaharī explains this concept thus. “Śiva becomes inert without Śaktī. When Śiva is not united with Śaktī, He cannot manifest as the universe. Because of Her functional nature, Divine Mother becomes supremely important.” One important relationship other than being Mahākālā and Mahākālī is their abode; they live in crematorium and burial grounds. This is mainly to convey that our ultimate destination is only the crematorium, irrespective of one’s status. That is why She is addressed as śmaśāna vāsinī (the one who dwells in crematoriums).

Kālī Aṣṭotraṁ describes Her like this. She is the destroyer of time, terrible in form but beneficent. She is the pride of Kali yuga, ocean of compassion without any limitation (because She is Kālī), the One who liberates, destroyer of sins in Kali yuga. She is fond of virgins. She has soft and subtle voice, destroys fear and loves those who worship Her with musk. Her body is fully adored with camphor and sandal paste. She is an embodiment of kulācāra (also known as kaulācāra), She is the queen of Benares, a holy city in India and destroys fears of those who worship Her. She is adorned with a garland of bījākṣara klīṁ (kāmabīja). She is made up of three bījākṣara-s krīṁ hrīṁ śrīṁ** and She destroys death for those who recite these bījākṣara-s.


There are several mantras for Her.

1. Navakālī mantras mahākālasaṁhitā are published here

2. Kāmakalākālī Trilokya Mohana Kavaca is published here.

3. Her popularly known mantra is Dakṣiṇakālī mantra:

ॐ क्रीं क्रीं क्रीं हूं हूं ह्रीं ह्रीं दक्षिणेकालिके क्रीं क्रीं क्रीं हूं हूं ह्रीं ह्रीं स्वाहा॥
om krīṁ krīṁ krīṁ hūṁ hūṁ hrīṁ hrīṁ dakṣiṇekālike krīṁ krīṁ krīṁ hūṁ hūṁ hrīṁ hrīṁ svāhā ||


There are abbreviated versions of this mantra apart from other variations

** क्रीं कल्याणी,  ह्रीं काली, श्रीं कराली ॥

krīṁ kalyāṇī (auspiciousness), hrīṁ kālī, śrīṁ karālī (karālī means dreadful)॥