Mother Kali, known as the “Remover of Ignorance”, is the 1 st Mahavidya among the 10 Wisdom Goddesses (Maha-vidyas) that exist in the nature from primordial stages of Universe, and is one of the supreme energies that pervades the Cosmos. Kali is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess. She assumed the form of a powerful goddess is depicted as having born from the brow of Goddess Durga during one of her battles with the evil forces. Kali, the Dark Mother is one such deity with whom devotees have a very loving and intimate bond, in spite of her fearful appearance. In this relationship, the devotee becomes a child and Kali assumes the form of the ever-caring mother.
Ma Kali is omnipresent in all ten directions. In her Maha Kali form she has ten legs and twenty hands. She is the first of the ten Mahavidyas and her worship gives immediate results to her sadhak. The advent of Kali begins from the time when a Sadhak starts praying to remove all traces of darkness which are prevalent in everyone’s life inherently. No matter how positive people, situations, family, friends etc. are, everyone goes through negative emotions from time to time. Even slightest negativity in one’s life can become dangerous if it is allowed to breed. Negativity is the sole cause of depression, disease, failures and unhappiness in life. How can a person be ever happy if these things are subtly present everywhere inside and outside us. In Tantra therefore, Kali has been given the first position. She is the slayer of all negative forces.
There is a famous story in the Devi Mahatmya wherein Maa Kali fights with a demon named Raktabija. Raktabija had received from Brahma the boon of being born anew one thousand times more powerful than before, each time a drop of his blood was shed.
Devi assumed this form in order to vanquish the demon Raktabija, whose name means "the seed of blood". The gods could not kill the Raktabija because he had received this boon from Brahma. Every drop of his blood that touched the ground transformed itself into another and more powerful Raktabija. Within a few minutes of striking this demon the entire battlefield covered with millions of Raktabija clones. Goddess Kali is an incarnation of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. In despair, the gods turned to Shiva. However, Shiva was absorbed in meditation at the time and the gods were afraid to disturb him. Hence they pleaded with his consort Parvati for her assistance.
The goddess immediately set out to do battle with this dreaded demon in the form of Kali or "the Black One". Her eyes were red, her complexion was dark, her features gaunt, her hair unbound, and her teeth sharp like fangs. As the eight-armed Goddess rode into the battleground on her lion, Raktabija experienced fear for the first time in his demonic heart. Kali ordered the gods to attack Raktabija. She then spread her tongue to cover the battlefield preventing even a single drop of Raktabija's blood from falling on the group. Thus, she prevented Raktabija from reproducing himself and the gods were able to slay the demon. Another form of the legend says that Kali pierced Raktabija with a spear, and at once stuck her lips to the wound to drink all the blood as it gushed out of the body, thus preventing Raktabija from reproducing himself.
Drunk on Raktabija's blood, Kali ran across the cosmos killing anyone who dared cross her path. She adorned herself with the heads, limbs and entrails of her victims. The gods were witnessing the balance of the universe being shattered. As a last resort they had to rouse Shiva from his meditation. To pacify her, Shiva threw himself under her feet. This stopped the goddess. She calmed down, embraced her husband, shed her ferocious form, and became Gauri, "the Fair one".
The word Raktabija is a compound word of “ Rakta” meaning Red, signifying blood passion, anger and “Bija” means seed. Hence the demon in the story is a personification of “ Seeds of Passion or Anger”. Passion can also be related to Greed & Lust. The road to hell is Greed, Lust and Anger.
The hellish situations in one’s life are created by the above factors. So if one wants to enjoy a heavenly life here on earth and beyond, one must overcome these negative forces. Unfortunately, it is seen that the more you try to control these, the more strongly these negative forces of lust, greed and anger come back, which is mentioned allegorically in the story as “Raktabija is born anew and thousand times more powerful.” It is very difficult to overcome these “Seeds of Passion”. Hence the devotee should surrender completely and invoke mother Kali who can uproot these “Seeds of Passion” accumulated in billions of lifetimes of the devotee.
Kali's most common four armed iconographic image shows each hand carrying variously a sword, a trishul (trident), a severed head and a kapala (bowl or skull-cup) catching the blood of the severed head. Two of these hands (usually the left) are holding a sword and a severed head. The Sword signifies Divine Knowledge and the Human Head signifies human Ego which must be slain by Divine Knowledge in order to attain Moksha. The other two hands (usually the right) are in the abhaya (fearlessness) and varada (blessing) mudras, which means her initiated devotees (or anyone worshiping her with a true heart) will be saved as she will guide them here and in the hereafter.
Kali is shown a wearing a girdle of Hands around her waist which signify that she takes away all the reactions of the karmas of the devotee an helps him in his Spiritual Journey. Her wearing a garland of Human skulls is a significance of the removal of all Human Ego which must be slain by Divine Knowledge to attain Liberation. The number of Skulls is either 51 or 108. Fifty one represents all the alphabets of the Sanskrit language. Hence it can be concluded that Mother kali is the pervading energy in all the alphabets and the words spoken by there combination.
The number 108 represents many sacred things in Hinduism. She is often depicted naked which symbolizes her being beyond the covering of Maya (illusory Energy). She is the pure, unmanifest energy, the Adi-shakti.