The goddess Kali kneels in the posture reserved for wrathful deities ready for battle. In one hand she holds the sword she used to sever the demon head she triumphantly grasps in another hand. As the personification of divine energy — shakti in Sanskrit — Kali appears active, while the male principle, personified as her consort Shiva, is like a corpse (shava).
The scene is set in a cremation ground, complete with vultures, jackals, and bones. Contemplation of paintings such as this assists followers in overcoming fear of death. In this image, the dead body is overlaid with the dual principles of the divine in Hindu thought: male and female, passive and active, matter and energy, white and black, Shiva and Shakti.
Credit Line: Text courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art.