Home Page Of Parvati

Rivaling Lashmi in popularity in the Hindu tradition is the goddess Parvati. Unlike Lashmi, Parvati has hardly any independent history of her own. Her identity and nature and nearly all her mythological deeds are defined or acted out vis-a-vis her consort/husband, the I great ascetic god Shiva. Since epic times, when Parvati first appeared as a significant deity, she has been identified as a reincarnation of the goddess Sati, Shiva’s first wife, who committed suicide because of an insult to her husband. So closely associated is Parvati with Sati that the two goddesses are usually treated as one, and their mythologies eventually come to sound very much alike. Both are defined in terms of their courtship and marriage with Shiva, and Parvatl’s mythology is almost always treated as the ongoing story of Sati.

In classical Hindu mythology the raison d’etre of Parvati’s (and Sati’s) birth is to lure Shiva into marriage and thus into the wider circle of worldly life from which he is aloof as a lone ascetic living in the wilds of the mountains. This goddess (in both persons, as Sati and Parvati) represents the complementary pole to the ascetic, world-denying pole in the Hindu tradition. In her role as maiden, wife, and later mother (as Parvati) she extends Shiva’s circle of activity into the realm of the householder, where his stored-up energy is released in positive ways.

As is the case with Lashmi, Parvati comes to represent certain philosophic absolutes in her association with Shiva. As his sakti, or embodied

power, she becomes identified with the creative force of the cosmos and the underlying potency of things. Also like Lashmi she takes on a paradigmatic role as the ideal wife and mother. In fact, the act of suttee (Sanskrit sati), in which a Hindu widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre as a final and consummate act of loyalty and devotion, is patterned on the goddess Sati, from whom the name of the act is ~ derived. In some schools of Saivism Parvati also assumes the role of ideal devotee. Finally, in Saiva Siddhanta, a southern school of Saiv-
ism, Parvati sometimes takes on the role of Shiva’s embodied grace and thus comes to play a role somewhat similar to Srl-Laksmi’s role in Sri

Early References To Parvati

The goddess Sati-Parvati does not appear in Vedic literature. Several references to Shiva’s sister or wife do occur in Vedic texts, but the names for these deities only connect them tenuously, if at all, to the later Sati-Parvati. A being named Ambika (a common epithet for several goddesses in the later tradition, especially Durga) is called Shiva’s sister in one passage, while in another text she is said to be his consort, elsewhere in Vedic literature Shiva’s wife is called Rudrani. These references are never detailed enough to enable us to know if the deity named has any resemblance to the later, fully developed goddess Sati-Parvati.

The Kena-upanisad contains a goddess named Uma Haimavati. This is one of the most common names of the later Satl-ParvatI, but this reference does not associate the goddess with Shiva, nor does it associate her with mountains, except by name (Haimavati meaning “she who belongs to Himavat,” who is the Himalaya Mountains personified

as a god). Her primary role in this text is that of a mediator who reveals the knowledge of brahman to the gods. She appears in the text suddenly, and as suddenly disappears. It is little more than conjecture to identify her with the later goddess Sati-Parvati, although quite naturally later writers do make the identification when describing the exploits of Sati or Parvati. To devotees of the goddess this early Upaniadic reference provides proof of her venerable history in the Hindu tradition; later texts ~ that extol Shiva and Parvati retell the episode in such a way as to leave no doubt that it is Shiva’s spouse who appears before the assembled gods in order to reveal to them the truth that Shiva is absolute reality and underlies them all.

Both textual and archaeological evidence for the existence of Sati-Parvati appear by the epic period (400 B.C.-A. D. 400). Both the ~ Ramayana and Mahabharata present Sati-Parvati as the wife of Shiva. Several important mythological events, though not told in detail, are referred to in the epics, and it is clear that the central themes of the later, developed mythology featuring Sati-Parvati are known to the epic writers. The Mahabharata describes the destruction of DakSa’s sacrifice (10.18; 12.274), mentions the birth of Karttikeya and the defeat of the demon Taraka), and describes Shiva and Parvati as dwelling in the Himalayas, where they sport and play dice. Although not numerous, some images of Parvati, or atleast a goddess associated with Shiva or a Saiva symbol, appear on coins
in this period.

The Mythology Of Sati

Not until the plays of Kalidasa (fifth to sixth century A.D.) and the Puranas (A.D. 350 through the thirteenth century) do we find the central myths of Sati and Parvati told in detail. Two distinct goddesses emerge in this fully developed mythology: Sati, the daughter of Daksa, who becomes Shiva’s first wife, and Parvati, daughter of Himavat and his wife Mena, who is a reincarnation of Sati and becomes Shiva’s second wife. Although the mythologies of the two goddesses (or the two lives of the same goddess) are similar in many details (and have probably influenced each other), each goddess (or each life of the goddess) is distinctive enough to be treated separately.

– The goddess Sati sets out to win the great god Shiva for her busband. In some versions of the myth Sati’s quest is instigated by the god Brahma, Daka’s father, who wants to humiliate Shiva because Shiva had insulted him earlier. Shiva had laughed at Brahma when Brahma had lusted after his own daughter, and Brahma vowed to seduce Shiva into the pangs of sexual passion. Elsewhere the motive is more vague. In the Rudra-samhita of the Shiva-purana Brahma says that if Shiva is not involved in the created world the creation will lack auspiciousness (in fact Shiva means “auspicious”) or that the creation simply will not be able to continue. In fact, these latter reasons for involving Shiva in sex and marriage are more helpful in understanding the underlying meanings of the Sati myths than the more common reason of Brahma’s getting even with Shiva.

