Wrestling With Kālī

Rachel Fell McDermott and Jeffrey J. Kripal

in Encountering Kālī

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2003 | ISBN: 9780520232396
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928176 | DOI:
Wrestling With Kālī

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For more than 2,000 years, both South Asians and newcomers to the Indian subcontinent have had diverse encounters with Kālī. When eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British merchants and colonialists encountered Kālī, they did not conjure up extreme tropes from an isolated Western background: there already existed a wealth of literary sources and historical incidents, as well as considerable ill-will—counterposed by dedication and devotion—toward Kālī. Britain's encounters with “Kālī” thus meant grappling with overlapping, even contradictory indigenous stances on Kālī that had emerged from a long history of contentious debate. This chapter articulates six such indigenous South Asian models of experiencing Kālī and illustrates five of them with examples drawn from both Indian and British writings on the Goddess: devotional, apologetic, disbelieving, demonizing, dismissive, and sensationalizing or scandalizing. It focuses on indigenous South Asian literatures well outside the Śākta fold of the Goddess (for example, Christian folklore, Jaina morality tales, and Buddhist hagiographies). The chapter also examines the British administrator William Sleeman's portrayals of Kālī and her devotees.

Keywords: Kālī; India; South Asian literatures; Britain; William Sleeman; devotion; morality tales; Christian folklore; hagiographies

Chapter.  11545 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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