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Kāla (Sanskrit: काल, translit. kālá, [kaːlɐ]) is a word used in Sanskrit to mean "time". It is also the name of a deity, in which sense it is not always distinguishable from kāla, meaning "black". It is often used as one of the various names or forms of Yama.
According to Monier-Williams, kāla 2 is from the verbal root kal "to calculate", while the root of kāla 1 is uncertain, though possibly the same.
As applied to gods and goddesses in works such as the Devī Māhātmya and the Skanda Purāṇa, kāla 1 and kāla 2 are not readily distinguishable. Thus Wendy Doniger, translating a conversation between Śiva and Pārvatī from the Skanda Purāṇa, says Mahākāla may mean " 'the Great Death' ... or 'the Great Black One' ". And Swāmī Jagadīśvarānanda, a Hindu translator of the Devī Māhātmya, renders the feminine compound kāla-rātri (where rātri means "night") as "dark night of periodic dissolution".
Kala appears as an impersonal deity within the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavata Purana. In the Mahabharata, Krishna, one of the main characters, reveals his identity as Time personified. He states to Arjuna that both sides on the battlefield of the Kurukshetra War have already been annihilated. At the end of the epic, the entire Yadu dynasty (Krishna's family) is similarly annihilated. The story ends with Yudhishthira, the last of the Pandava brothers, entering Heaven in his human form, thereby closing the link. In Heaven, Yudi sees everyone within the story, both people whom he hated, and people whom he loved, and is happy to see them all. He then sees their transcendent cosmic forms, Krishna as Vishnu, Draupadi as uma, and realizes that the participants in the play were merely gods in human form, engaging in pastimes and working out their karma. Yudi then abandons his bitterness and spends the rest of eternity in Heaven, it is a happy ending.
Kala appears in the Uttara Kanda of the Ramayana, as the messenger of Death (Yama). At the end of the story, Time, in the form of inevitability or necessity, informs Rama that his reign on Earth is now over. By a trick or dilemma, he forces the death of Lakshmana, and informs Rama that he must return to the realm of the gods. Lakshmana willingly passes away with Rama's blessing and Rama returns to Heaven.
Time appears in the Bhagavata Purana as the force that is responsible for the imperceptible and inevitable change in the entire creation. According to the Purana, all created things are illusory, and thereby subject to creation and annihilation, this imperceptible and inconceivable impermanence is said to be due to the march of Time. Similarly, Time is considered to be the unmanifest aspect of God that remains after the destruction of the entire world at the end of a lifespan of Brahma.
In the Chaitanya Bhagavata, a Gaudiya Vaishnavist text and biography of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, it is said that the fire that emerges from the mouth of Sankarshana at the End of Time is the Kālānala, or "fire of Time". One of the names of Sankarshana is kālāgni, also "fire of Time".
कालो ऽस्मि लोकक्षयकृत् प्रवृद्धो लोकान् समाहर्तुम् इह प्रवृत्तः ।
This verse means: "Time (kāla) I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people." This phrase is famous for being quoted by J. Robert Oppenheimer as he reflected on the Manhattan Project's explosion of the first nuclear bomb in 1945.
In Borobudur, the gate to the stairs is adorned with a giant head, making the gate look like the open mouth of the giant. Many other gates in Javanese traditional buildings have this kind of ornament. Perhaps the most detailed Kala Face in Java is on the south side of Candi Kalasan.