Sail is usually described as beautiful, but in most versions of her mythology it is her devotion and asceticism that attract Shiva’s attention . At times she is tested by Shiva, or an agent of Shiva, but she always persists, and in the end Shiva grants her a boon for her austerities. She asks to marry him, and he agrees, having discovered at some point the presence of desire {kama), which has made her extremely desirable. She insists upon a proper marriage involving rituals and guests, despite Shiva’s impatience. Brahma acts as the divine priest, and the two are duly married. At some point in the narrative, tension begins to develop between Daka (Sati’s father) and Shiva. The tension arises from Daksa’s distaste for Shiva’s odd appearance and strange habits. As a world renouncer Shiva does not behave according to the ways of the world, and his appearance is most unconventional.

Shiva and Sati retire to Shiva’s mountain abode and dally there for
many years. Daksa in the meantime plans a great sacrifice and invites all f I divine beings of any importance, except Shiva and Sati. Shiva is quite undisturbed by this deliberate snub. Sail, however, is furious at the insult
to her husband. She storms off to her father’s abode, where he snubs her. Outraged by the way in which her father has treated Shiva, she kills herself. Hearing the news of Sati’s death, Shiva becomes angry and creates Virabhadra and, in some versions of the mythology, other fierce beings. The demons proceed to Daksa’s sacrificial arena, where they defeat the assembled divine hosts and destroy the sacrifice. Daksa himself is usually said to be killed in the battle . Most versions of the story then tell of the reinstitution of the sacrifice and the resuscitation of Daksa. Shiva is included in the sacrifice along with the other gods, and the sacrifice proceeds smoothly.

In some versions of the myth, either before or after the reinstitution of the sacrifice, Shiva discovers Sat the demon Taraka), and describes Shiva and Parvati as dwelling in the Himalayas, where they sport and play dice. Although not numerous, some images of Parvati, or atleast a goddess associated with Shiva or a Saiva symbol, appear on coins in this period.

The Mythology Of Sati

Not until the plays of Kalidasa (fifth to sixth century A.D.) and the Puranas (A.D. 350 through the thirteenth century) do we find the central myths of Sati and Parvati told in detail. Two distinct goddesses emerge in this fully developed mythology: Sati, the daughter of Daksa, who becomes Shiva’s first wife, and Parvati, daughter of Himavat and his wife Mena, who is a reincarnation of Sati and becomes Shiva’s second wife. Although the mythologies of the two goddesses (or the two lives of the same goddess) are similar in many details (and have probably influenced each other), each goddess (or each life of the goddess) is distinctive enough to be treated separately.

The goddess Sati sets out to win the great god Shiva for her busband. In some versions of the myth Sati’s quest is instigated by the god Brahma, Daka’s father, who wants to humiliate Shiva because Shiva had insulted him earlier.6 Shiva had laughed at Brahma when Brahma had lusted after his own daughter, and Brahma vowed to seduce Shiva into the pangs of sexual passion. Elsewhere the motive is more vague. In the Rudra-samhita of the Shiva-purana Brahma says that if Shiva is not involved in the created world the creation will lack auspiciousness (in fact Shiva means “auspicious”) or that the creation simply will not be able to continue. In fact, these latter reasons for involving Shiva in sex and marriage are more helpful in understanding the underlying meanings of the Sati myths than the more common reason of Brahma’s getting even with Shiva.

Sail is usually described as beautiful, but in most versions of her mythology it is her devotion and asceticism that attract Shiva’s attention. At times she is tested by Shiva, or an agent of Shiva, but she always persists, and in the end Shiva grants her a boon for her austerities. She asks to marry him, and he agrees, having discovered at some point the presence of desire {kama), which has made her extremely desirable. She insists upon a proper marriage involving rituals and guests, despite Shiva’s impatience. Brahma acts as the divine priest, and the two are duly married. At some point in the narrative, tension begins to develop between Daksa (Sati’s father) and Shiva. The tension arises

is body.

He picks her up and, sobbing in grief, carries her about the universe. This causes cosmic disruptions, and Vishnu is summoned to end Shiva’s grief. Vi$nu follows the grieving Shiva about and gradually slices bits and pieces from Sati’s body until nothing remains. The pieces of her corpse fall to the earth; wherever a bit of her body lands a sacred place, called a pitha, is established, where goddesses of various names and types become the objects of worship Realizing that Sati’s corpse has disappeared, Shiva ends his grief and returns to his mountain retreat, where he retires into ascetic aloofness. In some versions Shiva comes to earth in search of Sati. Finding her yoni established at Kamarupa in Assam s Shiva assumes the form of the linga and plunges himself into her, where the two remain conjoined permanently.

In general terms the underlying theme or meaning of this myth
seems fairly clear. The theme of Shiva’s alternation between the poles of asceticism and eroticism~ and the creative (sometimes destructive) tension that results from this alternation pervades the entire corpus of Shiva mythology. Underlying the mythology seems to be the assumption that Shiva’s stored-up potency, which accumulates during asceticism, should be released into the world to invigorate or enliven creation. In the logic of this mythology Sati plays the role of luring Shiva from ascetic isolation into creative participation in the world. This theme is further developed and embellished in the Parvati cycle of myths in which Shiva actually becomes involved in an ongoing family situation and becomes a divine householder.

