Shakti as Uma, Mari Amma and Kali

In Hindu mythology, Shakti manifests as Devi, an overarching term for the goddesses, Uma (Parvati), Mari Amma (Durga) and Kali (note 1). Originally all three were independent and powerful goddesses in their own right; however, over time their roles expanded to include that of the creative energy of Shiva in their role as his consort. While Uma came to represent the gentle beauty with a will of iron, the roles of Mari Amma and Kali became goddess-warriors who restored balance when demons threatened to upset the Dharma. Their roles as demon destroyers in popular mythology, however, would have been overshadowed by Shiva as demon-slayer. 

Kali and Mari Amma are variously known as each other’s incarnation, however Tantric belief and practice focus upon Kali as the embodiment of Shaktic power and the center of many Tantric texts, rituals and iconography (note 3). In Shaktic Tantrism it is Kali who instructs Shiva in the arts of Tantra and it is Kali to whom Tantrikas turn when evil threatens.

“Most fearful, her laughter shows her dreadful teeth. She stands upon a corpse. She has four arms. Her hands hold a sword and a head and show the gestures of removing fear and granting boons. She is the auspicious divinity of sleep, the consort of Shiva. Naked, clad only in space, the goddess is resplendent. Her tongue hangs out. She wears a garland of heads. Such is the form worthy of meditation of the Power of Time, Kali, who dwells near the funeral pyres”. Kali Tantra

As the maternal and creative aspects of Shakti, Mari Amma, Kali and Uma, were revered throughout the Chola homeland, especially in the rural areas; Mari Amma as Goddess of Rain and protector from disease, and Kali as the ferocious demon slayer. Their festival worship has a distinctly non-Vedic feel with dancing, fire walking, as well as mouth and nose piercings.

Note 1 – As aspects, or facets, of Brahman, Hindu gods and goddesses are known by many names in different times and places, but their roles and characteristics are held in common. These names are very much a matter of geographic and cultural context, but in this Reference Library, I use the name by which they would have been known in south India at the time of the Chola Empire.

Note 2 – In the sect of Shaktism, it is believed that Devi is the Supreme Being and, therefore, above all other gods. As such, she is known as Maha Devi, or The Great Goddess. 

Note 3 – This embodiment often takes the form of Mahakali or Great Kali. In her ten hands, she holds the attributes most associated with individual gods (Shiva’s trident, for example), implying their power only comes through Mahakali’s grace.