Kali amman - the real mother!

Kali amman shrines: South Indian temples profusely depict a simple standing amman(mother goddess) shrine inside most Shiva and Vishnu temples. It is interesting however to see the presence of the cult of Kali in the historical temples across the Tamil Nadu region. This is seconded by the strong presence of the Naga cult, but for now lets stick to Kali.

Its not just a madness in Bengal, today's Durga puja would have seen a lot more versions in the South in earlier days. Here are a few examples. Lets start with Mahabalipuram. It was an interesting discovery i made when i was reading yet another book on the Goddess. Mahishasuramardhini or Durga, is supposed to have destroyed the demons Madhu and Kaitaba who attempted killing Vishnu while he slept on Ananta. This story has confusing parts to it. References to the same are made in dance where Vishnu is supposed to have woken up and faced them. In the amman cult, durga is supposed to have destroyed them. None the less, in this particular cave, all you get to see are Vishnu and Mother goddess, the actors of this particular drama, being carved out of the rocky walls. Apart from this, the goddess is profusely carved in the Draupadi ratha, with a scene of decapitation happening right next to her. This imagery finds place even in the Varaha cave.

Moving on, it was particularly interesting to note the presence of Kaliamman at wayside village temples near Samayapuram, enroute to Trichy. Here the shrine is known to be extremely potent and can be visited only on Mondays and Fridays. Further down at trichy she resides again near the Rackfort temple. In Tanjore, amman does not occupy a seat within the walls of the Brihadeshwara temple complex but is found 3kms away. Moving on as one takes the road to Kumbhakonam, we cross two places called Nellur and Papanasam. Who would believe that a small village like
Nellur, would even host a fantastic shrine for the Goddess and how many people would be privileged enough to get off the beaten track to go and see this form of the Goddess! Here she has a shrine all to herself, on the outside of a Shiva temple, which lies among very calm and peaceful fields of south indian countryside.

Moving on, as one leaves Kumbhakonam and heads for Chidambaram, the tamil countryside lies dotten with fields interspaced with temples and minor shrines of village deities. At Chidambaram, and not within the great temple, but behind it is a shrine to be seen. This is by far one of the most amazing Kaliamman shrines i have ever set my eyes on. She is not in the main shrine but on the side. The walls around her are decorated with scenes of a king in the act of decapitation while his army watches on. He holds his hair up and attempts cutting his head with a sword, sacrificing himself to the Goddess. Such was the faith those days. Inside the shrine sits the goddess, in true beauty. The first sight of her of course is breathtaking as she is dressed in a white dress, bathed in kumkum. Oh! that vision of the Goddess is something i will never forget. Its one of the few shrines i stood in front of, it was just timeless. I could have stayed there all my life. She was carved in stone, looked fierce and coy at the same time, in the same pose as shown above. Then came the moment of true beauty. They undressed the Mother and bathed her in oil. I have never seen a more beautiful form of the Goddess. She sat there eight handed getting bathed first in oil and then in kumkum. She was red and totally amazing. She bore weapons in her various hands and sat on her seat flexing her body most gracefully. Whats also amazing is a strange sculpture i have not seen anywhere else. A sculpture of a five hooded serpent with two and a half coils. It looked deadly, as if the snakes almost came to life as i took the courage to touch the stone they were carved out of. In the darkness, it looked out of the world with the small ghee lamps burning in its lap as it shielded them from the rain. Your heart skips a beat, and you lose your breath when you see the five hooded serpent and the Goddess in complete red, against the lamplight. You just realize how hopelessly small you really are.

The next shrine of the Goddess was at Gangaikondacholapuram. Another extremely gorgeous temple built by Rajendra Chola, but not half as dynamic and that at Tanjore, this temple originally hosted just Shiva. The sub shrines around the temple hosted devi in her various forms. One such shrine within the compound hosts a fierce form of the Goddess in attack. Its so strange, the silence and peace of Gangaikoncholapuram echoes with the presence of cults that were radiant and fiercely potent and well rooted into the indian traditional mind. It just leaves you with goose pimples as you think about the proliferation of the mother goddess shrines not as a gentle form in Parvati or the well known amman shrine but as Kali amman, radiant and energetic within her very potent self.

Finally this picture, not a stone sculpture of the ancient days but a modern remake of the splendor of the Goddess. Some how, though i do not take to sculptures made these day, this particular one caught my attention, she looks simply fantastic, gorgeous as a Mother and seductive at the same time. She fits the perfect description i have read across books. Her face, has warmth and fierceness at the same time. Oh she is something that needs to be first discovered, appreciated, loved, and respected to even start scratching the surface to know her true form. For all that, this is one of her forms as the ten Mahavidhyas that rule ancient Tantrik practices.

Truely She is the mother, ever creative, ever fertile, in permanent intercourse with Lord Shiva as she gives birth to us every life.


revathi said...