In the Sati myths Shiva’s involvement in the world is most clearly suggested in the destruction and reinstitution of the sacrifice and his descent to earth to dwell with Sati’s yoni in the form of the linga. In the Vedic tradition Shiva is an ambiguous deity at best. He has many fear-some and inauspicious qualities, and when offerings are made to him they are made outside inhabited areas.” The theme in the Sati myths of Shiva’s exclusion from the sacrifice thus has considerable historical justification. Shiva was undoubtedly a non-Aryan indigenous deity who was looked upon with considerable suspicion by the Brahman custodians of the sacrificial cult.

His association with world renunciation, asceticism, and the powers of fertility as symbolized by the linga probably marked him as a deity who belonged to the fringes of society from the point of view of the Brahman establishment. The antagonism between Shiva and Dakea probably reflects this underlying conflict. Eventually, of course, Shiva became one of the most important and dynamic deities in the Hindu pantheon. The reinstitution of the sacrifice with Shiva included among those who partake of it probably represents his incorporation into established Brahman religion.

Sati’s devotion to Shiva and her outrage at the way he is treated eventually bring him within the sacrificial arena. He is indifferent to the doings of Dak$a until Sati kills herself because of the insult to her husband. Sati comes from the realm of established religion, the order of dharma, and marries into the realm of asceticism, thus combining in herself the two opposing worlds. When she kills herself she precipitates a clash between these two worlds, between Daksa and Shiva, which is initially destructive but ultimately beneficial and creative. Sati’s role is as a mediating influence between the two religious poles, both affirmed to be central, in the Hindu tradition.

Her ability to involve Shiva in the sacrifice makes Shiva, previously aloof from the world, accessible in the sacrificial cult, the primary point of which is to maintain and nourish the creation.

Sati performs a similar feat when her body is cut to pieces and falls to earth. By following her to earth and embedding himself in her yoni, Shiva is literally brought down to earth. Where previously he dwelled in the mountains and engaged in austerities, indifferent to the ongoing creation, he now is fully engaged in the creation as symbolized by the conjunction of the yoni and linga. Sati, in her role as mediator, has succeeded in involving the great ascetic god in the creation by transforming him into the great god of sexual power and vigor. Again, her role has been primarily that of making Shiva accessible to the world by attracting him to her in the form of the yoni. While Shiva may continue to perform heroic asceticism in his mountain retreat in one of his several forms, he continues to be accessible to the world in the form of the linga. In the myths of Sati, this is her triumph.

The establishment of centers of worship on earth where pieces of Sati’s body fell repeats the theme of making the divine accessible vis-avis Sati herself. In this myth the earth is sacralized (the earth being understood primarily as the Indian subcontinent). The earth itself is seen

as the body of the goddess Sati. She becomes the earth and as such is made accessible to her devotees or to those who seek her powers.” Sati’s death is thus transformative. Through her death she provokes Shiva into a direct conflict with the sacrificial cult and then an accommodation with it. In this way Shiva is brought within the circle of dharma, within the order of established religion. Similarly, Sati’s corpse, or pieces of her corpse, sacralize the earth. In dying she gives herself up to be accessible on earth to those who need her power or blessing. In transplanting or transforming herself into the earth, she also brings into the sphere of human society the invigorating power of Shiva in the form of the linga.

The Sati myth again reminds us of the archaic type of divine pair in which a male deity is associated with the sky and a female deity with the earth. Their union or marriage is necessary for life to be generated and sustained. Sati’s identification with the earth and Shiva’s identification with the distant Himalayas and their subsequent union as yoni and lihga seem to be a variant on this theme. The main point of the Sati mythology is to bring about a marriage between these two deities so that creation may continue and prosper. The concluding chapter of Sati’s mythology makes it clear that this has been accomplished. In the form of the yoni (all individual women) she attracts Shiva (all individual men) eternally.

The goddess Sati is also associated with the practice of widow suicide in Hinduism.” During the medieval period the custom of widows’ burning themselves to death on their husbands’ funeral pyres became accepted as the act of a faithful wife. The word sati (suttee) came to be applied to this practice. The term means “faithful wife,” and its relation to the goddess Sati is clear in the sense that Sati is portrayed as a faithful wife of Shiva. It is not altogether clear, however, that Sati’s suicide provides the mythological paradigm for suttee. Sati’s suicide, although provoked by an insult to her husband, causes her husband considerable grief and outrage. The whole point of suttee is for the widow to follow her dead husband. She affirms in this act that she cannot live without him, that her entire identity is bound up with his. Sati’s suicide, although perhaps the act of a faithful wife who cannot endure insults to her husband, results not in her maintaining a relationship with her husband but in her breaking that relationship.

