In the Tantric pantheon, Kali is mentioned as the first of the ten Great Cosmic Powers, because in a certain way she is the one who "spins the wheel of the universal time".
On the other hand, at the end of the manifested world, time (in Sanskrit Kala) devoured all the universes of the three plans of the creation: the physical, the astral and the causal universes.
The Great Cosmic Power Kali finally devours the time itself, which is Kala, and this is the very reason for which Kali is viewed as the primordial cause of the creation and destruction of the universe.
The famous Tantric writing Nirvanatantra associates Kali to Brahman, the Supreme, as representing both the being (the existence) and the infinite consciousness in manifestation.
This association has allowed the worship of Kali both from the metaphysical abstract perspective, as well as from a more concrete perspective, which implies certain attributes (functions, characteristics, qualities).
According to the Tantric tradition, the whole manifested world springs from the Infinite Consciousness of the beatific union between Shiva and Shakti.
The function of the creation comes to the divine energy bearing the name Brahmani Shakti. The universe thus created has to be maintained in the manifestation, function performed by Shakti Vaishnavi.
Nonetheless, both the creation and the preserving aspects imply a molecular "death" or "destruction" of each form of the universe, function performed by Rudrani Shakti.
In fact, Brahmani, Vaishnavi and Rudrani are the consorts of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (also named Rudra).
HER DARKNESS DISOLVES EVERYTHING
The simultaneous existence of these three processes within the creation clearly expresses the statements included in all Tantric writings, that the creation of the universe did not occur once, in the past, nor will the universe be destroyed once in the future, and that rather in every instant these aspects manifest as flashings creating the illusion of continuity and reality.
Although the human body and mind are permanently assailed by innumerable sensorial perceptions, the state of divine ecstasy (samadhi) implies the disappearance of all mental functions and of the physical awareness into the supreme consciousness of Paramashiva, the one that is beyond all duality.
The description of the Great Cosmic Power Kali describes her as being dark as the night, dancing over Shiva's inert, white body. This representation reveals the significance of the two fundamental aspects of Reality: on one hand there is the dynamic, imanent aspect of God (Kali's dance) and on the other the static, transcendent aspect of consciousness (identified with Shiva).
Shiva is white because he signifies the infinite divine light (prakasha), inert because the absence of movement and action reveals the consciousness pure, homogenous and compact.
On the other hand, Kali's dance signifies the dynamic, active aspect of the Divine, and the dark color of her skin indicates that the processes of the creation are disolved in Kali.
From a different perspective, Kali is also the creator of the universes, as they come to life from the ashes of the Divine Consciousness' purifying fire. Consequently, Kali's action is deeply evolutionary, as she impels the human beings towards evolution, sometimes in a painful manner.
Nonetheless, Kali performs her actions in the divine light and harmony, knowing that this is the best thing to do. Those who manage to pass all the tests and go through all the stages are in truth spiritual heroes, and they will be rewarded with Kali's spiritual grace.
However, until God's will does not manifest the creative impulse, the divine infinite energy (Shakti) lies potential, but unmanifested, inseparably united with Shiva, in his purely transcendent aspect.
The spiritual Tantric writings denote this state as SAT-CHIT-ANANDA (PURE EXISTENCE-PURE CONSCIOUSNESS-INFINITE BLISS).
KALI IS THE TIME BEYOND TIME
Then Kali (as supreme Shakti) assumes the responsibility of creating the names, as well as of their evolution.
Kali is also known under the name of ADIMAHAVIDYA, the first of the Great Cosmic Powers, but this should not mislead us, as it does not imply any hierarchy, but rather the idea of order in the cosmic evolution.
Kali is also named ADYASHAKTI, in her quality of energy and terrible Cosmic Power who impels humankind towards action and the universe towards manifestation.
Kali's representation reveals her nakedness. This is not a trivial manner of representing a deity, but instead this fact stands for the transcendence of all limitations.
Her action in the manifested world implies the destroying and in the same time purifying action of time (Kala). This aspect is suggested by the human head she holds in one of her hands.
However, as the yogi is more and more concerned with spiritual aspects, and firmly oriented towards obtaining spiritual freedom at all costs, he or she will be blessed with Kali's overwhelming grace.
SHE DESTROYS YOUR EGO SO THAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO REBORN
One of the most important hypostasis in which one can worship Kali is the goddess Durga, the one who defeated the demon Mahishashura. This demon represents in the Hindu spirituality the forces of the dark.
The Vedanta philosophy presents the conception according to which there are the Divine Embodiments (avatara) who come on earth in order to perform a deep transformation of mankind.
For the worshipper of God in the aspect of the Divine Mother, Durga is the only hypostasis that destroys the evil of the world in its numerous demoniac and satanic aspects.
Thus, the Hindu mythology describes how the goddess has vanquished the demons and their king, Mahishashura, saving the gods from captivity and set up again the divine order in the universe.
