The Goddess Kali: Background information when reading The Strangler Vine

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Strangler Vine

by Miranda J. Carter

The Strangler Vine by Miranda J. Carter X
The Strangler Vine by Miranda J. Carter
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 384 pages
    Feb 2016, 400 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
Buy This Book

About this Book

The Goddess Kali

This article relates to The Strangler Vine

Print Review

In The Strangler Vine, a nomadic tribe of Indian bandits, known to history as Thugs, first charm and then strangle fellow travelers in the name of the Hindu goddess Kali. The appropriation of Kali by the Thuggee to justify their murders is the subject of some ongoing historical debate. While Kali is a Hindu goddess, it has been argued that a large number of Thugs were in fact Muslim. Doubts have further been raised about the existence of the Thuggee cult at all, as its existence was only recorded by British imperialists who may have had a vested interest in creating a feared band of murderers. A more recent and well-reviewed consideration of the evidence can be found in Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult by Mike Dash.

Kali, which translates as "the black one" is one of several incarnations of the Mother Goddess, known as Shakti or Durga, the source of all the energy and creativity in the universe. Shakti is a consort of Shiva, one of the three principal Hindu Gods, the other two being Vishnu and Brahma. Some incarnations of Shakti – for example Sati and Parvati – are loving and caring goddesses, but others, including Kali, are less so.

The Goddess Kali Depictions of Kali show a dark blue/black-skinned woman with blood-red eyes and multiple arms. She is often naked, apart from a girdle made of dismembered arms and a garland or necklace made of skulls. She has a third eye in the center of her forehead and her tongue sticks out. In one hand she holds high a sword, in another she holds a dismembered head.

One traditional story about Kali begins with a monster named Raktabija destroying the world. It was said that every time he was wounded a thousand demons sprang from his blood. The other gods asked Kali for help and she began by killing the demons and drinking their blood so they could not multiply. When only Raktabija was left she ate him. Delirious in victory, it is said that Kali began to dance, and as she did so in a trance, the earth began to shake. Fearing she would destroy the world, Shiva tried to calm her but she was in a frenzy. In desperation he threw himself on the ground in front of her. At first she continued dancing, even standing on Shiva's body, but when she realized she was standing on her own husband, unthinkable in Hinduism, she stopped and the world was saved.

Although fearful in appearance, Kali is associated with time and with the natural cycles of life and death. For some she represents the darkness of the universe before life even began. She is concerned with death certainly, but can also be seen as forgiving. Some of the macabre parts of her appearance have symbolic value: for example the fifty human-head garland she wears stands for the fifty phonemes (sounds) of the Sanskrit alphabet and is believed to signify infinite knowledge. More important, Kali is an avenger, a strong face of womanhood and although she may be cruel, her violence is just.

Durga Puja statues with Durga in middle The Goddess Kali is celebrated in a glorious nine-day festival, Durga Puja, especially popular in northeast India, where it is a massive affair akin to Christmas in the West. Specially erected structures showcase the Goddess and her children, the goddesses Lakshmi (of wealth) and Saraswati (of knowledge) and Gods Kartikeya and Ganesha (the elephant-headed remover of obstacles). The signature sounds of the dhak, a special drum, are one of the many highlights of this Hindu festival.

To listen to the sounds of the dhak and the shankh (conch shell) during Durga Puja, and for a quick tour of many installations in northeast India, click on the video below:

Picture of Goddess Kali from Festivals of India
Picture of Durga Puja installation by Rakesh Mallick

Article by Kate Braithwaite

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Strangler Vine. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the February 2016 paperback edition.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: An American Summer
    An American Summer
    by Alex Kotlowitz
    As a Chicagoan, I've become used to the most common reactions when I'm traveling and tell someone ...
  • Book Jacket: The Sun Is a Compass
    The Sun Is a Compass
    by Caroline Van Hemert
    Caroline Van Hemert fell in love with her future husband, Pat, in 2001, discovering they shared a ...
  • Book Jacket: Women Talking
    Women Talking
    by Miriam Toews
    Miriam Toews' Women Talking is a circadian novel, unfolding over a span of just a few hours and ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    D-Day Girls
    by Sarah Rose

    The dramatic story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain's elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Courting Mr. Lincoln
    by Louis Bayard

    A master storyteller at the height of his powers, delivers a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Women Rowing North

The instant New York Times bestseller

A guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.