Shri Krishna as Kali

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Web pages designed by Mike Magee.
Original artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2022. Translations are ©
Mike Magee 1975-2022.

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Śrī Kṛṣṇa as Kālī

O daughter of the snow-capped mountain! That Ananga whose bow is of flowers, whose bow string is of a row of bees, who has five arrows, who has as his feudatory Vasanta, and the Malaya breeze as his chariot, he, even though thus equipped, having obtained some grace from thy side glance, conquers all this world single-handed – Saundaryalahari, 6

In places in the tantrik tradition, the Kṛṣṇa avatar of Viṣṇu is often identified with Kālī. This reaches a peak in the Tantrarājatantra, where it is said that having already charmed the world of men as herself, Lalitā took a male form as Kṛṣṇa and then proceeded to enchant women. In this work, Kṛṣṇa has six forms, identified with the six senses (including Mind). They are Kāmarāja Gopāla, Manmatha Gopāla, Kandarpa Gopāla, Makaraketana Gopāla and Manobhava Gopāla. Their meditation images (dhyāna according to the same work, describes them as being like dawn, Krishna with six arms, holding flute, noose, goad, sugar cane bow and a bowl of curds. These are the five arrows of Lalitā and the bow and here Kṛṣṇa is identified with Kameshvara, the Indian god of love, who is otherwise called Ananga, and, like Cupid, is armed with a bow.

The Kalivilasa Tantra, a Bengali work, states Kṛṣṇa was born as the son of Devi who was golden (Gauri) and turned black when he was excited by passion. In the Todala Tantra, each of the ten Mahavidyas, forms of the supreme Goddess, has her own male counterpart and here Kṛṣṇa is said to be the spouse of Kālī. There are many images of Kṛṣṇa in India which show him as black. An Indian commentator to the hymn to Kālī called Karpuradistotra, goes further and says that there is a connection between the bija mantra of Kālī which is Krim, Kṛṣṇa and Christ. Whatever the truth of that identification, it is certain that to many ordinary folk in India, Kṛṣṇa and Christ do have a resonance. Often you will see contemporary images of Kṛṣṇa and Christ together in the inside of houses. Kṛṣṇa (and his tantrika counterpart Kameshvara) are moved by love (prem).

The Victorian print at the top left of this page shows Radha, Kṛṣṇa’s shakti, worshipping Kṛṣṇa as Kālī, while the image on the left is a contemporary print (copyright acknowledged but of unknown provenance).

In the Brihat Tantra Sara, a large compilation of tantrik rites, Kṛṣṇa appears as a fully-flowered tantrika devata, with his own yantra, gayatri, mantra and puja Krishna Yantra: click for full size image or ritual which uses this yantra (click on this image for full size yantra). In the hexagon in the centre of the yantra, the following words appear: Krishnaya Govindaya Klim sadhya Gopijanavallabhaya Svaha. In the corners of the hexagon are the bija mantras Hrim and Shrim. Outside the hexagon is the Krisna mantra which runs: Klim Krishnaya Namah. In the petals of the yantra is a longer mantra Namah Kamadevaya Sarvajanapriyaya Sarvajansammohanaya Jvala Prajvala Sarvajanasya Hridayamavamsham Kurukura Svaha. Around the eight petals are the Matrikas or letters of the Sanskrit alphabet while in the angles of the protecting wall are bija mantras Hrim and Shrim, once more.

Although commonly associated with Shaivite and Shakta concerns, in reality there is no sectarianism in the tradition. In many of the texts of the tradition, it is stated that it is only a fool who makes any distinction between the two. The forms of Viṣṇu, however, often have a more emotional tinge to them than those of Shiva, who can be portrayed as a highly terrifying figure. Trailokyamohana Viṣṇu, for example, in the Prapanchasara Tantra, is meditated upon as in the middle of a garden of Aeon Trees, scented with flowers and musical from the sound of bees, with his shakti Śrī Lakshmi. She is bathed in sweat from her passion for him while around them both are the women of the household, all pierced by the arrows of Kama, god of sexuality, all shameless with their passion.

Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2022. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2022.Questions or comments to

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