The spiritual significance of this myth is that each human being has inside both good and bad, and these energies constantly fight for supremacy.
Durga, embodiment of the goddess Kali grants her support and help to those who ask for it and worship her, so that the spiritual forces develop and gain supremacy over the dark, negative influences of the psychic and mental.
Durga is thus the Divine Light who destroys and burns in terrible fire of her pure consciousness any malefic force and any leftover of ignorance.
HER FORCE AWAKENS KUNDALINI
The sadhana or spiritual practice recommended for the worship of the Great Cosmic Power Kali implies the effort of purifying and activating the centers of force, so that the fundamental energy Kundalini ascends from Muladhara chakra to Sahasrara.
The ascension of Kundalini represents one of the characteristic and most important aspects of this Great Cosmic Power's worship, and is correlated with the practice of sexual continence, according to the principles of the Tantric doctrine.
The mysterious influence of Kali is so complex and hidden that only few pure souls may see through her actions their real significance.
We meet a frequent representation of Kali as the Cosmic Mother, surrounded by a great number of different gods and goddesses. Lacking any dimensions or spatial-temporal limits, she takes on different forms and names in order to meet her worshiper's most secret desires.
In certain situations, Kali embarks into action to destroy that which is perverted, weak, or useless. Thus, we may see her representation as having four or more arms, in which she holds different objects that are helpful in restoring or preserving the divine order of the universe.
In her most elevated aspects, Kali is the Divine Bliss itself, that which is beyond ordinary human perception, and the nature and consciousness of the Divine Brahman himself.
Consequently, there are two ways of worshipping her: as the great Goddess bestowing her grace and blessings upon all those who deserve it, and as holy energy (Shakti) who grants spiritual freedom (Kaivalya).
THE PURIFYING FIRE THAT BURNS THE EGO TO ASHES
All the representations of the goddess have in common the following fundamental elements: Shiva's dead body, her glorious attitude, the black color, but they may differ in other details, which underline her specific role in the universe, characteristic to a particular representation.
One representation of Kali reveals her in an imposing attitude, meditating in a state of infinite bliss on Shiva's chest. Another representation is while shooting an arrow, with her right foot bent, on Shiva's chest.
Both figures (Kali and Shiva) are in a cremation place, suggesting that all illusory things are finally reduced to ashes, burnt in the fire of time, or that they return to their primordial essential state.
As usually, Kali's skin is black, the source of all colors. This also indicates the fact that she is associated to the depths of God's mystery.
Nevertheless, she is surrounded by a white hallo, a gentle light whose nature is amrita and that brings peace to the eye. In this representation, Shiva's body indicates the fact that the power of God's consciousness is inherent to the unanimated matter as well.
Kali's mouth is wide open and she pulls her tongue out, symbolizing the mudra of the devouring, or consuming the universe.
However, this terrible and scaring aspect is backed up by a smiling attitude of the goddess, looking upon the being of the universe with kindness and affection, sustaining their life and nourishing them with her immense breasts.
Her ironic laughter is for all those who, due to ignorance for the laws of harmony and balance imagine that they can elude spiritual evolution. The Great Goddess has three all-seeing eyes, "supervising" the universes from the past, present and future.
In her other hand she holds a skull, whose significance id double: on one hand it is the receiver of the universal mysterious teaching, and on the other hand it is a reminder of what endures after the dissolution of the universe.
THROUGH HER INFINITE GRACE, ALL UNIVERSE DISOLVES IN YOU
In another hand, Kali holds a sword (khadga), whose role is to cut all worldly connections and attachments, so that the worshipper is prepared for the ultimate spiritual freedom.
It is also interesting to mention that her hair is long and dishevelled, standing for the power of this great cosmic power's all-pervading grace.
Her benevolence and compassion are underlined by two of her hands that perform the gesture of casting away the fear and that of offering spiritual gifts and powers.
Around her neck there is a necklace made of skulls belonging to various demons and other malefic entities, symbolizing her complete victory over the evil.
Her naked body is splashed with the blood of these entities, and her earrings are in fact two decapitated human bodies. This is Kali's complex representation in her terrible form, known also as Dakshina Kali or Shyamakali.
In the Hindu iconography, Kali appears under a number of other forms, with minor differences as regards the number of the arms, face, of symbolic objects she holds.
Thus, Shamasana Kali, Siddha Kali, Maha Kali, Guhyakali represent just as many aspects of the Goddess, worshipped in different areas of India.
Among these forms, remarkable is the form of Bhadra Kali, described in Tantasara as a hungry deity, ready to devour any illusory aspect of the universe, having three eyes, four hands holding a skull, a drum, an ax and a trident.
A variant of Bhadra Kali is Chamunda Kali, who although pleasant to the eye has terrible teeth and holds a long human bone with a skull at one end, a sword, a chain and a human head. Unlike the other representations of Kali, Chamunda Kali wears a tiger's fur and sits on a body.