The Wrath of Kali

From Amplification of Symbols by Harry Prochaska

[aras-image:7At.020,,10,,,Figure 1 The Goddess Kali. Calcutta 19th century.]

I was glued to the TV and radio at the end of April and early May of 1992 watching the riots in Los Angeles spread to other cities in the United States as protests against the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King beating. This had happened to me before: once when Hitler marched in Czechoslovakia, and again with the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy. I remember the enormous relief when a station would play a Requiem Mass. Their mass was a symbolic structure which contained the feelings of loss.
At one point, looking at the charred, empty buildings in Los Angeles, the smashed windows, the glass and litter, and people running and shouting, I saw the wrath of Kali. Shakti and Kali are the manifest energy of the Great God Shiva. Without them, he would remain in his self-contained consciousness apart from the world. Shakti is Shiva's creative energy and, because what is created comes to an end, Kali, Time, is Shiva's destructive energy in the cycles of becoming and passing away. At the time I was also reading quotations from the Puranas, Indian texts which date back through the millennia but which sound immediately descriptive of events in recent decades.


Shiva Nataraja in Lord of the Dance. By the stamping of his foot and the beating of his drum, he brings the worlds into existence. We know him by the whirl of events around us, by the tides of emotion within us, and we feel him in the pulse of the blood coursing through our veins. At the completion of the cycle, he withdraws into himself. All action ceases; he is the Lord of Death and Dissolution. The images of Shiva Nataraja typically "represent Shiva dancing, having four hands, with braided and jeweled hair of which the lower locks are whirling in the dance. In His hair may be seen a wreathing cobra, a skull, and the mermaid of Ganga; upon it rests the crescent moon, and it is crowned with a wreath of Cassia leaves. In His right ear He wears a man's earring, a woman's in his left; He is adorned with necklaces and armlets, a jeweled belt, anklets and bracelets, finger and toe rings. The chief part of His dress consists of tightly fitting breeches, and He wears also a fluttering scarf and a sacred thread."

[aras-image:7As.029,b,10,,,Figure 2 The Cosmic Dance of Shiva Nataraja.]

A small drum, shaped like an hourglass in Shiva's upper right hand for the beating of rhythm symbolizes sound, "the vehicle of speech, the conveyer of revelation, tradition, incantation, magic, and divine truth." Sound is also "Ether... the primary and most subtly pervasive manifestation of the divine Substance." The upper left hand, "with a half moon posture of the fingers...bears on its palm a tongue of flame. Fire is the element of the destruction of the world... Here, then, in the balance of the hands, is illustrated a counterpoise of creation and destruction in the play of the cosmic dance." The fear-not mudra of the second right hand bestows protection, while the lower left hand points to the uplifted foot. This foot signifies Release and is the refuge on the prostrate body of the demon Forgetfulness, symbolizing man's blindness and ignorance. "Conquest of this demon lies in the attainment of true wisdom." The ring of fire which symbolizes "the vital processes of the universe and its creatures, nature's dance as moved by the god within. Simultaneously it is said to signify the energy of Wisdom, the transcendental light of knowledge of truth dancing forth from the personification of the All."
A.K. Coomaraswamy writes that, "Shiva is a destroyer and loves the burning ground. But what does He destroy? Not merely the heavens and earth at the close of a world cycle, but the fetters that bind each separate soul. Where and what is the burning ground? It is not the place where our earthly bodies are cremated, but the heart of His lovers, laid waste and desolate. The place where the ego is destroyed signifies the state where illusion and deeds are burnt away: that is the crematorium, the burning-ground where Shri Nataraja dances,..."
As Nataraja, Shiva embodies and manifests eternal energy in the five activities of: 1) creation, the pouring forth and unfolding, 2) in maintenance or duration, 3) in the destruction or taking back of created forms, 4) concealing, or veiling, the transcendental essence through appearances, 5) in bestowing grace through a manifestation of his presence that accepts the devotee.
"Shiva is everything. According to the aspect of his divinity envisaged, he appears as one or three or five or eight or many. All these aspects are represented by various names. One thousand and eight names of Shiva are given in the Shiva Purana."