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Goddess Kali is often given ‘caring, feminine’ atrributes by a patriarchy that worries about the inspiration she may give women to tap into their own inner strength.
Very often in Indian households, when a girl is praised, she is compared to Goddess Laxmi having ideal qualities, or ‘Sarv Gun Sampyan’. Newlywed brides are labeled as ‘Ghar ki Laxmi’ – a metaphor, which may be linked to the element of dowry associated with marriage. How often would you find her compared to the rustic and fierce Goddess Kali?
The answer lies at the very root of the ideals that have shaped Indian society for centuries. Not one of your regular deities, Kali is summoned only when there is extreme annihilation in the Universe. She has a raging persona, devoid of inhibitions and affections commonly related to the ideal Indian woman.
Analysis of Indian literature reveals that the history of the Goddess Kali dates back to 2500 BCE during the Indus Valley civilization. She is identified as a dark-skinned woman, scantily clad in animal skin, holding up an aggressive posture. Adorned with skulls and sharp weapons, she does not come as a symbol of goodness. In the southern regions of the country, she is even seen as a symbol of human discomfort.
All women, at some point, envision within themselves a divine feminine. However few perceive themselves as the angry goddess.
Commonly pictured as a frightening figure wearing a garland of severed heads, Kali shatters the conventional assuring image of other female divinities. Much like the indomitable women of today, she does not adhere to the societal rules.
She, in her frenzy of wiping out the evil, steps on her husband Lord Shiva who is the most powerful celestial being of the Hindu belief system. Upholders of patriarchy state that the Goddess bit her tongue out of embarrassment. Here the tongue, an icon of power smeared with the blood of demons is converted into a symbol of shame.
Much like the Goddess, women who defy patriarchal norms are compelled to feel guilty about their actions. They are portrayed as disorderly women who do not make good wives or caring mothers.
During the seventeenth century, poets of Bengal among others, attempted to turn the fierce Goddess into a ‘caring, feminine force’ with much focus on her nurturing characteristics. They made her domestic in appearance, adding ornaments on her and changing her skin colour to a calm blue.
However contemporary feminists see this as an intentional move to pacify the staunch orthodox segment of the society who felt threatened by such a dominating woman.
Women are expected to calm their male counterparts and prevent them from going down the path of rebellion. They are to absorb all kinds of annoyance and irritation into themselves. However, in the case of the Goddess, it is Shiva who has to pacify her all-destructive rage. Such instance of a divine being is not always considered ‘ideal’ for women to follow. Hence these stories are given different interpretations to misguide the masses, essentially women, from taking the road to freedom from the chains of patriarchy.
Therefore too much inspiration from such an unorthodox deity might alter the balance of power in society. That is why perhaps Kali is stereotyped as a symbol of death and destruction.
However, this eternal entity is much more than just aggression. While most people call her the annihilator of all things evil, she is also a fierce Mother, protecting her children from adversities. In fact, according to modern-day feminists she may even be an icon of female liberation.
With the ongoing issues of gender inequality in most sections of the society, one should look beyond the ordinary and embrace the unshackling traits of Kali. Hence for all the undaunted souls out there who are searching for an opportunity to break free, it might be high time to include the unconventional Kali on your wall for the divine.
Image source: Flickr
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