Long back, I read in a Bengali article that her garland of skulls represents 51 Sanskrit alphabets. Together it represents the visible universe, which is nothing but a collection of names and forms (Nama-Rupa) produced from the combination of the alphabets. Basically, it means that the visible universe is established in her (as the garland is hanging around her neck).

The girdle of hands, on her waist, represents the fact that she cuts the karmic bondage of us (we work with our hands, that's why). That means she liberates us.

Also, she is dark because she is beyond the Gunas. The absence of colour is black. Similar thing. Her dishevelled hair represents she is ever free.

I like this symbolism very much. But, I do not know the reference. Is this symbolism true? Please give a reference.

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    I heard that 'kali is Kala(time)'. It has 'all possible mental contributions' as garland. and 'all possible physical contributions' as the girdle. And they are round in shape like circles as they both repeat in time. And time swallows all as every incident so Kali keeps her mouth open.
    – hanugm
    Jul 8, 2022 at 16:30
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    @AmritenduMukhopadhyay I like this question cause I like all things Devi and Kali related :) So had to give upvote. Gonna post a link to an article I've read which discusses the symbolism of Kali & MahaVidyas. I haven't read this guy's Devi Mahatmya book yet called "In Praise of the Goddess" but is on my list. He talks about the Kali garland and the severed arms. Pretty much what you said above. I'm huge Chinnamasta fan and the author explains the symbolism with her too. Here is link : vedanta.org/2010/monthly-readings/…
    – user27626
    Jul 8, 2022 at 18:48
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    The Mundamala also signify the devtas from previous Kalpa who were devoured by Mahakali. I will try to find the source :) Jul 9, 2022 at 1:34
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    You can read the following post:hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/3412/… The explanation is given by the Ramakrishna order Swami Chetananda who does not give any reference. Jul 9, 2022 at 3:52
  • @MissR Thank you so much for the article link. I don't have a copy of the Bengali article. At least I got a copy of this article. Yes, the symbolism is explained in a very similar way. I guess, the source must be there in his book. If you find the book you can write it as an answer with the source. Jul 9, 2022 at 5:13

1 Answer 1


Sir John George Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon) provides a detailed symbolism for the Garland as well as the Girdle in his commentary to Verse Six & Seven of the Sri Karpuradi Stotram.

The excerpts are taken from the book - 'Hymns To The Goddess And Hymn to Kali' by Arthur Avalon.



O Devi! of full breasts, whose throat is adorned with a garland of heads, They who meditating recite any one or two or three of Thy very secret and excelling Bijas or all thereof together with Thy name, in the moonlike face of all such the Devi of Speech ever wanders, and in their lotus-like eyes, Kamala ever plays.


Whose neck (Munda-sragaiisaya-lasal-kanti)

She who is S'abdabrahman consisting of 50 letters. Niruttara- Tantra says, A She is adorned with a garland of heads representing the 50 letters.’

Kamadhenu-Tantra says, "In My throat is the wonderful Blja of 50 letters." Again I worship the Mother the source of the universe S'abdabrahman itself* blissful. ’.

Visvasara says - 'Blissful Brahman is adorned with S'abdabrahman and within the body is represented by all Mantras.'



O Mother, even a dullard becomes a poet who meditates upon Thee raimented with space, three-eyed, Creatrix of the three worlds, whose waist is beautiful with a girdle made of numbers of dead men’s arms, and who on the breast of a corpse, as Thy couch in the cremation-ground, enjoyest Mahakala.


Whose loins (Bahuprakarakrtakaticiparilasannitambam)

At the end of each Kalpa all Jivas abandon their gross bodies, and existing in their subtle bodies in which their respective Karmas inherent form part of the Avidya which is in the causal body of the Brahmarupinl associated with Her own Gunas (Svaguna) until they are liberated at some future time after the commencement of the next Kalpa. Hence the girdle adorning the loins lower belly and generative organ of the MahadevI vlratrupini, capable of producing children, is fashioned of the arms and hands of dead Jivas, For these arms and hands were their principal instruments for the doing or work (Karma).

The S'aktanandatarariginI says, With Karma is a Jiva born with Karma he dies and in the next body again that Karma is attached to him Devigita says, In Her at dissolution Jivas and their Karmas arc merged in undifferentiated mass, just as all which is done (Vyavahara) merges in dreamless sleep (Susupti). Again the Devi says, It is I who create the whole world and enter therein with Prana, Maya, Karma and so forth.

  • So the Garland is a representation of the Devanagari letters, She being the source of the sound, and all the Mantras.

  • The Girdle represents the cyclic Karmic nature of a Jiva who's reborn again and again after each successive dissolution and creation, merging and emerging from and into Mahakali in each cycle.

On a side note, there's a description of Mahakali, provided by Shiva in Chapter 13 of the Mahanirvana Tantra, which although not relevant to this question, nevertheless, does provide the symbolism behind the Saguna Aspect of the Goddess.

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