Maha-Kala (Great Time)

Maha-Kala (Great Time)

In the tradition of India, the creation of the uni­verse is the purpose and significance of Maha- Kala, or Great Time. The Great Time is personified by the god Siva and his alter-ego Maha-Kala. Siva is the artistic part of creation. Maha-Kala is the power (called Pralaya or the Great Dissolution) to dissolve the universe. Destruction is necessary for creation; reproduction requires both creation and destruction. This interaction is the reproduction of nature and the cycle of birth and death. Both male and female principles are at work: The female is destructive by dissolving what is ceasing to exist into herself; the male is creative by being the source of new existence continually being created in the universe; this interaction is repre­sented by the concept of Sankara.

Siva Maha-Kala represents the continual rebirth of the universe, which is going on continuously. Also, it is the life cycle of the universe, which is born, matures, and dies. The universe is created by Siva and destroyed by Maha-Kala. New universes are created out of the destruction of the previous universe. This then brings about the Mahadaeva, who is the deity without comparison—the Great God who is Siva.

Unity is the restorer, which is symbolized by Linga the Phallus, or Global Oneness. The linga is the erect penis of Siva, which represents the respect and meaning of life. When combined with Yoni, the symbol for the female genitals, it becomes the reproduction of the universe. Yoni is the center of all that is spiritual. Through this union of the material and the spiritual, the universe is formed.

Maha-Kala is the destroyer essence of Siva; but she is more than that. She is the force that absorbs all of creation unto her. From this material, which Maha-Kala allocates into her womb, Siva can fash­ion the universe once more. The destroyer is the regenerator. Through destruction, rebirth and evo­lution are possible. Through understandings of the nature of destruction and creation, union with true enlightenment becomes possible.

Mahayogin is the knowledge of the secrets of the universe. Because of this, Maha-Kala is the destroyer of human passions. With the annihila­tion of all excitement, true enlightenment is possi­ble. With illumination, it is possible to achieve ultimate understanding and tranquility in the end­less shifting cosmos and escape from the affliction and suffering of life, existence, death, and fate.

Siva Maha-Kala is also the Nataraja, the lord of dancers and the dance of creation, destruction, embodiment, liberation, and maintenance. With the invention of the cosmos, the devastation of creation is realizable. The personification of the interaction of contrary forces brings release and preservation from stagnation. Nataraja is the artis­tic representation of Siva Maha-Kala through dance. The dance expresses the continuing creation and destruction of the universe as a single interac­tive and ongoing process. The dance makes clear that creation is a movement in which the universe creates itself out of its own destruction. This is why Nataraja is important in this vital understanding.

In different regions, people find different ways to express this insight. Different stories were devel­oped to understand Siva Maha-Kala nature. In South India, in the woods of Maharashtra, lived a group of sages who had strayed from the Way. Siva and Vishnu tried to win the mystics back and restore rule over the area. Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman, and the anger of the monks increased. Siva Maha-Kala danced to break down the priests’ control over the region. The philoso­phers then created a tiger out of fire to pounce and kill Siva Maha-Kala. Siva Maha-Kala very gently removed the pelt of the tiger and covered himself with the fur of the tiger as if it were a robe. Then a venomous serpent was formed. Siva placed the snake around his neck, which became a most beautiful garland. The heretics then shaped together a giant who looked like an overgrown and deformed dwarf. Siva Maha-Kala broke this monster’s back, returning substance to the earth. With song and dance, malevolence was overcome, and everything foul was recycled to create beauty.

Nataraja the dancer produces ecstasy, through which the divine embraces human life. Through the dance, life embraces the four directions. Siva Maha-Kala holds the hourglass drum, which is creation. The drum becomes the pulse of the uni­verse. Sound is the first element created by the universe. From the sound and songs of the universe came the Sanskrit language—the second element and the carrier of wisdom.

Siva Maha-Kala then holds up the tongue of flames that is the next element. Fire is the destroyer. It is the element of destruction, annihilation, and extinction that generates the raw materials for cre­ation to begin again. From this, Abahaya, or protection, is born. Protection is needed for life. Through this dance, Siva Maha-Kala gives birth to the son he sired. Ganesha, the son, removes obsta­cles to enlightenment, leading to the escape from birth and death.

