Figure of Kālī striding over recumbent Śiva. Her necklace is formed of several skulls, while in her hand she carries a further gory trophy. Her crown is of a specifically Bengali type. Made of painted and gilded clay.
During the battle between Durga and Mahisha, the goddess became so incensed that her wrath burst out of her forehead in the form of Kali ('the black'), who symbolizes both the creative and destructive powers of time. Her blackness hints at the dissolution of individuality in the timeless darkness which is also filled with the potential for new life. Kali loves battlefields and cremation grounds, where she dances surrounded by jackals and ghouls among the smoking funeral pyres. Once her frenzied dancing threatened the stability of the whole universe, so the gods plead with Shiva to intervene. He succeeded in calming her by throwing himself among the corpses under her feet.
Clay images, such as this, were and still are fashioned for the Kalipuja, one of the most important festivals in Bengal, which is celebrated in the autumn. Once the ceremonies are completed the images are paraded through the streets and then immersed in the waters of a lake or river where they dissolve.
It has been suggested that this image was produced in Krishnanagar, an important centre for clay-image production following the settlement there of craftsmen from Natore by Maharaja Krishnachandra Ray (1710-1783), the famous royal devotee of Kali and promoter of her cult who was instrumental in developing the Durga Puja as a major public ritual.
This image belongs to a group of ten painted-clay sculptures of deities, including other goddesses, which must have been made before 1894, when they came to the British Museum. These wonderful clay images illustrating the myths of Bengal are important indicators of the work of nineteenth century craftsmen who drew on traditions reaching back several centuries and whose descendants continue this ancient custom to this day.
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