Mother Kali and what she symbolizes
Mother Kali is known as Kali-Ma, the Black Goddess, Maha Kali, Nitya Kali, Smashana Kali, Raksha Kali, Shyama Kali, Kalikamata, and Kalaratri. Among the Tamils she is known as Kottavei. Maha Kali and Nitya Kali are mentioned in the Tantra philosophy. 'Kal' means Darkness; Kali takes away that Darkness. She takes away the darkness from every individual who strives in the path of perfection by performing the spiritual disciplines of purifying austerities. Just as all the colors of the visible spectrum mix into white, yet still the black void remains black, so too, Kali, who is completely Dark, Unknowable, takes away all the Darkness, yet She, Herself, remains unchanged.
'Kal' also translates as Time and 'i' means the Cause; Kali, the Cause of Time or She Who is Beyond Time, activates Consciousness to perception, allows Consciousness to perceive. See Kalpa as well as Indra's Jeweled Net.
Kali's nudity implies a similar meaning. In many instances she is described as garbed in space or sky clad. In her absolute, primordial nakedness she is free from all covering of illusion (see Digambara). She is Nature (Prakriti in Sanskrit), stripped of 'clothes'. It symbolizes that she is completely beyond name and form, completely beyond the illusory effects of maya (false consciousness). Her nudity is said to represent totally illumined consciousness, unaffected by maya. Kali is the bright fire of truth, which cannot be hidden by the clothes of ignorance.
Her disheveled hair forms a curtain of illusion, the fabric of Space-Time which organizes matter out of the chaotic sea of quantum-foam. Her garland of fifty human heads, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes the repository of knowledge and wisdom while the heads themselves represent impure thoughts, which She has severed from the personalities of Her devotees. She cuts down all the conflicting concepts which debate their various ideologies within the arena of mind, silences the tumultuous roar of mental conflict and the anguish of egotistical attachment, takes the physical manifestations to Herself, and makes a garland of perplexity. Thus She wears all Karma as an ornament, while She stops the chattering voices of the active mind, so that Her devotees can experience the purity of inner peace in the absorption of solitude.
As the Destroyer of Madhu and Khaitabha, Too Much and Too Little, She puts Her devotees in the balance of divine meditation.
She is called Camunda, the Slayer of Anger and Passion, who cuts down all the angry thoughts and impure passions along with their tremendous armies. When Canda and Munda, Anger and Passion, hurled thousands of discuses at Her, She merely opened wide Her mouth, and all of those terrible opposing weapons entered the gateway to infinity, absorbed into Her being without effect.
She took all the horses of the cavalry of thoughts, along with their chariots and charioteers; elephants along with their drivers, protectors and armor; and uncountable thousands of warriors of the army of thoughts; She put them into Her mouth and hideously began to chew. She took all the soldiers of the armies opposing divinity, the entire army of thoughts, projections, speculations, and immediately She digested them all.
Witnessing the destruction of confusion, the Gods experience extreme joy! See how many contemplations, prejudices and attitudes from which we have been freed! Having given up all the difficulties, all the thoughts, the very ego itself, to Kali, the mind experiences the utmost peace and delight!
Raktabija, who performed great austerities, was awarded the boon that whenever a drop of his blood would touch the ground, in that very same place a new Raktabija would be born with the same vitality, courage and strength, the same capacity to captivate the mind. Rakta means red, the color; it also means blood and passion; most specifically, a passion for something - Desire. Bija means the seed; Raktabija literally translates as the Seed of Desire.
See how he manifests in action. In order to accomplish his desire, he multiplies into countless new desires with the same intensity, the same capacity of captivating the mind, all of which seek fulfillment as well. As we find desire for one thing, one drop of blood has touched the ground, and immediately, automatically, a new 'something' is required in order to fulfill that desire. Another drop.
This goes on indefinitely, causing a continual necessity to act. Every time a Seed of Desire touches the ground, a new Seed of Desire is born in that very same place. Ultimately the entire earth has been filled with Seeds of Desire.
Seeing this and understanding fully well the tremendous import and significance of the all-pervasiveness of desire, the Gods became extremely dejected. In great alarm we all called to the Divine Mother for help. 'Oh Compassionate Kali, stick out your tongue and drink up all the desires of existence. Only your mouth has sufficient capacity to consume all desire! And when you will have digested all desire, then the Gods will be free from desire.'
This is why She shows Her very lovely, red, protruding tongue -- in order to make all existence free from desire.
Kali is most often depicted as standing upon the corpse-like form of Lord Shiva, dancing upon the stage of Consciousness. She is the perceivable form of Consciousness. Consciousness is awareness. Rather than the actor, Consciousness is the witness of all action. That is why Lord Shiva is shown as a lifeless corpse: still, immobile, his eyes are fixed, trained on the image of the Divine Mother. All that Consciousness perceives is the dance of Nature.
She is dancing to infatuate Him, causing Him to direct His attention to Her. But Shiva does not forget that it is Nature who is dancing, not I; and He remains the silent Witness. This body is Nature. I am Consciousness, the silent witness of the actions of Nature. I am not the performer. This body acts according to its nature, because that is its nature. Remembering this, I am free, one among the audience in a theater watching the drama of life.
Kali is Nature personified -- not necessarily the dark force of Nature, but all of Nature: Mother Nature, as She dances upon the stage of Consciousness. As all the qualities reside together, the three Gunas: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas; activity, desire and rest, Kali embodies the Three. However, She is more frequently associated with Tamas. Tamas means darkness, but not necessarily in the sense of ignorance. There is a darkness which exposes the light. Kali as the personification of Tamas, is the Energy of Wisdom.
She spreads Her darkness over worldly desire, makes seekers oblivious to the transient externals, totally self-contained within. Pure Consciousness knows that the world of matter will continue to revolve according to its nature, in a cyclical flow of creation, preservation and transformation - the wheel of life. It goes on of its own accord.
When one can reside within, without identification or attachment to the ever-changing externals, then the supreme truth can be realized.
Kali is jnana shakti, the energy of Wisdom, the intuitive illumination within, as compared with the intellectual contemplation of the external. Knowledge is conceived, wisdom is intuited. When Kali takes away the darkness of the Dark Luminosity of the outside world, She grants illumination to the Dark Luminosity of the inner world. Such is Her Grace.
With Kali's Love we become unattached, free from reaction, the silent witness of the stimulus and response which action and interaction brings. We cease to react emotionally to the circumstances of life, and rather plan our actions for the optimum efficiency; so that all the sooner we can complete our necessary contributions to creation according to our karmas, and spend the balance of our time delighting in Universal Consciousness. This is the path that Kali shows.