Kali

Kali

Kali

Gallery Exhibition

Kali

Reverence and Rebellion

New Delhi: 22A, Janpath Road, Windsor Place, New Delhi
03 February 2024 onwards
10:30 am – 7:00 pm

Over a hundred-year period, the worship of Kali has undergone dramatic change in the Indian subcontinent. From being vilified as the goddess of the ‘thugees’ under the British to becoming the subject of Ramakrishna’s ardent worship and popular teachings, her reputation has oscillated between the fearsome and the protective. During the nationalist period, Kali was invoked as a symbol of rebellion, by Aurobindo Ghosh and Subhash Chandra Bose to urge their followers to fight against imperialist forces. Equally, disenfranchised groups of tribals under Jitu Santhal, peasant communities, trans persons, women and Dalits, householders and devotees have turned to Kali as their champion within India’s complex and uneven caste and gender matrix.

Divided into sections, the exhibition traces Kali’s pervasive influence across the subcontinent. It explores Kali and her cohorts of the divine feminine. Born from Durga’s angry, darkened brow as she battles the asuras Chanda and Munda, Kali decapitates the demons and assumes the form of Chamunda. Within these depictions, she is seen alongside Durga, the primordial force, as well as the ten Mahavidyas that emerge to subdue Shiva.

Beyond the furious Kali of the Devi Mahatmayam, depicted in north Indian miniature paintings, there are diverse historical versions, such as the Tantra-inspired Kali of the east, where she is given an entirely different physical imaging. She takes on the role of a maternal figure for Ramakrishna and his followers, who view her in syncretic and secular terms. In Bengal, she enters the vocabulary of the popular presses, advertising and calendar art. In the south, the performance of Bhadrakali on the Malabar Coast holds a significant social relevance, particularly in how local narratives reinterpret Kali and the myths that surround her. Performed entirely by male actors, through dramatic and spectacular staging, Bhadrakali advocates for women and the oppressed, and thereby restores a benign order.

Within the work of contemporary artists, Kali’s portrayal is freed from ritual associations or a rigid iconography, and she is represented in a more personal and intimate light. Drawing on both narrative and abstraction, Kali continues to fascinate as a fluid and deeply engaging subject in art, retaining her allure and profound resonance—in reverence and in rebellion.

The exhibition is curated by Gayatri Sinha with an accompanying publication carrying the same title.

 

‘Charting a vertical hierarchy, the goddesses can appear with different intentions and temperaments, both in the Puranic grand narratives, and as gram devatas at the village level, with women performing the rituals in lieu of the priest. For anything to exist, the Devi’s attributes of fertility and creative energy are necessary. Equally, as Kali demonstrates, female energy is necessary to erase and eliminate.’

– Gayatri Sinha

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