Kali is thought to have originated as a tribal goddess indigenous to one of India’s inaccessible mountainous regions. The Matsyapurana gives her place of origin as Mount Kalanjara in north central India, east of the Indus Valley floodplain. But owing to the late date of the Puranas’ composition, this evidence regarding Kali’s place of origin cannot be taken as particularly reliable.At least thousand years before the Matsyapurana, the name of Kali first appears in Sanskrit literature between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE. The reference, in Mundakopanishad 1.2.4, names Kali as one of the seven quivering tongues of the fire god Agni, whose flames devour sacrificial oblations and transmit them to the gods. The verse characterizes Agni’s seven tongues as black, terrifying, swift as thought, intensely red, smoky colored, sparkling, and radiant. Significantly, the first two adjectives — kali and karali — “black” and “terrifying,” recur in later texts to describe the horrific aspect of the goddess. Karali additionally means “having a gaping mouth and protruding teeth.” This verse scarcely suffices to confirm that Kali was a personified goddess during the age of the Upanishads, but it is noteworthy that the adjective that became her name was used to characterize an aspect of the fire god’s power.Kali first appears unequivocally as a goddess in the Kathaka Grihyasutra, a ritualistic text that names her in a list of Vedic deities to be invoked with offerings of perfume during the marriage ceremony. Unfortunately, the text reveals nothing more about her.
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