Kali (Karnataka)

Identifying Goddesses is quite often a challenge, given the regional and temporal variations in iconography.

Here this Goddess of Saivite origin, is identified as Kali based on the ferocious aspects of some of the attributes, skull garland (Mundamala) and  a severed head in her hand. Because of her benevolent aspect, some may call her Bhadra Kali (Auspicious Kali).

Here Kali is eight-armed and is holding sword, bell, snake, Trishul, missing attribute (possibly a drum), shield, a severed head and a cup. Starting from her lower right hand and clockwise.  The attributes snake, Trishul and skull cup mark this Vigraha is of Saivite origin.

On her right is her vahana a lion, usually the vahana of Parvati or Durga, further strengthening the Saivite association.

The Vigraha is worn from ritual use, giving it a warm presence. It looks like it was made to slide into a prabhavali slot.

This vigraha is, most likely, from North Deccan and it is about 11 cm in height.  This may date to the eighteenth century or a bit earlier.

Note: The worship of Kali is traced back to 600 CE. Then she was mainly located in a battle field or in the periphery of Hindu society like

Kali standing on a corpse

cremation grounds or outside village limits. Kali was portrayed naked, blood-thirsty, sitting on corpses and wearing girdle of severed limbs. One of the well known figures of Kali is in the British Museum. The Vigraha on our right is one in my collection is a transition piece.

During the Chola era, 9th to 13th century CE, Kali moved to the main stream as evidenced by graceful Chola bronzes. In those bronzes her fierce nature is visible only through the fangs and her hair arranged like flames.

Kali’s iconography hence covers an entire spectrum, primitive to sublime. The Kali vigraha, subject of this blog, falls somewhere in between. Kali is portrayed in Sowmya (peaceful) and benevolent form with the exception of the garland of skulls (Mundamala) and a severed head in her hand.

The range of Kali’s iconography is not surprising considering the male deity she is associated with, Siva, has a similar range, Bhairava to Kalyana Sundarar.

In this benevolent form, some call her Bhadra Kali (auspicious Kali).


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