As a people we make gods, and they can inform the person. They can unite us with Nature or with one another. They can remind us of the current of being, that is also of non-being. To know of them, as of some kind of living presence, is to take part in the role-play of the species.

Kali is Woman in her absolute power. She speaks for Life with all the force of Death and Night. Her puja or festival is often a fairly minor affair but in the year she is immediate, timeless, present, more so perhaps than any other deity. She is often portrayed with her foot on the body of her husband Shiva. In a terrible dance of triumph and anger after killing two universe-threatening demons she was herself endangering the foundations of all. Shiva lay in front of her and as she stepped on his body the horror of defiling it with her foot brought her to an awareness of what she was doing, and she was able to stop. Shown thus her tongue is extended, in recognition of the violation, it is thought. She is worshipped at midnight before the new moon, sometimes by dacoits (violent thugs, criminals). Often black or dark blue, with a garland of skulls, she is said not to give what is expected. She is at the heart of the person who walks with death to be reborn or of the universe that has again and again been consumed in fire. Since touched by that influence I have been glad to acknowledge what of woman I have within. It is the women of the world who are uncompromising in the battle for renewal. In spite of the skulls, the extended tongue (which I think of as a sign of strength), and the terrible anger, and maybe because of them, Kali is Woman in her true grace.

It is a paradox that I have not come to terms with that the three senior Hindu deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, are all male, and yet the female divine character is as vivid and free as they. Kali, Durga and Parvati are all wives of Shiva and in a sense all one, revealing as it might be said different aspects of womanhood. Durga in her way is all womanhood (and girlhood too), but primarily mother and death-defying protectress, carrying the responsibility of love. Parvati is Shiva’s wife of the mountains, perhaps more lovely in a feminine way than her sister-selves. One may have an intimation of her in the hills, her light step unseen. As Durga the female divine is inexpressibly dear; as Parvati she is delightful. As Kali she is deeply necessary.

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