Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shri Mahakali

The Hindu goddess Shri Mahakali is the fearsome destroyer of evil, an archetype which has appeared also outside of India. In Hindu iconography she is usually depicted with wide eyes, terrifying expression and protruding tongue, and sometimes sharp fangs.
The Gorgon of ancient Greece was originally a goddess whose image enjoyed positions of prestige on the facades of temples and at the centre of shields, where it was placed to repel negative forces.
There are many similarities between the cultures of ancient Greece and India. This could be due to physical cross-pollination between the two regions, or the archetypes may have emerged independently from the collective unconscious. It is likely that a terrific feminine aspect of the Divine fulfilled a need in the collective psyche of the Hindus and the Greeks.

The top image shows the Gorgon's head on the aegis (see Wikipedia entry below) of the goddess Athena, protecting the centre heart.
The winged Gorgon (middle) is from the pediment of a temple (Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily), below this is a Hindu statue of Shri Mahakali, and the bottom image is a bronze head from a shield (National Archaeological Museum of Athens).

From Wikipedia:
An aegis is a large collar or cape worn in ancient times to display the protection provided by a high religious authority or the holder of a protective shield signifying the same, such as a bag-like garment that contained a shield. Sometimes the garment and the shield are merged, with a small version of the shield appearing on the garment. It originally was derived from the protective shield associated with a religious figure when related in myths and images. The wearing of the aegis and its contents show sponsorship, protection, or authority derived from yet a higher source or deity. The name has been extended to many other entities, and the concept of a protective shield is found in other mythologies, while its form varies across sources.
Now, the more modern concept of doing something "under someone's aegis" means doing something under the protection of a powerful, knowledgeable, or benevolent source. The word aegis is identified with protection by a strong force with its roots in Greek mythology and adopted by the Romans; there are parallels in Norse mythology and in Egyptian mythology as well, where the Greek word aegis is applied by extension.

A protective Gorgon's head is visible on the breastplate worn by Alexander the Great, in this first century BC mosaic.


Anonymous said...

Can I use your image of a Gorgon in a blog post? I don't know if the image in common domain, but I thought I should ask. Email me at

jeronimus said...

Hi. I'm not the owner of any of the images in the post. I found them with Google image search and there were no owners identified, so I assumed they are in the public domain. As long as you are using the image for scholarly rather than commercial use, there should not be a problem posting it on a blog post. Google has a new feature where you can upload a photo to it and it will try to find the same image, so that might be a way of finding the source of the image.