Skip to Content

Who is under Kali’s feet?

In Hindu iconography, Kali is often depicted standing or dancing on top of her husband, the god Shiva. This imagery illustrates important philosophical and spiritual concepts in Hinduism related to Kali as a form of the Divine Mother.

Kali’s Significance in Hinduism

Kali is a prominent goddess in Hinduism, especially in the Shaktism tradition. She represents the fierce, powerful form of the feminine divine. Kali is most often associated with death, destruction, and overcoming evil. Despite her fearsome appearance, she is revered as a protective, benevolent and loving mother goddess by her devotees.

The name Kali comes from the Sanskrit word “kaala” which means time or darkness. She is considered the consort of Shiva the Destroyer and is sometimes regarded as an aspect or offspring of his destructive energies. Yet Kali also embodies regeneration and liberation. Her ferociousness is directed for the benefit of her children – destroying evil and darkness to make way for the new and pure.

Meaning of Kali Standing on Shiva

Images showing Kali standing or dancing on the prone body of Shiva often elicit confusion or surprise in those unfamiliar with their symbolism. However, this depiction holds profound meaning in Hindu philosophy.

First, it illustrates the divine union between the male and female energies of the universe. Shiva represents pure consciousness, while Kali represents primordial energy. Their union reflects the eternal interplay and entanglement of spirit and matter that gives rise to all existence.

Second, Kali’s dominant position over Shiva denotes her power over time, change, and even death itself. As Mahakali, she transcends reality and becomes the supreme, ultimate reality. All – including divine male gods like Shiva – must eventually submit to her supremacy.

Third, Kali standing on Shiva demonstrates that she is the source of all his power. Shiva is completely passive and inert without the active, shakti energy that Kali provides. She is the enabler of creation, change, and destruction.

Finally, Kali’s position reflects the control she has over the ego. In Hindu belief, the ego must be conquered and brought under the heel of the Divine Mother in order for the soul to attain liberation from the cycle of karma and rebirth.

Other Common Depictions

There are other common poses and objects depicted in images of Kali to illustrate her divine nature:

  • Kali is often shown dancing or moving swiftly, reflecting her fierce energy and freedom.
  • She may have multiple arms holding weapons and severed heads, symbolizing her triumph over demons and ego.
  • Her long, flowing hair represents her boundless freedom and power untamed by mortal ties.
  • Her exposed breasts denote her role as mother and source of life for all creatures.
  • Her extended tongue highlights her unconventional nature and enjoyment of that which is forbidden.
  • She wears a skirt or sash of severed arms, indicating she liberates her children by forcefully removing obstacles.
  • She is often adorned with a garland of skulls, symbolizing her mastery over time and death.

Kali & Shiva in Mythology

There are a few prominent stories from Hindu scriptures and folklore that illustrate the relationship between Kali and Shiva:

Slaying of Raktabija

One story tells of the battle between Kali and the terrible demon Raktabija. This demon had a boon that whenever a drop of his blood fell to the earth, another clone of him would arise. The goddess Ambika and her helpers fought Raktabija but had no success, as countless demons sprang from his blood. Finally, Ambika summoned Kali to the battlefield. Kali spread her tongue over the earth, licking up each drop of blood so no clones could form. She then strangled the demon, securing the victory.

Dance of Destruction

Another famous story depicts Kali flying into a wild dance of destruction, rampaging out of control. She starts destroying everything in sight, threatening the very universe itself. To stop her, Shiva lies down under her feet to pacify her rage. After dancing on her husband and realizing her mistake, Kali finally calms down. This demonstrates Kali’s ultimate submission to Shiva’s wisdom.

Shakti & Shava

A thought-provoking tale describes the time Kali granted a boon allowing a cruel demon named Shakti to attain near-invincibility. The demon unleashed destruction, and the gods begged Kali for help correcting her mistake. The goddess responded – only Shiva could overpower Shakti. When Shiva refused, Kali invoked sacred knowledge causing Shiva’s body to fall lifeless as Shava, forcing Kali to recognize her error. This story highlights the interdependence of the male and female energies.

Significance in Tantra

Imagery of Kali standing on Shiva holds special meaning in tantric philosophy and practice. Tantrism views Kali as the utmost, truest reality. The inert, passive Shiva lying beneath the active goddess becomes a metaphor for the divine potential within each individual. Through tantric sadhanas or disciplines, the kundalini shakti (energetic power) symbolized by Kali rises from its dormant state, overpowering human ego and granting enlightenment.

Modern Worship

Devotion to Kali remains widespread today, especially in rural areas of India as well as in major pilgrimage sites like Dakshineswar and Kalighat temples. Her defiant, wild nature resonates with certain segments of society. Kali also offers hope of conquering evil and injustice in the world. Kali puja rituals commemorating her victory over evil take place every year during the Diwali season.

For spiritual seekers and tantrics, Kali remains a forceful motivator for perfection and self-realization. Gazing on icons depicting Kali standing above Shiva inspires devotees to transcend limitations, unleash inner power, and devote themselves fully to the Divine Mother. Those willing to submit themselves wholly to her can hope to attain profound enlightenment.

Name Description Significance
Kali Hindu goddess associated with destruction, death, and overcoming evil Represents the fierce power of the divine feminine
Shiva Hindu god known as the Destroyer Personifies pure consciousness and divine male energy
Shakti Feminine creative power or energy The dynamic, active partner to the passive male principle
Tantra Esoteric Hindu spiritual traditions Practices aimed at liberation via expanding consciousness and energy


Kali standing triumphantly on the prone Shiva is a potent symbol conveying multiple aspects of Hindu theology. It illustrates Kali’s preeminent role as the goddess of time, death, and doer of all actions. Her position points to the supremacy of the feminine shakti or creative power. It also signifies the need to subjugate ego and desire to attain spiritual liberation. For Hindu mystics, artists, and philosophers, this ubiquitous image represents the totality of universal consciousness and life itself flowing from the Divine Mother.