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Kali, sandstone relief from Bheraghat, near Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh state, India, 10th century —Pramod Chandra
Destructive and devouring Hindu goddess. She is a terrifying aspect of Devi, who in other forms appears as peaceful and benevolent. Kali is commonly associated with death, violence, sexuality, and, paradoxically, with motherly love. Noted for killing the demon Raktavija, she is usually depicted as a hideous, black-faced hag smeared with blood. In her four hands she holds, variously, a sword, a shield, the severed head of a giant, or a noose for strangling. Nearly naked, she wears a garland of skulls and a girdle of severed hands. She is often shown standing or dancing on her husband, Shiva. Until the 19th century the thugs of India worshiped Kali and offered their victims to her. In the late 20th century she became a symbol of feminine empowerment in some circles.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Kali, visit Britannica.com.