Kali and Shiva’s first tandava: a re-telling

With devastating, escalating violence against women
Here’s what needs to happen NOW

We must reconsider every wicked step-mother and partner-violence story that has become our fairy tales. We must re-tell these tales.

For me, it starts with Kali and Her very first interaction with Shiva
We must re-tell the story of Their Tandava::


We find Kali as a young fertility Goddess

Her moon cycle has just started
All Her life She has played and meditated in the forests of Kailash
We find Her at a solemn moment

She knows She will soon be asked to become a householder
She wonders how She might reconcile Her free-spirited life in the forests with the coming duty to Her people
She finds a favorite spot and begins to meditate
She is so determined to find the answer to her question, she denies herself food, not even a leaf. Her clothes begin to rot and fall from her body

Unbeknownst to Her
Her destined One sits nearby, deep in trance
However, Her tapas become so rigorous – the energies She harnesses so powerful – She shakes him out of his meditation
He wakes in frustration in search of the disturbance only to find an almost skeletal naked Girl-Woman deep in trance
Moved, He waits for Her to waken

A skeletal Kali in deep tapas. There is a younger Kali skeletal that I'm trying to find
A skeletal Kali in deep tapas. There is a younger Kali skeletal that I’m trying to find

When She finally comes to, He asks Her
What did She attain?
She replies there was no answer to Her question
Shiva, intrigued, wonders what a young Girl could possibly ask that merits such rigorous tapas
He asks Her what She was asking for clarity in

A near-death Kali politely asks Him for some time to recover
He assents and leaves Her

Thought of the bewildering Girl-Woman consumes him for days
He goes in search of Her

One day he spies a comely Maiden dancing in the forests and he becomes entranced
He approaches her
They are both warmed by the beauteous vision of the other

Kali brings Him to Her family
As everyone celebrates Their union, Shiva notices Kali removed in thought
He asks Her how He might console Her
She says She still has no answer to Her question
He understands then that before Him sits the one and same Girl-Woman from the forest

Typical upper caste depiction of Hindu marriage
Typical upper caste depiction of Hindu marriage

The women of the village pull Kali up to join them in the festivities
They ask Her to dance
In preparation to woo Her, Shiva joins Kali and begins to dance the Tandava
He gets carried away and pushes Her from Her center
Kali is confused and walks away
Shiva finds Her in the forest, weeping

He comes close, confusing her further
Kali, consumed by lust, allows Him to take Her

Shiva embracing Kali
Shiva embracing Kali

It does not take long before Shiva begins to take Kali’s devotion for granted
He now has the mountains She used to run in at His feet
He has Her by His side
She is now with child

In the time since
Shiva becomes blinded by power
Kali is busy with her household
But the barbs from Him every now and then still sting

One day She simply cannot take it anymore
She begins to understand She needed to respect Herself so long ago
She begins to see She cannot be confused that she took Shiva for her lover
It does not excuse His behavior
She must reclaim that center
She begins to push back

A new question comes
Will Shiva relent?

Alternate depictions of Shiva Kali: