Free Press Journal

Kali, The Cosmic Power-i

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I want to describe her using the words of Sri Ramakrishna :  ‘The majesty of her posture can hardly be described. It combines the terror of destruction with the reassurance of motherly tenderness, for she is the cosmic power, the totality of the universe, a glorious harmony of the pairs of opposites. She deals out death, as she creates and preserves. She has three eyes, the third being the eye of Divine Wisdom; they strike dismay into the wicked, yet pour out affection for her devotees. She is Prakriti, the procreator, nature, the destroyer, the creator. Nay, she is something greater and deeper still for those who have eyes to see.’

 These are powerful words for a powerful image. Studying Kali has taught me a lot about balance, and has reaffirmed, through its vivid myth and images, my understanding of the destructive elements of the creative process.  But why would an idol deliberately be created to look so horrific as Kali?

 We love nature, and yet we really only love certain beautiful, gentle aspects of nature. We like to watch nature shows, yet we hate to see the lion actually catch the impala. We don’t like to think about the cruelty of nature.


 In real life nature is messy and cruel. Carnivores must kill to eat – the free gliding eagle, the proud lion, the wise owl – all must kill every day or two to survive.  But beyond carnivores, all animals – insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals – including us, we all must kill something to survive. We can’t create energy, we must consume it. Only plants have the miraculous ability to simply soak up the sun’s rays and be satiated.

 Well, my question is, can we, as beings so separated from nature and from our own sources of food, actually come to respect and even love that process which enables us to be here?

Even with my Biology degree, and many years of environmental studies, it is hard for me to think of things so counter to what our culture has taught. Death and destruction are wrong, the cultural message screams out in my head. And here is Kali, visually with her four arms reminding us of the necessary balance of nurturing on the one side and destruction on the other, which make up life.