Museum number 1027a
Frederick Horniman purchased this papier-maché figure in 1894 during a three-month tour of India and Ceylon. It is from Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), a city named after the goddess Kali, derived from ‘Kali Ghat’ meaning ‘Kali’s steps’.
The figure depicts Kali, the mother goddess and consort of Shiva, accompanied by a tiger. Kali personifies death and destruction. She is depicted with blood-red eyes, her tongue lolling out of her mouth to catch blood, and four arms. Kali holds a curved sword in one hand, the severed head of a giant in another, with her remaining two hands raised in blessing. Kali wears a necklace of severed heads and a girdle of severed hands. She is standing on Shiva, who clutches a discus in one hand and has snakes wrapped around his arms and waist. Both Kali and Shiva have a third eye in their foreheads.
This image depicts a story from Hindu mythology. The gods asked Kali to kill a monster that was destroying the world. Each time the monster was wounded, 1000 demons sprang from each drop of blood. Kali consumed the monster in one gulp, thus saving the world. Her celebratory dance was so frenzied it shook the world and Shiva had to calm her down. This figure shows Kali dancing on Shiva after he lay down in front of her. Shiva was eventually successful in stopping Kali’s dancing.
Kali’s devotees regard her as a mother goddess who can destroy death as well as demons. Papier-maché figures like this were created for traditional religious celebrations. This figure would have been used for the festival of Kali-puja, when devotees ask Kali to destroy evil. Kali-puja takes place at midnight on the day of the new moon and coincides with Diwali, the Festival of Lights, in October or November. The figure is worshipped and paraded through the streets before being immersed in the river at the end of the festival.