» The Many Faces of Parvati Ma's India

January 29, 2014 on 12:00 pm

Dear Spiritual Explorer: I am so confused about the wives of Shiva. From what I have read, I see the wife Parvati as the incarnation that figures most. Can you tell me about her? Lauren P., Minneapolis, MN


Statue of Parvati

Dear Lauren: While some might consider all of Shiva’s wives to be aspects of Parvati, there are definite differences in their attributes. Shiva’s first wife was Sati who is well known for having immolated herself to uphold the honor of her husband, Shiva. Sati was then incarnated as Parvati who displayed householder attributes and had two sons. We know Parvati well because of the story of Ganesh protecting his mother and having his head cut off by Shiva when Ganesh refused to allow him to gain admittance while Parvati was bathing. When Shiva cut off Ganesh’s head, he was forced to take on the body of an elephant, which is how we all recognize him. We can see Parvati’s elegance and demeanor reflected in this Parvati statue cast out of an ivory-like substance.

In Hindu legend, both Sati and Parvati successively played the role of luring Shiva away from ascetic isolation into creative participation in the world. This was no small feat since Shiva was in bliss meditating on top of Mount Kailash, a mountain in India, and didn’t want any distractions.

Next we see Uma known for her beauty, who is often figured sitting on the lap of Shiva, a very sensual and sensuous goddess. But make no mistake, Uma is also well known for her asceticism by eating nuts and berries for 10,00 years to gain the attention of Shiva, again no small feat. In fact, the name of Uma means Oh No, which was Uma’s response to her mother who attempted to dissuade her from pursuing Shiva.

More confusing is that Parvati is also known by 108 names from the Durga Saptashati, a Hindu text speaking of the victory of Durga over evil. Parvati’s other names include Durga, Shakti, Ambika, Gauri, Bhairavi, Kali, Lalita, to touch upon a few. In all these incarnations, Parvati is depicted in many other aspects of the goddess and as such displays different attributes, too many apparently to ascribe to one goddess.

Similarly, we can understand why women in general, also must play different roles such as mother, wage earner, keeper of the faith and protector of the family, diplomat and moderator with expected attributes of compassion, bravery, intuition and kindness to name a few. And for that reason I think it fair to recognize women as goddesses also.

Om Sri Women! Ki Jai!

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