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Appearing in later Vedic literature of the Hindu religion are two goddesses, Durga and Kali. These goddesses have many similarities and differences. Kali and Durga are different in three ways. 1) Durga is a radiant warrior goddess and Kali is a bloodthirsty monster goddess. 2) Durga and Kali are both associated with the Hindu god Shiva. The two goddesses play different roles when they are with Shiva and affect him in different ways. 3) Durga maintains the balance of the cosmos while Kali destroys the balance. Durga and Kali are alike in three ways. 1) Neither of the goddesses fit into the normal social position for Hindu women. 2) Kali and Durga are one in the same. 3) Both goddesses are worshipped by blood sacrifice.
Durga is a warrior queen who slays demons in the battle to keep the cosmos at balance. Durga is universally beautiful. She rides on a lion into battle and holds many weapons with her many hands attached to her many arms. David Kinsley, author of Hindu Goddesses, describes Durga as "The great battle queen with many arms, each which wields a weapon. She rides a fierce lion and is described as irresistible in battle." This is very different from the description of Kali, as said by the above author, "The goddess Kali is almost always described as having a terrible, frightening appearance. She is always black or dark, is usually naked, and has long disheveled hair." Kali likes to accent her naturally scary beauty by wearing severed heads, arms and dead children as jewelry. Blood seems to be her favorite cosmetic.
The god Shiva is linked with both the battle goddesses. According to the book Religions of the World, seventh edition, written by Lewis M. Hopfe, (class book) Shiva is the god of death destruction and disease. Kali is Shiva's consort. Kali excites and empowers Shiva. When Kali is in one of her blood frenzies, she entices Shiva to join. Kali and Shiva exchange the destructive energy that builds between each other. Kinsley writes, "…she entices Shiva himself to dangerous, destructive behavior." Durga is seen as Shiva's wife. Durga's effect on Shiva is like an energy sucking sedative. Instead of giving power to him, as Kali does, she drains the power from him making him relax.
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Durga is the queen of the cosmos. Durga destroys whatever is causing a problem, usually demons, with the universe. She upholds the balance and keeps everything stable. Kali helps Durga in battle most of the time. Sometimes Kali gets a little too excited with the battling and becomes very destructive. She does not intend to destroy the universe. When she gets in combat her blood desire takes over and works her up into a delirium of damaging passion. Pintchman says, "Kali, however, becomes so intoxicated by the bloodlust of battle that she threatens to destroy the whole world with her fury." Once she gets going she can't seem to stop.
Kali and Durga do not fit into the normal realm of a Hindu woman. Durga is independent, and strong. She thinks for herself and does not require a man to help her. She does the task of battle which is associated with men. Kinsley writes, "In many respects Durga violates the model of the Hindu woman. She is not submissive, she is not subordinated to a male deity, she does not fulfill household duties, and she excels at what is traditionally a male function, fighting in battle." She takes male deities' power and uses it to her own advantage. Kali is way outside the Hindu view of an appropriate woman. She runs around naked, lives in a cremation ground, gets drunk, eats flesh, and has inappropriate sex. Kali is always dominant over her consort Shiva.
Durga is Kali and Kali is Durga. When Durga is doing battle with a demon she needs some extra backing so she creates goddesses to help her. One of the goddesses is Kali. Kinsley writes, "…Durga becomes angry, her face becoming dark as ink. Suddenly the goddess Kali springs from her forehead." Kali is Durga's rage, fury, and bloodlust unleashed onto the battlefield. "She roars loudly and leaps into battle where she tears demons apart with her hands and crushes them in her jaws."
Both goddesses are worshiped by blood and flesh sacrifice. In the mountain regions, Himalayas or the Vindyyas of India, Durga is worshiped with sacrifice. Durga receives meat, blood and alcohol. Pintchman writes,
"In this worship …she is said to receive (and to enjoy) meat and blood…." Devotees sometimes even give her their own flesh, as Kali's devotees do. In the Tantric religion of India her followers worship her with self mutilation, and offerings of their own flesh and blood.
I think Durga and Kali are the most ferocious, battling goddesses in Hindu literature. They are both the same yet they are not the same. Durga is exquisite, Kali is repulsive. Shiva is the husband of Durga and Kali is his consort and they both alter him in unlike ways. Durga is the "cosmic queen," Kali is a grotesque beast. Yet, Kali and Durga are one in the same goddess. They both fall outside the image of a "good" Hindu woman, and they both receive blood sacrifices. Durga and Kali's characteristics meld and separate to make a paradox of one another. They are the boldest and brightest (Kali in spirit too) female deities in the Vedic literature.