The Mythology Of Parvati

Parvati’s name, which means “she who dwells in the mountains” or “she who is of the mountain,” and her many epithets, such as Sailasuta (daughter of the mountain peaks), Giriputri (daughter of the mountains), Girirajaputri (daughter of the king of the mountains), Girisa (mistress of the mountains), identify her with mountainous regions. It is quite possible that Parvati’s early history and origin may lie with a goddess who dwelled in the mountains and was associated with non-Aryan tribal peoples. Such goddesses are sometimes referred to in Sanskrit texts.” Such a goddess would be an appropriate mate for Shiva, himself a deity who dwells in mountainous regions and on the fringes of society. Indeed, Pirvati herself is described as a female forester in the company of Shiva, who is also described as a forester in the Mahabharata.

For the most part, however, Parvati’s mythology does not describe her as a goddess associated with wild places or with people living on the fringes of culture. She is not usually included in lists of the group of goddesses called Matrkas (mothers), who are described as bloodthirsty, the bringers of disease, the speakers of foreign tongues, and fond of inaccessible places, If Parvati ever was associated with such a tradition, almost every trace of that identity is gone by the time we find her mentioned in the Hindu literary tradition.

Parvati’s mythology is almost entirely dominated by her association with Shiva. Her nature, too, develops or is characterized by her relationship with Shiva. Although in certain Sakta texts she is said to transcend Shiva and to subsume within herself all male deities” or in other texts is identified with certain philosophic absolutes, for the most part these are late embellishments on her mythology and character and are the result of a theological effort on the part of devotees partial to various goddesses (the Saktas) to assert the underlying unity of all goddesses. Parvati is primarily the goddess who is Shiva’s wife, she who won him as her husband after heroic efforts and who persuaded or provoked him into creating a child, who was necessary for the preservation of the world.

Most renditions of Parvati’s mythology explain the goddess’s birth as necessary for producing a child of Shiva. The demon Taraka has been granted the boon of being invincible to any creature except a child of Shiva. As Shiva is an ascetic, the gods have to find a woman or goddess capable of luring Shiva into a sexual encounter or marriage. Parvati is usually understood to be a reincarnation of Sati and sometimes is described as consenting to be reborn to the help of the gods when she is petitioned by them.In some versions Parvati (and Sati) are understood to be manifestations of the supreme reality in the universe, the Mahadevi (great goddess), who condescends to incarnate herself for much the same reason that Vishnu does in his avataras, to maintain the balance between dharma and adharma. Sometimes the reason given by Parvati for her birth is her desire to reward Mena, the wife of Himavat, for her great devotion to Parvati in her former life as Sati.

Parvati, then, is born to Himavat and Mena. She is usually described as dark and in some versions is given the name Kali, “the dark one,” because of her complexion.” She is also described as very beautiful. In some accounts she shows a keen interest in Shiva from the outset, repeating his name to herself and taking delight in hearing about his appearance and deeds. While she is a child a sage comes to her home and after examining the marks on her body predicts that she will marry a naked yogi.” When it becomes clear that she is destined to marry Shiva, her parents are usually described as feeling honored. Parvati is delighted, and she is sometimes said to remember Shiva from her past life
as Sati.

At some point prior to or during Parvati’s attempts to attract Shiva’s attention for the purpose of marriage, the god Kama is sent by the gods to awaken Shiva’s lust. When he attracts Shiva’s attention with sounds and scents of spring and tries to perturb Shiva with his intoxicating weapons, Shiva burns him to ashes with the fire from his middle eye. Although the gods and Parvati lament Kama’s destruction, it is clear later in the story that Kama’s powers were not destroyed when he was burned, (or Shiva eventually falls in love with Parvati and recreates Kama in bodily form at the request of Kama’s wife, Rati. Parvati persists in her quest to win Shiva as her husband by setting out to perform austerities. One of the most effective ways to achieve what a person wants in traditional Hinduism is to perform tapis, “ascetic austerities.”

If one is persistent and heroic enough, one will generate so much heat (also called tapas) that the gods will be forced to grant the ascetic a wish in order to save themselves and the world from being scorched. Parvati’s method of winning Shiva is thus a common approach to fulfilling one’s desires. It is also appropriate, however, in

terms of demonstrating to Shiva that she can compete with him in his own realm, that she has the inner resources, control, and fortitude to cut herself off from the world and completely master her physical needs. By performing tapas Parvati abandons the world of the householder and enters the realm of the world renouncer, Shiva’s world. Most versions of the myth describe her as outdoing all the great sages in her austerities. She performs all the traditional mortifications, such as sitting in the midst of four fires in the middle of summer, remaining exposed to the elements during the rainy season and during the winter, living on leaves

or air only, standing on one leg for years, and so on.” Eventually she accumulates so much heat” that the gods are made uncomfortable and go to Shiva to persuade him to grant Parvatl’s wish so that she will cease her efforts.”

In some versions of the myth Parvati is tempted by an agent of Shiva, or by Shiva himself in disguise. She is told that Shiva’s appearance is terrible and that his habits are uncivilized and inauspicious,” She is urged to desist from her desire to marry such a distasteful character. Parvati is never dissuaded from her purpose by these temptations, and as a result of her steadfastness Shiva agrees to marry her.

The marriage is duly arranged and elaborately undertaken. Shiva’s marriage procession, which includes most of the Hindu pantheon, is often described atlength. A common motif during the marriage preparations is Mena’s outrage when she actually sees Shiva for the first time. She cannot believe that her beautiful daughter is about to marry such an outrageous-looking character; in some versions Mena threatens suicide and faints when told that the odd-looking figure in the marriage procession is indeed her future son-in-law.”

