Sacrificial Sword (Rāmdāo)

Indian, Bengal (?) or Nepalese

Not on view

Just as Durgā was a manifestation of the focused anger of the gods, so too was the godess Kālī (literally, "the black one") an emanation born of the wrath of Durgā. Kālī is worshiped both as the most bloodthirsty member of the Hindu pantheon and, conversely, as the most life affirming. The goddess's dichotomous nature as destroyer and savior is implicit in sacramental weapons, which were used in the ritualistic slaughter of animals offered to her as sacrifices.

Kālī is said to have sprung fully formed, in the midst of battle, from the forehead of an enraged Durgā. The very image of death, with dark shriveled skin, wild disheveled hair, a wide gaping mouth with bared fangs, clad only in a necklace and skirt made from the body parts of her opponents, and driven by an insatiable lust for their blood, she is the consummate destroyer. She also appears as the personified rage of other, usually benign, goddesses, including Pārvatī, Satī, and Sītā. In some episodes of Kālī's legends her fury reaches such dangerous proportions that it can be quelled only by the death of her husband, Shiva. In effect, he sacrifices himself to Kālī by appearing as a corpse at her feet amid the carnage she has wrought, so that in recognizing him she will realize the impact of the destruction she has caused.

From Kālī's role as the ultimate agent of death there evolved the other fundamental aspect of her persona, that of the universal mother, the ultimate source of life. As such she is the principal deity of Shaktism, the worship of the trancendent female generative forces that are the font of all life and stability in the universe. Although wild and deadly, with a mouth reddened by blood, this Kālī can also be young and beautiful. In her resides the complete life cycle, from the creation of existence out of the void to its inevitable return to nothingness.

The worship of Kālī, like that of the other Indian goddesses who are revered for their generative powers, regularly includes blood sacrifice, which was once carried out with weapons such as this rāmdāo. This top-heavy sword was used to decapitate sacrificial buffalo in commemoration of the slaying of the buffalo demon, Mahisha, by Kālī's progenitor, Durgā. Two lighter swords also in the Metropolitan Museum's collection, of the type called either kartrī or churī, were intended for smaller animals such as goats (see acc. nos. 36.25.1285, .1286). The eye engraved on the blade signifies the presence of the goddess as she watches over the sacrifice. The hump-like projection above the eye on the back edge of the rāmdāo represents the tasseled hat of the defeated buffalo demon. The hat is sometimes also seen in paintings of Durgā, floating above her head as she battles demon armies, as a symbol of her victory over Mahisha. Animals sacrificed during worship are thought to have been liberated instantly from the painful cycle of rebirth to which Hindus believe all living creatures are bound. The sacrifices are intended to nourish the goddess and to secure from her the blessings of life.

Sacrificial Sword (Rāmdāo), Steel, wood, brass, Indian, Bengal (?) or Nepalese

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