Mother Kali, Much Maligned

From 'The Temple of Doom' to 'Footballer's Wives,' movies and TV shows unfairly portray the goddess as a blood-thirsty demoness.

Some days back I was discussing classic films with friends who work at the same cinema as me, when the subject of the Indiana Jones movies came up. I said that that as a Hindu and a devotee of

Goddess Kali

, I found the portrayal of Kali in Temple of Doom disturbing. The others seemed surprised to hear this. "Why would you be offended?? Kali is a demoness, isn't she?"

It hadn't occurred to me till then how films like these can have a lasting effect in molding the views of people that watched them. I tried to correct my friends, explaining the philosophy underlying

the concept of Mother Kali.

A girl replied: "If Kali is a great Mother Goddess and venerated by millions of Hindus all over the world, then why is she always shown as an evil blood thirsty demoness in all these films? Surely this image must have come from somewhere."

My mind goes back to the 1939 George Stevens escapist adventure movie "Gunga Din." The film is about a trio of Her Majesty's finest British soldiers in India, where they take on an uprising of Kali-worshipping Thugees. The Thugees are used as the all-purpose evil enemy dedicated to the slaughter of white men, while chanting, "Kill for the love of Kali, kill as you yourselves would be killed, kill for the love of killing... kill, kill, kill!"


"Gunga Din" influenced the way that many westerners of that era viewed India and Hinduism in general, giving the impression of a backward country full of brutal pagan savages (Hindus).

"It was the kind of Fascist film you could see before WWII." So said the film's producer, George Stevens, later in his career. However, in the case of Hindus and especially in case of the much-maligned Goddess Kali, you can still make this kind of "Fascist" film, as was to be proven by Steven Spielberg with his "Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom."

Here again we come across Kali as a bloodthirsty demoness lusting after human flesh and worshipped by adoring throngs of entranced, arm-waving, dehumanized followers, this time led by priest Mola Ram. In the narrative there are lines like, "Mola Ram. Prepare to meet Kali... in Hell!"

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