Kali questions and response
by Tara Knowland

There are many things about Kali that are both interesting and puzzling to me. (I want to focus on Kali specifically, though what I will say could to some degree be applied to Durga). The angry goddess is certainly important. I think that religions that neglect to recognize the necessity of an angry god(dess) struggle to explain many occurrences. (This is particularly true, I would say, of Christianity). So on some level, the angry, destructive warrior goddess is one of the Hindu explanations for why bad things happen or why bad things happen to good people (though obviously karma plays a very large role here too). So that is one aspect, though I think that it is far from being the most important.

So now, rather than asking myself why Kali exists, what she serves to do (for I think that her job in the cosmos is well-defined), I ask myself why she is this way. This is a bit more difficult, but I have come up with something that perhaps explains it. Though Kali has a very definite place in the cosmos, I have been struck by the way that she was dependent on others calling on her. This seemed significant to me because there was a certain amount of repression in that as well. What I mean to say is that, particularly in certain myths, she is practically non-existent until a time when her powers are needed. To me, this signifies a great deal of repression. If she is repressed, then, when she does have a chance to break free and do her duty, first of all, she may be very violent and secondly she may be prone to overdo it and perhaps even be somewhat rebellious (also involving Siva in her revelry). It seems that when she is not called upon, then, to perform tasks for the greater cosmos, that she is in some ways confined to the cremation grounds or other areas specifically associated with her, and that, almost at times like a rebellious teenager, she longs to break free and in the process sometimes causes great harm.

Does that answer the whole question? Certainly not, but for me, it is a real jumping off point because I feel at least I need an initial way to approach this. Surely, Kali (or the angry warrior goddess in general) needs to exist to keep the world not only in order but also to bring balance to it, but there are also certain psychological levels to the characters and personalities of the gods and goddesses. Mostly, they are quite elusive, hard to pin down, but I think that the gods, and particularly goddesses in our case, do offer us insights into parts of these elusive natures, especially by overall trends in the way that they are generally perceived by society.

If you have comments or questions, please feel free to email me at taknowland@vassar.edu