The Kali form never scared me as much as the one in Malayanoor temple, off Senji (Gingee).This huge idol of amman, Periyaayi as she is called,lies supine in the midst of a graveyard, ready to avenge the perpetrators of evil. Her red sari and flowing tresses add to the image of the night-stalker! She really took my breath away!! Visit her sometime to actually feel that.

kavitha said...

hi revathi,
you do come out with some insightful ones. i was quite interested to know that the steps of trichy rockfort were built to be "horse friendly"
and now this new shrine of kali amman near senji that i nver heard of. you need to tell me more on where it is, the next time i head to tiruvannamallai i will definitely pay a visit there.
thanks again!

abhilash warrier said...


That Kali image smeared red with kumkum has the same potency of the goddess I love.

The same eyes, the same look, the same love, and power.

And she gives birth to me through life... to the never-ending intercourse with me... in all forms. with my soul, with my body, and with my mind.

I don't mind sacrificing myself for her for I have the faith that I will find her and love her again in more births to come...

There are no questions now, just pure pleasure of knowing; something beyond words.

abhilash warrier said...


I think that you should visit the Malayanoor temple as Revathi says and write a blog separately on it and the senji kali amman temple.

What say? Go there and pray for me too! :-)

kavitha said...

joshi uncle,
its been a while since you posted. where are you?

please come back :)

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha!

I was in Mumbai for the last six days and returned last midnight. While there, I heard some first hand accounts of the devastation due to the recent unprecedented rains. It sounded like the ‘Panchabhootas’, feeling tired working incessantly over a long duration, had decided to dump Northeast India’s quota of rainwater in Mumbai itself! This year the Northeast has remained relatively hot and dry…

As I had indicated earlier also, the ‘wise’ ancient ‘Hindus’, or the then ‘Indians’, symbolically represented through images and idols of Ma Kali or Kaliamman and Sati the consort of Adi Shiva, and so on, a part of the lava or the molten core of our earth, (King Daksha Prajapati of the mythology ‘who disliked Shiva and His bhootas or the ghost friends – Earth and air, water, fire and sky’) that after wrecking havoc in the form of an erupting volcano, results in the fertile top-soil of earth after it has cooled down (after ‘She placed Her feet on Shiva’s chest’ or Earth’s surface). Thus the three aspects of creation, sustenance and destruction, attributed to the formless Creator, i.e., the functions of the Trinity, or the ‘Truth’ is reflected through these fearful and yet lovable images and idols also. The sculptors poured out all the love in their hearts with the basic purpose of reaching the formless God...

On the other hand Parvati, or Ma Durga, or Ma Gauri the fair one (‘another form of Sati who died in the sacred fire’), Sita (found by King Janaka under the ground), Draupadi (‘born out of sacred fire’) and so on represented reflections of Moon at different times or different Yugas…

The ancient Hindus had realized the physical forms of the universe as illusion or projections made possible by white light or ‘Ma Gauri’ within the infinite dark void (Ma Kali) or the ‘Truth’. The breaking up of the white light into different other colours, and their association with other members of the Solar system, and their possible innumerable permutations and combinations, as a result of their constant interactions, is expressed with many other names of the Mother, as also reflected in the Sahastranama or thousand names of Vishnu too!

JC Joshi said...

Regarding demons acting against Vishnu the creator, it is interesting to note that with advancement in knowledge of material behaviour alone, the ‘scientists’ today - like the physically powerful ‘demons’ in the ‘Hindu’ mythological stories apparently were unconscious of/ disbelieved in the ‘spiritual’ side of the creation – in the recent times particularly have started acting against their own interests. As a typical example, after having received the boon from Shiva (Earth), Bhasmasur wanted to burn Shiva Himself! Similarly, the present day scientist, unconscious of earth as a provider of base as well as all materials for his apparent creative activities, is blindly leading the human race to apparent extinction together with our earth, as is being reflected in advancing ecological imbalance with the passage of time. It is interesting to see how the scientist today has unconsciously developed the ‘grandfather syndrome’ with the knowledge that one can travel backward in time by traveling faster than light. ‘Time travel’ becoming a possibility in future evokes in him the thought that one could kill his own grandfather!

Of course, the ancients had realized life to be all about ‘Maya’ that is illusion, or a drama, an apparent chain of causes and effects only; and that every drama naturally has a beginning and must end at some scheduled time. Thus they advised one to enjoy the drama as a spectator, aware of the truth that the story presented on the stage is the work of fiction only and therefore the need to remain unmoved/ detached!

JC Joshi said...

