In Tantra, worship of Devi, (Goddess), is referred to as a Vidya. Of the hundreds of tantric practices, the worship of the ten major Devis is called the Das Mahavidya: Das means ten, Maha means great and vidya means wisdom. The ten Goddesses are: Kali, Tara, Maha Tripura Sundari or Shodasi, Bhuvaneshvari, Chinnamasta, Bhairavi, Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, Matangi and Kamala.
These ten aspects of Shakti are the epitome of the entire creation and how they represent our physical as well as our etheric aspects of life.
Kali, the first on the hierarchy of the Das MahaVidya, is depicted as seated on a corpse, laughing loudly with gruesome fangs and four arms: one holding a cleaver, the second, a skull, the third fashioned into the blessings mudra, with the fourth fashioned into the abhaya (fear not/fearless) mudra. Standing on corpses, laughing defiantly, She is the manifest to behold – bold, ferocious, compelling yet, compassionate, forgiving and graceful.
In our psyche, Kali represents the shadow of aggression as well as the light of nonviolence. Being entrapped in our past stories of hurts and slights, with the hope of getting even in the future, forms the very basis of violence. As time, Kali creates the illusion of a continuity between the past and the future, where we feel like we are on a linear timeline. Her dance among the corpses tell us that She beheads every moment, so that the next may be born. Standing on the corpses, She reminds us of the dead stories we carry around about ourselves. Even though the events behind the stories are long gone, we carry their wounds, which become the basis for how we behave in the present. Kali’s shadow of aggression makes us think that who we are today is a product of our parents, our culture, or world events, even when they occurred so long ago that nothing remains of them except memories. We dance on these corpses, viewing ourselves and others through the lens of judgment and comparison. Every time we judge ourselves based on contrived concepts of propriety, we stir up the corpses in our own personal cemetery and fall prey to Kali’s shadow.
Every time we point a finger at someone, She bubbles up in our inner vision, Her deafening laughter ringing in our inner ears. She mercilessly beheads our every attempt to ignore or bypass our issues, forcing us to wake up from the tyranny of time. She keeps at it until we do, until we have stepped out of Her linear timeline entirely, for only then can we become truly nonviolent. She does away with all superficial definitions of the word, forcing us to see that, as important as kind words and deeds are, true nonviolence can only arise from being free of the hurts of the past and the hopes of the future. Kali’s radical nonviolence shows us that all aggression and transgressions arise from being trapped in Her shadow. We see that patriarchy is just as much a product of Her shadow—Kali’s dance is evident in all manner of violence, whether it is a politician or lawmaker spewing hatred and divisiveness, or our own petty jealousies and temper tantrums.
This understanding results in a radical shift in perspective. It evokes compassion for the perpetrator as much as for the victim. It forces forgiveness and opens creative ways of dealing with injustice. Social and cultural activism are infused with sweetness instead of righteous anger. Our own shadows thus become our allies when we embrace them. They form the catalyst for a deep makeover of our thinking and being. When Kali stops Her dance in the cemetery, we come to see that neither the past nor the future exist in the eternal now. With the disappearance of linear time, we stop believing the stories we have been telling ourselves about who we really are. Our parents, culture, and world events are forgiven with the understanding that they, too, acted under the influence of Kali’s shadow.
It is about being rooted in authenticity.
The Mahavidyas’ radical lesson is this—embracing the divine feminine doesn’t look a particular way. It isn’t a false ego boost for those suffering from low self-worth. It isn’t about violent or hysterical rebellion against patriarchy. It’s certainly not about dressing, speaking, or behaving in patriarchally determined feminine patterns. It is about being rooted in authenticity.
What remains when all the concepts and beliefs we have been taught about ourselves are washed away? We come to see that who we are has no name, form, or gender. This light of understanding shines through us—through our unique shapes, forms, and life circumstances and dances as unpredictably as Kali in the cemetery. Embracing the divine feminine is about being true only to that light of understanding and refusing to be influenced by anyone or anything else.
SUJATA NANDY WORLD GURUKUL