In the Sauptika parv of Mahabharata, the story of Kali is narrated. Enraged Draupadi is compared to her.
It is said that Kartikeya killed Tarakasura and several demons after that but a demon Raktbeej was beyond his power. Whenever he got injured, a limb grew again. Each drop of blood that fell on the ground, gave rise to his clone. He multiplied with each wound. At last Parvati came to the aid of her son, she assumed the form of Kali. She is the personification of wrath of Valiant Durga and irate alter ego of peaceful Parvati.
Kali is described as black or shown as blue in pictures just like other Gods. She holds in her four hands a decapitated head, a Khadga (sword) and a begging bowl full of blood. Yet the forth hand is a gesture of protection and benevolence. Her eyes are shown red with rage, hair disheveled and her blood-smeared tongue hangs out. She is shown nude with just a skirt of severed human arms around her waist and a garland of heads or skulls around her neck. A female form that is fierce and defies the rules of chastity the society imposes on her. The raw nature as it is.
In Mahabharata Draupadi is Kali’s representation. She is the symbol of agitated feminine at the crumbling social values and decline of Dharma. She is gambled away by her protectors and abused by relatives. Her disrobing transforms her from a devoted sacrificing wife to a revenge hungry bloodthirsty queen. Keeps her hair untied like Kali till they are doused in Duryodhan’s blood. She is a constant reminder and reason for Krishna to re-establish order.
It is said that once that Kali had slain Raktbeej she became intoxicated with the blood she had licked, she danced in a mad frenzy. Her rage was capable of destroying the universe so urged by Devas Shiva took the onus to calm her back. He lay on the ground in her way but the infuriated kali could not recognise him among the corpses, she stepped on him. The touch of Shiva immediately reminded her who she was and she felt embarrassed to have kept her husband below her feet. Her anger vaporized and transformed into guilt because of which she stuck out her tongue and bit it.
There are innumerable paintings sculptures and idols of kali with Shiva at her feet and in this pose she is known as the Dakshina kali. She is prayed to by Bengalis as Durga during the Puja and as kali on the Diwali night.
The Tantra philosophy believes the interaction of Dakshin Kali and Shiva at her feet is symbolic of relation of Man and his nature, matter with energy, static with dynamic. Without Shakti Shiva is unconscious almost like a corpse and similarly energy cannot be contained unless there is matter. Together they become creative and complimentary and create the world.
There is a third representation of kali as the Shamshan kali or Chinnamastika. This Goddess is the most feared Goddess of India as her followers indulge in covert sacrifices and sexual rituals to appease the Goddess practice at the edge of cremation grounds with skulls and blood that makes it very morbid and so far the most criminal practice. The pictures and idols of this Goddess are very common present in most Shiva temples including one in the Daksha Prajapati temple Kankhal.
The icon of the Goddess is very dreadful, shows Kali holding her cut head and blood streams oozing out of the severed neck to two sides on which her two aids stand and drink the blood. Kali herself stands over a couple. In Tantra, the interpretation is that kali is the Goddess of destruction and regeneration, matter and energy remain constant so in order for something new to be created something must die. ‘The blood has to flow down and the seminal fluid has to flow up. This is cyclic in nature birth giving rise to death and death giving rise to birth.’ Illiterate villagers mostly perform the sacrificial rituals. They appease her to grant children or cure diseases.
This is by far the most misinterpreted portrayal I have come across in mythology. If we observe closely the formation resembles the female reproductive system. There are two ovaries on the sides and two Fallopian tubes leading to them. In the center is body of kali that represents the upper reproductive tract and the lower tract. A copulating couple depicts the site of union, the lower reproductive tract.
As we know the menstruation is cyclic in nature, so the ‘blood has to flow down’ here refers to the menstruation. The old ovum decays and for the new one to be generated it has to be flushed out by bursting of uterine arteries and flow of blood. Similarly the seminal fluid has to rise up the reproductive tract to fertilize the ovum causing birth. It is possible that the Shiva temples in ancient India were used to teach young people, the process of reproduction. Perhaps these symbols were used for premarital counseling. And hence the Chinnamastika indeed have power to grant children. It is possible that with time the real significance of these symbols got lost and they became meaningless rituals misleading people to animal and human sacrifice.
If interpreted properly, Kali is indeed the Goddess of female emancipation that she can become death for enemies of her children and yet be the gentle mother the site of beginning of new life. Destruction and creation both are embodied in her. She indeed does not want violence but to be revered with her power and sensuality as she is.