Came across this stunning 10th-century bronze of Kali in a museum in Chennai the other day. Kali is one of many traditional personifications of Shakti, the Energy that constitutes the entire universe.
She holds the head of a stylised “trishul” trident. This represents the union of all seemingly opposing forces, all genders, all time, all possibilities – a reminder that our limited perception of difference and separation is an illusion.
She also holds an “ankus” elephant goad. This represents mastery of the mind and passions – a reminder that self-mastery comes through self-knowledge, in which lies the Wisdom to live mindfully, without harm to ourselves or others.
Despite her benign appearance, the tips of two fangs protrude from the edges of her mouth. These signify that at heart Kali is “fierce”, reminding us to challenge our ordinary mind, our “little” thinking, all our limiting self-interest.
This “fierceness” is reiterated in Kali’s third hand, which is held up in “abhaya mudra”, reminding us to live fearlesslly. And in her fourth, a skull cap, traditional symbol of the rejection of all patriarchies, priesthoods, orthodoxies and dogmas – a reminder to live freely, fully and joyfully.