The philosophy of Kali’s eternal dance on Lord Shiva


We have all seen the image of Kali at a temple or in a Navratri shrine. She is well known but poorly understood. This article provides a fascinating philosophical insight into who Kali really is!

Kali is one of the best known, but poorly understood Hindu deities. She is dark destructive and terrible in image. She appears allied to the forces of death and destruction. The most common image of Kali shows her dancing on Shiva. This article aims to give an insight into Hinduism’s use of such mystic imagery. It is important for us to have deeper understanding into such aspects of our religion, because it means that our practices will hold deeper meaning and guidance for us in our lives. It is also important to be able to clear misconceptions; I have more than once come across the accusation or misrepresentation of Mother Kali by non-Hindus as being a deity of evil and demanding human sacrifice. Hindus will only be able to counter such defamation of our religious traditions if we possess deeper knowledge and understanding.

About Kali

The Sanskrit word Kali literally means “time”. Kali is the feminine word for time, for which the masculine is “kala”. Time as we experience it, is the foremost power that defines our existence. Kali is the personification of time and it is not surprising that the deity of time has a terrifying image. After all, time is the slayer of all. Time is the very stuff that our lives are made of – to waste time is to waste life. The reason as to why time is represented in a feminine form is that time is the great womb – the great mother – from which we are all created – therefore it has a feminine quality. Time is also the force which causes all living beings to perish. Therefore Kali is like the mother who destroys the children which she has created – which is one of her frightful features. Yet, through the action of time, Her action, occurs our salvation. Through time, over repeated births, we experience all that we have to and learn all that we must learn in order to merge back into our eternal existence, from which we fell into limited time and space. Kali is the deity of transformation, through worshipping her and accessing her grace Yogis unlock the transformative power which enables attachment and negative tendencies to fall away in the path towards higher states of consciousness and realisation.

Why Is She Dancing On Shiva?

Shiva, in the Shaivite tradition, is the all pervading eternal primeval consciousness of the universe and beyond. It is upon the ultimate, unchanging time-less reality of Shiva, that Kali (time) does her dance, causing the constant cycles of creation, life and death of all things in the universe. Shiva is the substratum upon which Kali acts. Hence, in this part of the Hindu spiritual traditions, the entire cosmic reality is represented by the dance of Kali (time) upon the changeless all pervading consciousness, Shiva.

Does Kali actually have a separate consciousness or is she just a representation of time as an unthinking scientific principle?

Hinduism personifies what to us are abstract spiritual truths as Gods and Goddesses. Spiritual ideas are clothed in concrete imagery, and approached as living beings. This does not reflect a lack of reasoned thinking, or attachment to form, but rather an experiential contact with the higher truths, as living forces. Hinduism creates a personal relationship between ourselves and the forces of the cosmos, and eventually leads us to realise that these forces are within us rather than separate. All forces of the universe are pervaded by consciousness, hence the reason as to why they are approached as living beings is because in reality, they are. The purpose of vivid imagery is that whilst meditating upon the image, our mind is shocked into thinking into the depths of the concept we are trying to understand and know, beyond our usual conditioned ideas. In that way we can really experience the truth of time as an awesome conscious force and understand how our existence relates to it. Kali is a particularly important deity, because by understanding Her we stop identifying ourselves as only our body – we come to terms with the utter impermanence of our body and begin to perceive the true existence of ours which lies beyond – which most people believe but wish to experience directly. Hence she is said to kill the ego – the attachment to pettiness, which is represented in Her image by the severed head she hold in Her hand.

A Mantra For Kali

One important Mantra for Kali is:

om aim hrim klim camundayai vicche svaha!

Each syllable of this mantra conveys a distinct vibrational energy, and whoever chants this mantra, after a short while will feel that they are tapping in to a deep spiritual energy.

Om is the sound corresponding to the absolute reality in its entirety. Aim is the syllable of knowledge (Sarasvati). Hrim is the syllable of purification (Parvathy). Klim is a syllable corresponding to transformation (closely related to Kali). Camundayai is a name of Kali. Vicche means cut (as in to cut of the head of the demon, demon referring to the ego) and svaha ends the mantra.

— Jai Ma Kali —


  1. Reblogged this on Dakshinakalika.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Jai Kali Maa!

  3. What makes you think that Gods and Goddesses are just abstract spiritual truths? Just because you never had a spiritual experience doesn’t mean that divine beings don’t exist. I had one last summer, and after that, the face of God showed up in a small white orb just above the flowers that I was trying to get in the picture with me. There are so many things that Society doesn’t know nor understand. It’s irking when ignorant people take the step to claim things that are true and are incredibly inaccurate. Please, limit your messages to the symbolic meanings, instead of making proclamations about things that you don’t understand and haven’t experienced. Just because you haven’t experienced something and don’t understand something doesn’t mean certain things don’t exist.

    • Namaste,

      I don’t think you have understood what I’m trying to write. Granted that my article is simplistic, imperfect and is designed to be read by a sceptical audience, I still didn’t intend “abstract spiritual truths” to mean entities which do not exist, or which are incapable of taking form or revealing themselves to a person. What I mean is that the formless “nirguna” truth of a deity is abstract, difficult to conceive and approach. However it is the formless “nirguna” aspect of a deity which is the primal or eternal state. The images of deities, as well as the chants, rituals etc are concrete ways in which yogis (aspirants) approach a deity or fix their consciousness on a deity so as to be able to open themselves up to experience the truths of the deity.

      I’m glad that you’ve had a spiritual experience recently. However, your statement “just because you have never had a spiritual experience” is presumptuous, and I can inform you, incorrect.

      Kind regards


  4. *to claim that certain things that are true aren’t true

  5. I thank you for that Rajesh.

    I think I understand the perspective of “~”.
    After the experience all words are but ashes and dust.
    But you are a wonderful artisan of ashes and dust.

    Om krim kalikayai namah

  6. thank you.

  7. Reblogged this on Neurodrooling and commented:
    An oldie but a goodie …

  8. My vision pure white kali dancing for me on a huge snake which was bigger than her her arms waved with sword filled hands… when this happened i was in front of kali statue in a house in florida where a so called master with his guards had given a talk outside i an not hindi and had no idea what kali was and did not understand why she danced for me… any ideas?

  9. Ronald Castillo says:

    May I know how to properly pronounce the mantra for kali. Pls. Thank you!


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  2. […] to philosophical interpretations, though, Kali is the personification of time, and her dance over Shiva is to be understood […]

  3. […] demons until her consort, Shiva lay himself upon her path to stop her from spinning out of control. One interpretation of this aspect is time (Kali) dancing around the unchanging universal consciousness […]

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