Most of the female divinity can be seen to be doormat goddesses. Sita above takes her own life before an unfair husband. Lakshmi just gives out money to her followers at a caprice and Parvati just smiles nicely for the painters.
Kali however is another species altogether. In all truth she’s terrifying. Her skin is sometimes so black as to absorb all the light, she wears only a skirt of human hands and has 50 skulls for a necklace.
She emanated from the forehead of the great demon-slayer goddess, Durga. Durga had just gotten through with an impressive battle when the last demon’s blood was spilled and each drop turned into a myriad other demons. Really pissed, Durga let a drop of her sweat fall and up sprang Kali in a ravenous fury. She ate all the demons in a psychotic frenze and was only brought back to her senses when Shiva went to lie beneath her.
Shiva is the only god that could handle someone like Kali although for many she’s seen as the great Mother of nature. She brings starvation and disaster and plague yet also nourishes and supports.
In a psychological sense Kali is the only goddess to give a positive self-image to women. She is wild and free, in pain and utterly at one with her nature. Think of a woman who is very pre-menstrual – well Kali is like this all the time and uses her power to destroy ignorance and illusion ruthlessly.
The word ‘thug’ comes from the cult of the Thugees, a 19th century cult of assassins dedicated to Kali. They saw it as their holy mission to harvest bodies for her and would set off into the countryside to waylay unfortunate travellers. A group of Thugees might wander for a few months and only kill 3 or 4 people and feel pleased with themselves. Yet the total of murdered reached the tens of thousands and one of the few good things the British Empire did for India was to hunt down and destroy this organisation.