Chapter

Margins at the Center

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520232396.003.0012
Margins at the Center

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Kālī's embodiment of the fundamental, bipolar opposites that ground human existence is a familiar theme in the study of the fierce Goddess. This grounding in the deepest aspects of the human experience has led to a common scholarly characterization of Kālī as “marginal.” Kālī's iconography and worship have been portrayed as “extreme” in their violence and eroticism. There are several places where Kālī is most decidedly at the center of religious life, among Brahmans and Dalits alike. Oddly, those places are located at the geographical edges of the Indian subcontinent: Nepal, Assam, Bengal, Bihar, Sri Lanka, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh. The interplay between peripheries and centers that is so central to the South Indian cult of the fierce Goddess is vividly demonstrated for a contemporary Andhra setting by Don Handelman. This chapter unravels some of Kālī's cloudy history, using Kerala as an example and focusing on the dimensions of gender and caste. It shows that Kālī is neither marginal nor extreme in the places where she is worshipped. She is right at the center, the very source of life.

Keywords: Kālī; religious life; gender; caste; geographical edges; Indian subcontinent; peripheries; centers; Kerala; iconography

Chapter.  11448 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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