After the two are married they depart to Mount Kailasa, Shiva’s favorite dwelling place, and immerse themselves completely in sexual dalliance, which continues uninterruptedly for long periods of time. Their lovemaking is so intense that it shakes the cosmos, and the gods become frightened.” In some versions the gods are also frightened at the prospect of what a child will be like from the union of two such potent deities. They fear the child’s extraordinary powers. For whichever

reason (sometimes the gods are simply impatient), the gods interrupt Shiva and Parvati’s lovemaking. As a result Shiva spills his semen outside Parvati. The potent seed, which is extremely fiery and hot, passes from one container to another, the container varying in different versions of the myth, until it is finally contained in a suitable place, often the Ganges River, where it is incubated and born as the child Karttikeya. Karttikeya eventually finds his way back to his father and mother and by defeating the demon Taraka rescues the world. Parvati accepts the child as her own, and sometimes we are told that her breasts ooze milk in affection for the child when she first sees him.

A second child completes the divine family of Shiva and Parvati when Ganesa is born. Parvati, desiring privacy, wishes to have a child of her own who will protect her from unwanted intrusions. She creates Ganesa from the dirt and sweat of her body and commands him to guard the entrance to her house against any intruder. When Shiva himself tries to enter her apartments, Ganesa refuses to admit him. Shiva becomes angry and decapitates the boy. Parvati is furious and demands that Ganesa be restored to life. Shiva duly restores him to life by replacing his human head with an elephant head and puts him in charge of all his troops and heavenly attendants.

For the most part Shiva and Parvati’s married and family life is portrayed as harmonious, blissful, and calm. In iconography the two are typically shown sitting in happy, intimate embrace. As a family the four deities are also typically shown in harmonious association.A scene of the divine family in a painting from the Kangra school of art shows the foursome seated around a fire. Karttikeya and Parvati are helping each other thread a garland of skulls, while Shiva and Ganesa play idly with one of Shiva’s serpent ornaments. Many devotional hymns describe intimate family details, such as Karttikeya’s playing with Shiva’s skull ornaments or mistaking Shiva’s crescent moon for a lotus bud.

He touches the garland made of skulls
in hope that they are geese
and shakes the crescent moon with eagerness to grasp
a lotus filament.
Thinking the forehead-eye a lotus flower,
he tries to pry it open,
May Skanda thus intent on play
within his father’s arms protect you.

Shiva and Parvati do argue and insult each other from time to time. Bengali accounts of Shiva and Parvati often describe Shiva as an irresponsible, hemp-smoking husband who cannot look after himself. Parvati is portrayed as the long-suffering wife who complains from time to time to her mother but who always remains steadfast to her husband. Sometimes the outcome of a game of dice results in a quarrel, particularly when Shiva loses his loincloth to Parvati and she laughs at him. In another incident Shiva becomes angry at her when she playfully covers his eyes with her hands from behind and the world is plunged into darkness. On another occasion Parvati feels pique when Shiva calls her by the nickname Kali (blackie), which Parvati takes as a slur on her appearance. She resolves to rid herself of her dark complexion and does so by performing austerities.” Having assumed a golden complexion she then becomes known by the name Gauri (the bright or golden one), lr some versions of the myth her discarded, dark complexion or she at gives birth to or becomes a warrior goddess who undertakes heroic feat of combat against demons.

The presence of an alter ego or a dark, violent side to Parvati ii suggested in several myths in which demons threaten the cosmos and Parvati is asked to help the gods by defeating the demon in question Typically, when Parvati grows angry at the prospect of war, a violent goddess is born from her wrath and proceeds to fight on Parvati! behalf. This deity is often identified as the bloodthirsty goddess Kali. For the most part, however, the myths emphasize Parvati’s milder side So out of character is Parvati on the battlefield that another goddess, it seems, must be summoned to embody her wrath and dissociate this fur) from Parvati herself.

Tension & Resolution

The main theme of the Parvati cycle of myths is clear. The association between Pirvati and Shiva represents the perennial tension in Hinduism between the ascetic ideal and the householder ideal. Parvati. for the most part, represents the householder. Her mission in almost all renditions of the myth is to lure Shiva into the world of marriage, sex, and children, to tempt him away from asceticism, yoga, and otherworldly preoccupations. In this role Parvati is cast as a figure who upholds the order of dharma, who enhances life in the world, who represents the beauty and attraction of worldly, sexual life, who cherishes the house and society rather than the forest, the mountains, or the ascetic life.

In this role she repeats the feat of Sati in luring Shiva into an erotic relationship, which this time eventually brings him within the sacrificial, priestly order permanently. Parvati civilizes Shiva with her presence; indeed, she domesticates him. Of her role in relation to Shiva in the hymns of Manikkavacakar, a ninth-century poet-saint from South India, it has been said: “Shiva, the great unpredictable ‘madman’ (pittan, piccan), as Manikkavacakar occasionally addresses him . . . , is rendered momentarily sane (i.e., behaves in a socially acceptable manner) when in the company of the goddess. . . . Contact with his properly cultured spouse seems to connect him with ordinary social reality and temporarily domesticates him.”

