Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kali (Kaalii) the Goddess and Kali the Demon

One of the problems with transliterating Sanskrit names into English is that the English alphabet has fewer letters than the Sanskrit alphabet: 26 letters in the English alphabet compared to 47 letters in the Devanagari script used for Sanskrit. One of the reasons for the difference is that in Sanskrit there is a system of long and short vowels reflected in the writing system, but not in English. That's what leads to confusion with the word Kali:

Kaalii (long a, long i) is the name of a goddess: काली. You will often see her depicted with her tongue sticking out, as here:

Kali (short a, short i) is the name of a supernatural being: कलि. This is the Kali who gives his name to the age of the world we live in now, the Kali Yuga. In this age, Vishnu will return in his Kalki avatar to do battle with Kali, as you can see in this depiction of Vishnu as Kalki riding on his horse while Kali battles him from on the ground:

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