Kali

Kali, 1800-1900
Sculptor unknown
Stone
:T3.11.2006.1
© Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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Kali, 1800-1900

This sculpture of Hindu goddess, Kali was made in India. Kali is associated with time, change, creation, power, destruction and death. The goddess has two depictions: the popular four-armed form and the ten-armed Mahakali avatar. In both, she is described as being black in colour, though she is often seen as blue in popular Indian art.

She is shown standing on Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism. Her eyes are described as red with intoxication and rage. Her hair is dishevelled, small fangs sometimes protrude out of her mouth, and her tongue is lolling. Sometimes she dons a skirt made of human arms and a garland of human heads. Other times, she is seen wearing a tiger skin.

Kali’s most common four-armed iconographic image shows two of her hands (usually the left) holding a sword and a severed head. The sword signifies divine knowledge and the human head signifies human ego which must be slain by divine knowledge in order to attain moksha (emancipation or enlightenment). The other two hands (usually the right) are in the abhaya (fearlessness) and varada (blessing) mudras (a symbolic or ritual gesture or pose), which means her initiated devotees (or anyone worshipping her with a true heart).

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