The tension between Parvati and Shiva as representatives of the main types of religiosity in Hinduism is stated in various ways in the myths. Shiva is always said to have no family, no lineage, and no interest in progeny, which is one of the central concerns of the order of dharma and the householder’s religion. Parvati, on the contrary, is born into an established family and longs for marriage, children, and a home. Shiva is associated with fire, which dries up or burns up the juices of life. His inner fire is so intense that in one myth he is shown to contain ashes in his veins instead of blood. In one of the most famous of his myths he burns the god of lust to ashes with the fire from his middle eye. Parvati is associated with Soma, the deity or substance associated with the life essence of all plants.

In many myths it is she who asks Shiva to revive Kama, as she realizes that the god of sexual desire is at the root of the householder’s life. In relation to Kama, then, Shiva is a destructive fire, whereas Parvati is a refreshing, liquid glance: “While the fiery glance is Shiva, the Soma glance is Parvati, who revives Kama when Shiva has burnt him.”” Shiva is often said to wear on his body the ashes of the burnt Kama. Kama is resuscitated when Shiva embraces Parvati and the sweat from her body mingles with the ashes of the burned god. Elsewhere it is said that when Kama was burned by Shiva he entered the limbs of Parwati. In the most general terms, Shiva as Agni is the fire that destroys the world at the end of each cosmic age. Parvati as Soma, in contrast, is the cosmic waters from which the world is inevitably reborn.

Throughout Hindu mythology it is well known that one of Shiva’s principal functions is the destruction of the cosmos. In fact, Shiva has about him a wild, unpredictable, destructive aspect that is often mentioned. As the great cosmic dancer he periodically performs the tandava. an especially violent dance. Wielding a broken battle-ax, he dances so wildly that the cosmos is destroyed completely. In descriptions of this dance Shiva’s whirling arms and flying locks are said to crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly. The mountains shake and the oceans heave as the world is destroyed by his violent dancing. Parvati, in contrast, is portrayed as a patient builder, one who follows Shiva about, trying to soften the violent effects of her husband. She is a great force for preservation and reconstruction in the world and as such offsets the violence of Shiva. A seventeenth century Tamil work pictures Parvati as a patient child who creates the worlds in the form of little houses. Shiva is pictured as constantly frustrating her purpose by destroying what she has so carefully built.

The crazy old madman stands in front,
dancing, destroying the beautiful little house that
you have built in play.
You don’t become angry,
but every time (he destroys it) you build it again.

When Shiva does his violent tandava dance Parvati is described as calming him with soft glances, or she is said to complement his violence with a slow, creative step of her own.

Parvati’s goal in her relationship with Shiva is nothing less than the domestication of the lone, ascetic god whose behavior borders on madness’ Shiva is indifferent to social propriety, does not care about offspring, declares women to be a hindrance to the spiritual life, and is disdainful of the trappings of the householder’s life. Parvati tries to involve him in the worldly life of the householder by arguing that he should observe conventions if he loves her and wants her. She persuades him, for example, to marry her according to the proper rituals, to observe custom, instead of simply running off with her. She is less successful, however, in getting him to change his attire and ascetic habits.

She often complains of his nakedness and finds his ornaments disgraceful. Usually prompted by her mother, Parvati sometimes complains that she does not have a proper house to live in. Shiva, as is well known, does not have a house but prefers to live in caves, on mountains, or in forests or to wander the world as a homeless beggar. Many myths delight in Shiva’s response to Parvati’s domestic pleas for a house. When she complains that the rains will soon come and that she has no house to protect her, Shiva simply takes her to the high mountain peaks above the clouds where it does not rain. Elsewhere he describes his “house” as the universe and argues that an ascetic understands the whole world to be his dwelling place.

These philosophic arguments never satisfy Parvati, but she rarely, if ever, wins this argument and gains a house. In the final analysis, despite her success in involving Shiva in marital and family affairs, despite her initiating sexual desire in him, Shiva always remains in part antisocial and ascetic, a god who lives on the fringes of society, The theme of Parvati’s domesticating Shiva, or trying to domesticate him, is also seen in her tempering, or taming, his tapas and his sexual vigor, both of which are dangerous in excess. The theme of an ascetic’s great austerities causing such heat that the world itself is scorched is common in Hindu mythology. The solution to this threat to the world is almost always either having a woman seduce the ascetic (women hardly ever play the role of the ascetic), granting a boon to the ascetic which distracts him from his asceticism, or granting the boon for which he undertook his asceticism in the first place. Shiva, too, does excessive tapas and thus threatens the world,” and it is Parvati’s role to distract him from his asceticism or seduce him into erotic or domestic entanglements. In many myths Parvati is not so much Shiva’s complement as his rival, tricking, seducing, or luring him away from ascetic practices.

Shiva’s sexual vigor is also threatening to the world in quantity and intensity, and again it is Parvati who subdues, tames, or otherwise controls Shiva’s immense sexual vitality.

The sages cursed Shiva’s linga to fall to the earth, and it burnt everything before it like a fire. Never still, it went to the underworld and to heaven and everywhere on earth. All creatures were troubled, and the sages went in desperation to Brahma, who said to them, “As long as the linga is not still, there will be nothing auspicious in the universe. You must propitiate Devl so that she will take the form of the yoni, and then the linga will become still.” They honoured Shiva, and he appeared and said, “If my linga is held in the yoni, then all will be well. Only Parvati can hold the linga, and then it will become calm.” They propitiated him, and thus linga-worship was established.”

