Learning Outcome #2 – Artifact
Learning Objective #2
REL 106 Spring 2009
Kali, the blue skinned, bloody Goddess adorned with dripping limbs and severed heads can evoke fear and shock to those unaccustomed to the symbolism behind such an image. As Americans entering into a global world, an understanding of other people’s cultures must be understood before judgment is placed. As an outsider of Indian traditions, people can form a negative point of view of the Hindu religion based solely on one image. Global citizens must have an understanding of different worldviews, and learn to view art and religion from a different perspective. Through the image of Kali, people can understand the Hindu religion and the beautiful and intrinsic nature of art and religion in India. It is important to have a basic understanding of a belief system, which leads to a better understanding of the people within that system.
We are all born with a different worldview. In the article, Changes in Euro-American Values, Mary E. Clark describes worldview as the construction of our childhood that shapes the way people see, understand and interpret the world we live in. In simpler terms, worldview is not something we consciously create; it is “who we are.” The image of Kali creates feelings of unease because our worldview has shaped us to interpret morbidity in a negative light. Kali can evoke fear and disgust in some because they have not been taught the symbolism behind the goddess.
In many different cultures there are religious symbols that can be misunderstood. Let’s take a look at some examples of Euro-American culture to better understand the different responses to symbols in religion. The first example that comes to mind is the image of Jesus Christ nailed to a wooden cross, head adorned by a crown of thorns. Many cultures could look negatively at the Christian tradition of wearing jewelry adorned with a man nailed to a cross. Images of Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns adorning his head, drops of blood running down his pale skin, can be equally as disturbing as Kali to those without the prior knowledge of the crucifixion. Another example of a religious symbol that can be misunderstood is circumcision, which symbolizes a Jewish boy’s participation in Israel’s covenant with God. To those with a different worldview, it can appear to be nothing other than genital mutilation.
As people start to explore their own traditions and symbols in religion, they can begin to see how those rituals or art can be misinterpreted. In Euro-American culture, we know that Jesus on a cross is a symbol of hope and love, and circumcision is a ritual of cleanliness and is widely socially accepted. To understand another cultures’ religious worldviews, people must first approach with understanding and openness. A high school student in India may have similar thoughts to our images and rituals, as our own response to their image of Kali. To begin to understand Kali, a better understanding of Hinduism is essential.
Art and Hinduism in India are deeply intertwined with religion. If there is art, there is religion, and one does not exist without the other. According to Kinsley’s Hinduism A Cultural Perspective, art is heavily embellished in India. The goal of the artist is to draw out the normal world and bring the divine to the people. The image of Kali is an artists rendering of an extreme and embellished Goddess that represents new beginnings and new hope.
In Hinduism, there are many misconceptions. One of the biggest misconceptions is the idea of worshipping multiple gods, while in reality they worship one main god called “Brahman”. Kali is only one of many gods that Hindus look to as a representation of the one god, Brahman. The Gods and Goddesses are worshipped based on the needs of the individual. A person may need guidance in love, so they visit Krishna or Parvati. A person may need guidance in their career, so they visit Ganesha. Each of these Gods represents the spirit or a part of Brahman, including Kali.
Among Hindu’s gods, Kali is the most frightening, with multiple arms; one brandishing a sword and the other a head of a demon. Adorning her ears are two heads, alongside a string of skulls for a necklace, and a belt made of human arms. He face is ferocious and blood drips from her breasts. It is little wonder that unease can be felt while viewing this image. Once a person understands the story of Kali and what she represents, the unease is replaced with hope. According to legend, Kali underwent a fierce battle against evil and demons, undergoing a killing rampage. Her killing spree would have continued if she had not, accidentally, touched the body of Shiva with her foot. In India, being touched by a foot is deeply insulting. Her face contorts into shock and rage as she realizes the insult she has given to Shiva, and only then does she restrain herself and the destruction of the world.
In Hinduism, a person dies and is reborn, and only with destruction can people have new beginnings. According to the article, Great Mother Kali, “what lives and dies, dies to live again.” Kali represents the destruction of evil and opens hope for those new beginnings. Kali is the Mother Goddess that destroys evil and transforms death into rebirth, giving Hindus another chance at achieving the ultimate release from rebirths called Moksha. In Hinduism, people live their life and bear the consequences of decisions in past and present lives, which is known as Karma. People are born into certain caste systems and undergo different circumstances because of Karma. Each person is responsible for every action in their present and past life, and Dharma is each person’s duty to uphold order in society, and each person hopes to transform death into the ultimate goal of Moksha. Kali is the Mother Goddess that destroyed the world of demons and evil to bring the opportunity for rebirth. Only with death can there be new life. Her rage and destruction brings feelings of hope and love to Hindus, and having a better understanding of the religion helps other’s view her in the same way.
In conclusion, there will always be different worldviews, and the more globalized the world becomes the more people need to understand and learn about other religions. Each culture has there own religious symbols, art, rituals and beliefs. To better understand each other as humans, people must learn about opposing worldviews. Whether it’s Euro-American or Southeast Asian religions that are being studied, a basic understanding of a belief system leads to a better understanding of the people within that system. The more the world becomes globalized, the more people need to understand one another to communicate and interact. As I represented in this paper, each culture has symbols that can be misinterpreted, and without prior knowledge a dangerous conclusion can be formed. Without knowing the story of the Goddess Kali, one would assume the Hindu religion is strange and somewhat scary. Symbols can be strange and confusing until we study another culture’s art and religion and learning the meaning behind the symbols. As with Kali, she is a symbol of hope and new beginnings, and with our new globalized world a person may want to give her a second look and even seek guidance for our own world’s new beginning.