March 23, 2023
Legend has it that there was once a powerful demon, or asura, named Raktabija. The gods feared him because he could never die: even if someone tried to strike him down, he would perpetually reproduce himself from the droplets of his blood that touched the ground, creating countless clones. Many tried to kill him, all but one failed.
Kali — which translates to “black one” or “dark one” — appeared from goddess Durga’s brow on the battlefield, as she fought the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. As they attack her, Durga seethes with rage, turning blue. Kali then takes control, wearing a tiger skin sari and a garland of human heads. She immediately kills the two asuras. When Raktabija appears, Kali handily defeats him by sucking his blood before it can reach the ground, and swallows his clones whole. She then proceeds to dance on their corpses.
With depictions of her lips and tongue painted red to mimic blood, draped in a red sari, and garlanded with a string of bloody severed heads from demons she vanquished, Kali incites fear among all, but especially men. The misunderstood figure is a rare gem in the arsenal of peacekeeping Hindu gods, a celebration of female rage and vengeance, and, by many standards, a feminist icon.