Regarding awareness of the 'Truth', those who form a minority today use mobile telephones/ computers. Due to necessity, ‘the mother of invention’, they have developed an alphanumeric symbolic language. For example, Gr8 communicates ‘great’ and Os & Xs are understood to communicate ‘hugs’ and ‘kisses’, respectively, and so on. Thus as long as it lasts the users will have no problem in communicating in this manner with other similarly placed friends and relatives. However, even today a large number of people aren’t aware of this usage. As a hypothetical case, however, one can easily visualize a situation when after a lapse of a long span of time, say, some language other than English comes in use, but the symbols as used today are continued ritually…

As stated above, similarly, we the Hindus by birth ritually pray in front of images and idols of a variety of demigods, or forces, unaware of the intended communication by the ancients. It gives greater pleasure if one becomes aware of their significance also at a certain stage. For example, Lord Vishnu is depicted having four hands with a conch shell, a ‘chakra’ or a frisby like instrument, a mace, and a lotus flower in each of His hands. Most of us do not question how anyone in human form could have four hands, for it is considered a matter of faith. However, only if one were to go deeper, one could realize the intended communication - the conch shell indicates creation of physical forms in the universe by conversion of sound energy into matter by the formless creator - a fact yet to be reached by the present day ‘scientists’, but realized by the ancient Hindus in the long lost past. And, chakra, mace and lotus could be understood to depict our galaxy, the members of the planetary system, and our sun, respectively, by inferences based on other mythological stories and present day findings in the field of Astronomy, i.e., by interaction between the present and the past.

krishna said...

Excellent post..Liked the picture of Mother Kali..When i looked at the pic, the initial seductive feeling was overcome by the fierceness( as shown by the hands) and the grace (as shown by her face)..Mesmerising indeed..

Plz do check out my post on "Unity in Diversity" and leave ur comments..

Also ,I wanna invite Sri Joshiji specially..I bow to ur knowledge Sir..

for the sake of convinence, my URL is http://krischronicles.blogspot.com

JC Joshi said...


Thanks! The credit, if any, goes to the Creator! I have just followed the advice that one has to show one's inclination without wavering in faith.

I will definitely see your blog and comment on it, if I have any.

Arun Shanbhag said...

Been following some of your posts.
The story/myth about the killing of Madhu and Kaitabha appears in the Devi Mahatmya.
Vishnu is in Yoganidra when the two demons M&K torment Brahma. The Goddess Durga is the 'yognidra' which occupies Vishnu's breath and heart and mind. Brahma prays to "Yoganidra" and asks her to release Vishnu so that he might awaken and kill the demons. The Goddess obliges and Vishnu then kill the two demons. The implication here is that due to Devi's grace Vishnu could perform his duty of killing the demons and preserving the universe. It is thus because of Devi's grace that we all exist.

Just returned from Hampi and recognize the Linga on your icon. :-)

JC Joshi said...

I think with the ancient ‘Hindu’ belief, of all physical forms as reflections of the formless, in mind, this can be best explained in the words of Jawahar Lal Nehru, reportedly an atheist because he thought the spiritual world was meant only for the ladies as he saw right from his childhood that the ones in his family were most of the time engaged in the related rituals while his father remained busy with his work related to the court...

It was before the Chinese war that he had come to visit our Engineering College in Rajasthan. However, because of his charisma, a large number of villagers had also gathered to hear him. Thus, at the outset, he narrated an incident. He said that some villagers came and met him once and said, “Bharat mata ki jai!” He said that he immediately posed a question to them: “Who is this Bharat Mata?” He saw that they were confused as they looked from one face to another and, therefore, he himself replied pointing his finger at each one by their turn while repeating, “You are Bharat Mata!” “You are Bharat Mata!”…

Doesn’t it sound like, “Aham Brahmasmi?”

Anonymous said...

kali amman.she is really mighty.yet in malaysia they missuse her uses.

they pull someting such as chako.hooking their backs walkin from 1 temple to another with urmi mellam in front of each one.And with people dancing in front of it.

Another scary god is muneswaran.in malaysia.they give him beer and cigarates when he is in trance.DOES IT MAKE SENSE?

i also dont understand why dey have to slaughter goats n chickens for her. YEt she is mighty!!!

TillaiKali said...

YOu have honoured me in two ways. The picture is the pic of my Moolam Stanam Aatha in pasadena texas. from motherkali.org..thank you . you honour us. but also My Amma is Tillai Kali and you describing her brought tears to my eyes.....please know you are prayed for

kavitha said...

Thank you TillaiKali,

I am grateful for your wishes. thank you so much.


Anonymous said...

i want kali amman pooja books u have replay this mail

K.NA'SH SEKHAR said...

Hi Kavitha,
I'm Na'sh Sekhar from Malaysia..i guess u r from India,right?
I was doing some research on our Hindu Dharma,and so i entered ur post..
Just the person above comentted,I was also curious about such animal sacrifice to Ambaal.Of course in M'sia they do it for Kaali ambaal and Ayya (i.e.Muneeswaran,Madura Veeran)..Such thing i hate in Hindu Dharma, because such ritual are not in our Vedas..
As some said,Kaali,Durga,Maari(avatars of Sakthi) (although) in the form and mood to destroy Evils, even their body is (sometimes)splashed with Demons' blood; Mathas' duty as Mother and their Love towards nature and living beings does not change for thought..
Most of'em have started to practise Vegetarianism,even my family since past,only practise Vege during Festivals,even poojas that conducted to Kaali, Munishwar,and etc.
are some of them crazy to put such meats on the Altars???

Just lets practise and show the LOVE towards our Devine PARENTS in HINDU,BUDDHA,JAIN etc...