We've often seen in many photos that Goddess Kali is topless or half-nude.
- What is the meaning of this image?
- Is this image questioning Hinduism's morality level?
The premise of the question, that Goddess Kali is like a human female, is incorrect. Ma Kali is the infinite Brahman according to the great spiritual figures like Ramprasad and Sri Ramakrishna. It would be a terrible mistake to read the iconography literally. I am posting one song by Ramprasad published in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna to make the point:
Once for all, this time, I have thoroughly understood.
From one who knows it well, I have learnt the secret of bhava(spiritual mood).
A man has come to me from a country where there is no night,
And now I can not distinguish day from night any longer:
Rituals and Devotions have all grown profitless for me.
My sleep is broken: how can I sleep any more?
For now I am wide awake in the sleeplessness of Yoga.
O Divine Mother, made one with thee in yoga-sleep at last,
My slumber I have lulled asleep evermore.
I bow my head, says Prasad, before desire and liberation;
Knowing the secret that Kali is one with the highest Brahman,
I have discarded, once for all both righteousness and sin.
The iconography of Ma Kali shows her to be completely nude and not just topless. What you think of as her skirt is not really a skirt. Her full breasts nourish all sentient beings. She is shown nude because no finite clothes can cover the infinite.
A philosophical explanation of this image is given in this article.
The answer to this question is two point.
The concept that toplessness is crude or vulgar is a western custom. It's one of the byproducts of Victorian morality that was forced into our cultural system. Before the arrival of westerners, there was no concept of a separate cloth to cover the top half of the body. In Europe, due to colder climate, they have to cover more than we have to. This requirement slowly trickled down into their tradition and toplessness became vulgar When they came to India, they found the one piece sari, which barely used to cover the breasts of women, to be very uncivilized. Hence, in their effort to "civilize" us, they introduced the concept of top cloth and the morality associated with it. If you go to any old temples, you will hardly see the idols covering the top half of the body for this reason alone.
Most of the paintings and images of gods and goddesses you see today are derivatives of the work of Raja Ravi Varma, who first started producing oil paintings of mythological characters. So he chose to dress them as he found appropriate. There is no deeper meaning being conveyed.
Toplessness is vulgar according to modern standards. In our original cultural, vulgarity was measured in terms of character and it's purity, not how many clothes you can wear.
Goddess Kali is not only topless but naked because the rishi who wrote down Her description saw Her in that form.(We get the dhyanamantra of Dakshinakali in Vrihattantrasaara compiled by Krishnananda Agamvagish. But he did not compose it.)Forms of God are not imaginations or symbolical. Many siddha saints have seen the forms. Sadhak Kamalakanta writes: কালোরূপে দিগম্বরী হৃদিপদ্ম করে মোর আলো meaning that Her nude black form illumines my heart-lotus.
Another great sadhaka Pemik writes: যিনি বিশ্ব-আবরণ, কে করে তাঁর আবরণ? implying that who can cover the One Who is the Cover of the World, ie covers everything by Her maya.
The God is above the eight bondages called the Ashtapashas, one of which is lajja.
GhrinA shankA bhayam lajjA jugupsA cheti panchami |
Kulam shilam tathA jAtir ashto pAshAh prakirtitA ||
Disgust, apprehension, fear, shame, feeling of insult, Kula-Shila-JAti (pride of family etc) are the eight bondages (pAshAs).
KulArnava Tantram 13.90
She is the ind-weller of all beings, so from whom would She get Lajja? Also, does a mother remain clothed when giving birth to a child? Does she become ashamed to the child?
Saguna Brahma has different forms. If our own human forms are not symbolical, why would we try to explain the meanings of the different aspects of the divine forms?
The connotations of all the forms of the representation of God are almost exclusively allegorical. By being partially nude the Goddess in the fullness of Her terrible beauty stands revealed to us. It speaks to us of a wonder beyond beauty and ugliness. God is beyond human concepts of good and evil. God is beyond shame.
If the Divine Mother reveals Herself to you, will you ask Her why She does not have shame? Or maybe you should ask why you still have shame in your own mind? The Lord only reveals Himself to a person who has gone beyond shame and shamelessness, good and evil.
Perhaps The Goddess Shiva is portrayed topless because the human artists that depicted the images lived in a time where it was the norm in their societies. Early artists and writers- priests, would have had only stories and legends and scientific knowledges about these gods and goddesses and thus to portray an image of a god is to make the image what people will believe, understand and will make them unified and together in thought. It is only a psychological phenomena that many humans create for the enjoyment of others. And artists know that our gods should look like us in our art for the sake of speaking the same language. We are all together, spread out, and together!