Shiva is a god of excesses, both ascetic and sexual, and Parvati plays the role of modifier. As a representative of the householder ideal she represents the ideal of controlled sex, namely, married sex, which is opposed to both asceticism and eroticism.

The theme of the conflict, tension, or opposition between the way of the ascetic and the way of the householder in the mythology of Parvati and Shiva yields to a vision of reconciliation, interdependence, and symbiotic harmony in a series of images that combine the two deities. Three such images or themes are central to the mythology, iconography, and philosophy of Parvati:

  1. the theme of Shiva-sakti,
  2. the image of Shiva as Ardhanarisvara (the Lord who is half woman), and
  3. the image of the linga and yoni.

The idea that the great male gods all possess an inherent power by which or through which they undertake creative activity is assumed in medieval Hindu mythology. When this power, or sakti, is personified it is always in the form of a goddess. Parvati, quite naturally, assumes the identity of Shiva’s sakti in many myths and in some philosophic systems. In the role of Shiva’s sakti, Parvati performs functions, or assumes meanings, which imply an underlying harmony or interdependent relationship between herself and Shiva. She is often identified with the force underlying and impelling creation. While Shiva remains more or less aloof in the creation of the world, Parvati as sakti is active, pervading the creation as its underlying strength and power. In this active, creative role she is sometimes identified with prakrti (nature), whereas Shiva is identified with purufa (pure spirit). As prakrti, Parvati represents the inherent tendency of nature to express itself in concrete forms and individual beings.

In this task, however, whether as sakti or prakrti, it is understood that Parvati either must be set in motion by Shiva or must act according to his will, wish, or design. She is not seen as antagonistic to him. Her role as his sakti is almost always interpreted as positive. Through Parvati, Shiva (the Absolute) is able to express himself in the creation. Without her he would remain inert, aloof, inactive. Just as in the mythology Parvati is necessary for involving Shiva in creation, so as his sakti she is necessary for his self-expression in creation. It is only in association with her that Shiva is able to realize or manifest his full potential. Without Pirvati Shiva’s great power does not, or cannot, manifest itself in creation. Parvati as sakti not only complements Shiva, she completes him.

A variety of images and metaphors are used to express the harmonious interdependence and close identity of Parvati as sakti and Shiva as the saktiman, the possessor of sakti. Shiva is said to be the male principle throughout creation, Parvati the female principle; Shiva is the sky, Parvati the earth;Shiva is subject, Parvati object; Shiva is the ocean, Parvati the seashore; Shiva is the sun, Parvati its light; Parvati is all tastes and smells, Shiva the encjoyer of all tastes and smells; Parvati is the embodiment of all individual souls, Shiva the soul itself;” Parvati assumes every form that is worthy to be thought of, Shiva thinks of all such forms; Shiva is day, Parvati night; Parvati is creation, Shiva the creator; Parvati is speech, Shiva meaning;;lo and so on. In short, the two are actually one-different aspects of ultimate reality-and as such are complementary, not antagonistic.

The meaning of the Ardhanarisvara form of Shiva is similar. The image shows a half-male, half-female figure. The right side is Shiva and is adorned with his ornaments; the left side is Parvati and adorned with her ornaments. In the Shiva-purana the god Brahma is unable to continue his task of creation because the creatures that he has produced do not multiply. He propitiates Shiva and requests him to come to his aid. Shiva then appears in his half-male, half-female form. The hermaphrodite form splits into Shiva and Parvati, and Parvati, at Brahma’s request, pervades the creation with her female nature, which duly awakens the male aspect of creation into fertile activity.”

Without its female half, or female nature, the godhead as Shiva is incomplete and is unable to proceed with creation. To an even greater extent than the Shiva-sati idea, the androgynous image of Shiva and Parvati emphasizes that the two deities are absolutely necessary to each other, and only in union can they satisfy each other and fulfill themselves. In this form the godhead transcends sexual particularity or, perhaps more accurately, includes both dimensions of sexual particularity. God is both male and female, both father and mother, both aloof and active, both fearsome and gentle, both destructive and constructive, and so on.

The image of the linga in the yoni, which is the most common image of the deity in Shiva temples, similarly teaches the lesson that the tension between Shiva and Parvati is ultimately resolved in interdependence. Sati and Parvati as sexual objects succeed in tempering both Shiva’s excessive detachment from the world and his excessive sexual vigor. In the form of the yoni in particular Sati-Parvati fulfills and completes, while at the same time tempering, Shiva’s creative tendencies. As the great yogi who accumulates immense sexual potency he is symbolized by the linga. This great potency is creatively released in sexual or marital contact with Sati-Parvati. The ubiquitous image of the linga in the yoni symbolizes the creative release in the ultimate erotic act of power stored through asceticism. The erotic act is thus enhanced, made more potent, fecund, and creative, by the stored-up power of Shiva’s asceticism. The linga and the yoni symbolize a creative interaction between the world of the ascetic, in which sexual abstinence is mandatory, and the life of the householder, in which sex is necessary.