Original beginnings and inspired strength are possible when slothfulness, apathy, and preoccu­pation with self are overcome. The soul of the universe rests within the spirit of each individual. Through wisdom, the understanding of this rela­tionship can be appreciated.

Eternity and Time embrace each other. The mountain streams feed the oceans of the world. Siva is both Kala (fleeting time) and Maha-Kala (the Great Time or eternity). Mahayugas, or Great Eons, are but flashes of time. Eternity and Time stand in continual unity, conflict, disintegration, and reunity at every point from the eternal past to the eternal future. Time is the tension between destruction and reproduction.

Buddhism and Maha-Kala

With the rise of Buddhism, Maha-Kala became the realization of the eternity of ever-changing time. Ngawang Drakpa founded the Dhe-Tsang monastery. While traveling in the region of Eastern Tibet, a large crow flew down to the monk and pilfered his scarf. Days later and some distance away, the monk discovered his scarf draped over a juniper tree. This became the spot the monastery was built. To this day in Tibet, Maha-Kala means the “great black one.”

The local Bonpo (the indigenous animistic mas­ters) feared the coming of Buddhism. They used magic to prevent the building of the Buddhist monastery. What the Buddhists built during the day would collapse at night. When the crow, Maha-Kala, saw this, he carried a correspondence between Ngawang Drakpa in Dhe-Tsang and the Most Holy Master Tsongkhapa in Lhasa. From this communique, the solitary hero Bhairava Sadhana was gathered. This enhanced and intensi­fied the decisive factors of Buddhism. Due to this improved Buddhism, the Bonpo monks became Buddhists.

With the construction of the monastery, it was agreed upon that there was a need for a guarding statue to protect the abbey. That very day, three black men from India showed up and offered their services. These sculptors were contracted to complete the sculpture. When work began on the figure, there was only one black man left. When the icon was only half-completed, a rite was planned and implemented to celebrate the holi­ness of the site. Tibetan dancers were asked to perform a dance of rejoicing for the ceremony that celebrated the founding of Buddhism in this region of Tibet. With dancing in progress, the black Indian began to dance. No human ever saw a dance more wild or beautiful. Everyone stopped what she or he was doing to watch the untamed magnificence. At the height of the performance, the sculptor disappeared and the image of Maha-Kala was completed. The same mysterious event occurred at the same time at other sites in which two other icons were constructed in exactly the same way. This was the work of none other than Maha-Kala, protector of the holy site and guardian to the Great Time.

Concluding Remarks

In the tradition of India, Maha-Kala represents time, eternity, destruction, and creation. This Great Time leads us to realize that our lives are transitory flashes in the eternal ocean of change. Because of this, our ignorance creates wisdom, pride becomes humility, desire leads to detach­ment, jealousy gives support to secure accom­plishments, and anger gives way to inner peace. Eternity is forever and changes constantly, being destroyed and reborn. The universe also returns to its beginnings and starts over. What happens to every individual happens to the universe.

Michael Joseph Francisconi

See also Cosmogony; Cosmology, Cyclic; Eternal Recurrence; Eternity; Nietzsche and Heraclitus; Time, Cyclical

Further Readings

Many forms of Mahakala, protector of Buddhist monasteries. (2005, January). Retrieved July 3, 2008, from

Miller, B. (1986). The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna’s counsel in time of war. New York: Bantam Classics.

Olivelle, P. (1998). The early Upanishads. Annotated text and translation. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Ramanujan, A. K. (1973). Speaking of Siva. New York: Penguin Classics.

Rig Veda. (2005). New York: Penguin Classics.

Shiva as Nataraja—Dance and destruction in Indian art. (2001, January). Retrieved July 3, 2008, from http://

Tulku, U. R. (2004). As it is. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Valenza, R. (1994). Maha Kala in the center. Occidental, CA: Nine Muses.

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