सर्वानन्दकरी देवी नारायणि नमोऽस्तुते ।।
In Hinduism, all goddesses are ultimately one: Devi. She takes different forms to allow us to comprehend her multiple possibilities. One of the most powerful is Kali.
Kali‘s blackness symbolizes her comprehensive nature, as in black all colors merge. Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her (Mahanirvana Tantra). Black can also represent the absence of color, signifying the nature of Kali as ultimate reality. Either way, Kali’s color symbolizes her transcendence of all form.
Kali’s nudity has similar meaning. She is described as garbed in space or sky clad. In Her primordial nakedness, She is free from all covering of illusion. Her nudity represents totally illumined consciousness. Kali is the bright fire of truth, not hidden by the trappings of ignorance.
As our Mother, She creates endlessly. Her garland of fifty human heads, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes knowledge and wisdom. Her girdle of severed human hands are the principal instruments of work and signify the action of karma. The binding effects of karma are overcome by devotion to Kali. She blesses devotees by cutting us free from the cycle of karma.
Kali’s four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction. Her right hands, making the sign of fear not and conferring boons, represent Her creative aspect. Her left hands, holding a bloodied sword and a severed demon head, represent her destructive aspect. The bloodied sword and severed head symbolize the destruction of ignorance and the dawn of knowledge. The sword is the sword of knowledge, that cuts through ignorance and destroys false consciousness (the severed head). Her three eyes represent the sun, moon and fire, with which She observes the past, present and future. This is the origin of the name Kali, the feminine form of Kala, the Sanskrit word for Time.
The cremation ground, Kali’s dwelling place, is where the five elements are dissolved. This symbolizes the dissolving of attachments, anger, lust and other emotions, feelings and ideas. The heart of the devotee is where this burning takes place and it is in her heart that Kali dwells. The devotee, under Kali’s influence, burns away all limitations and ignorance. This inner cremation fire in the heart is the fire of knowledge, which Kali bestows.
The image of Shiva lying under the feet of Kali shows Shiva as the passive potential of creation. Kali is Shakti, the universal feminine creative principle and energizing force. Kali empowers Shiva. Shakti is expressed as the i in Shiva’s name. Without the i, Shiva becomes Shva, which in Sanskrit means a corpse. So, without Shakti, Shiva is powerless or inert. This is the origin of the saying Shiva without Shakti is Shava.