While many of the myths of Shiva and Parvati seem to accentuate the tension between the two, certain iconographic and philosophic themes concerning the divine pair show a preference for depicting or understanding them as in basic harmony. As a couple they are usually shown as affectionate. The half-male, half-female image also emphasizes the uniting of opposites. The lesson seems to be that the two poles that they represent, dharma and moksa, should not be isolated from each other. In relationship with Parvati, Shiva does not give up asceticism entirely, nor does Parvati give up asceticism entirely after having used it as a means of marrying Shiva. Nonetheless, the mutual bliss of Shiva and Parvati also seems to teach that asceticism enhances the intensity of sexuality and makes the orderliness of the householder’s world even more attractive. Held together, or in creative tension, yoga and bhoga (worldly or bodily pleasure), dharma and moksa, may be seen to complement and complete each other in the divine pair.

Devotion & Grace

Another important facet of Parvati is her role as a model of devotion to Shiva, as the devotee of the Lord par excellence. At several points in her mythology Parvati is described as devoted to Shiva, as unswerving in her attachment to him, and as incapable of being dissuaded from doting on him despite the most outrageous reports concerning his uncivilized, bizarre habits. Her remarkably steadfast, indeed, stubborn, devotion to him is most obvious during her long period of asceticism when she undertakes heroic bodily mortifications in order either to be granted the boon of having Shiva for her husband or to attract the attention of Shiva himself,” In these scenes Parvati is portrayed as a devotee who seeks Shiva’s attention and blessing; it is easy to see how she might become the paradigm for devotees of Shiva, which she does, for example, in the devotional hymns of Manikkavicakar, a Saivite saint from Tamilnadu.

Parvati appears in Manikkavacakar’s hymns in the role of the ideal devotee, or in a position that the devotee longs to achieve, in at least two ways. First, Manikkavacakar uses the imagery of a love relationship, casting himself in the role of a woman who longs for her lover or husband, Shiva. In placing himself (and by extention other devotees) in this role, he identifies himself with Shiva’s beloved, Parvati, who thus becomes the model, or vehicle, for devotion.” In this role Manikkavacakar imagines himself, along with women and goddesses, to be doing domestic chores for “her” husband. Manikkavacakar approaches Shiva by assuming the role and duties of Parvati. In this way he is able to relate to Shiva in a most intimate way.

Second, Manikkavacakar refers several times to the half-male, half-female image of Shiva and Parvati and

sees in it the ultimate goal of the devotee, to be inextricably united with Shiva. In his longing to be with Shiva,to be consumed by and overcome by his Lord, Manikkavacakar sees in this image his desire graphically realized by Parvati.

Another facet of Parvati is evident in Tamil Saivism. Parvati tends to have a calming, civilizing effect on Shiva. Under her influence or in her presence, Shiva is often tamed, distracted from his wild, rude, mad behavior. In Manikkavacakar’s hymns, for example, Shiva never appears before Parvati in his outrageous forms, such as the dancer in the cremation ground or the destroyer of Daksa’s sacrifice. In her presence, it seems, such behavior is inappropriate, and Shiva almost always behaves in properly domestic ways when she is present. Becalmed, Shiva is more attentive to the needs of his devotees (and to the needs and desires of his spouse) and more prone to grant them blessings. As the domesticator of Shiva, as the one who is able to distract him from his antisocial behavior and make him turn his attention to the world and to his devotees within the world, Parvati may be understood as playing the role of a mediator between the devotee and Shiva. She is a mediator in the sense that she is the one who awakens his grace or the one who is the key to activating his grace.

Immersed in yoga, preoccupied with asceticism, dancing wildly with his ghastly companions in the cremation ground, Shiva is indifferent to his spouse, to the world, and to his devotees. In the presence of Parvati, in his role as her husband or Lord, Shiva is attentive to the world and to his devotees.

Although Parvati’s role as intermediary is never developed in Saivism to the extent that Sn-Lakshmi’s role is developed in Sri Vainavism,, Parvati does comes to be identified with Shiva’s grace in Saiva Siddhanta, a Tamil Saivite school of thought and devotion. In this school Shiva’s grace (aruf) is said to play an active role, indeed, almost to have an identity of its own or an independent function. In its active role it is referred to as arul-catti (arul-sakti), “the power of grace. This power is sometimes personified, and when it is, it is identified with Parvati.” Furthermore, the arul-catti is often said to reside inherently in every human being. Devotion is the means by which this power is awakened and provoked. The implication is that Parvati, in subtle form, resides within every human being. She is awakened by means of devotion to Shiva, which expresses her most essential nature. Having been awakened, she infuses the devotee with her great devotion to Shiva, and thus the two, Parvati and the devotee, merge into one. So it is that Parvati’s roles as ideal devotee and as Shiva’s personified grace also merge into a unity.

Finally, Parvati often plays the role of the student in relation to Shiva. In many texts, especially Tantras Parvati inquires of Shiva concerning a great many subjects: ritual, meditation; mythology, dharma, and philosophy. At her prompting or in response to her queries, Shiva reveals everything from the particulars of esoteric Tantric rituals to the nondual wisdom of Vedanta. Again, it is Parvati who succeeds in capturing Shiva’s attention, in awakening his concern for the world, so that his great wisdom and knowledge, gained by his heroic eons of yogic meditation and brooding, can be revealed. In the role of curious student Parvati represents human beings who are anxious for and will benefit from all that Shiva reveals. In her role as student she again might be seen as a kind of mediator, one who coaxes from Shiva what is ultimately beneficial for human beings. Although Parvati is not the only one to whom Shiva gives instruction, she is by far the most common figure to be cast in this role.

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