Through the beauty of a woman —
the best way to give content to the Absolute.
~ Saundarya Lahari
If you recall from last Sunday, here is our story of the Great Goddess Parvati so far…
The God Shiva has withdrawn from the worlds of Gods and humans, heartbroken by the death of His beloved, Sati. He has gone into a deep state of very intense meditation, called tapas, and is oblivious to the concerns outside His cave. With His departure, a fearsome demon is running amok, causing great suffering. Only a son by Shiva can possibly save the world.
So the Great Ones create the beautiful Goddess, Parvati, to awaken Him (in more ways than one!), so that She may give birth to the desperately needed champion.
Beautiful beyond description, She faithfully attends to Shiva’s every need, even sweeping and decorating His ascetic retreat. She does everything She can think of, hoping to win His love, but alas… Shiva never even opens His eyes to behold She who is like the radiance of the sunrise, so deep is His intense meditative focus.
Exasperated, Parvati invokes Priti and Rati, Goddesses of love and longing, to help Her rouse Shiva out of His mediation. They enter Shiva’s desolate cave and transform it into a pleasure garden, filled with the fragrance of flowers and the buzzing of bees.
In frustration, the Goddesses call upon Kama, the Lord of Desire, to help. He raises His bow and shoots arrows dripping with desire straight into the heart of Shiva. Shiva, however, is not amused. He opens His third eye and releases flames of fury that engulf Kama and reduce His beautiful body to ashes.
The death of Kama alarms the Gods. They admonish that, “Without the Lord of Desire, man will not embrace woman — and life will cease to be!”
Parvati is more determined than ever to win His love, for now the need is truly urgent if the worlds are to survive. The Daughter of the Mountain declares, “I shall find another way to conquer Shiva’s heart. When Shiva becomes my consort, Kama will be reborn.”
She retreats into the forest, and undergoes the same intense tapas that Shiva Himself is immersed in. She sits amidst bonfires on the hottest summer days, stands motionless on one foot for interminable periods, and engages in the most astonishingly rigorous sadhana.
Wearing nothing to protect Her tender body from the harsh weather, eating nothing, not even a leaf, Parvati earns the admiration of the other forest ascetics who name Her Aparna.
During this time, Her mother, Mena, is horrified by the dreadful austerity Parvati is undergoing and tries to dissuade Her from continuing. She begs Parvati, “U ma” (which roughly translates to “my dearest one”), do NOT do this!” And so Parvati is also known by the name Uma.
But Parvati (thankfully for all of us!) prevailed, and at last, She matched Shiva in Her capacity to cut Herself off from the world and completely master Her physical needs. The heat of Her tapas finally shook Shiva out of His mediation. At long last, after all Her tribulations and challenges, Shiva stepped out of His cave and embraced Parvati as His wife.
They celebrated the sacred rites of marriage in the presence of the Gods. Shiva then took Parvati to the highest peak of the cosmos, Mount Kailasa, the pivotal hub of the universe. As the world spun around them, the two became one and Kama was reborn.
Parvati melted Shiva’s stern heart with Her affection. Together they played and explored the joys of married life.
The Goddess re-awakened Shiva’s concern for the world with Her wise conversation and questions. As He spoke, He revealed the secrets of the Tantras and the Vedas that He had gathered in His eons of mediation.
Inspired by Parvati’s beauty, grim Shiva was transformed, and He became the source of the arts, of dance, and drama. He sang and danced to the delight of the Gods, who were greatly pleased to see His enchantment with the Goddess.
Their love produced both the re-birth of Kama, and also the great champion warrior who went on to save humanity from the demon. That champion was none other than the beloved Ganesh.
Of course, the love story of Shiva and Parvati does not end there, nor do the many adventures of this magnificent Goddess of love, marriage, motherhood and household…including that, by some accounts, Ganesh was produced without the help of Shiva.. but that is another story!
Parvati’s wonderful myths are rich, beautiful and many. They are powerful threads throughout the Hindu world.
In this story, Parvati inspires us to use our wits, and when the cause is in the name of Love, we must never give up. Like so many other Goddesses, Her love is courageous, unshakeable, and powerfully magical.