Definitions

dark-complexioned

Parvati

[pahr-vuh-tee]

Parvati (Sanskrit: , पार्वती), sometimes spelled Parvathi or Parvathy, is a Hindu goddess and nominally the second consort of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and rejuvenation. However, she is not different from Satī, being the reincarnation of that former consort of Shiva. She is the mother of the gods Ganesha and Skanda (Kartikeya). Some communities also believe her to be the sister of god Vishnu and Shaktas consider her as the ultimate Divine Shakti - the embodiment of the total energy in the universe. In many interpretations of the scriptures, Parvati is also regarded as a representation of Shakti, albeit the gentle aspect of that goddess because she is a mother goddess. She is regarded the daughter of the Himalayas.

Parvati when depicted alongside Shiva appears with two arms, but when alone, she is shown having four arms, and astride a tiger or lion. Generally considered a benign goddess, Parvati also has fearful aspects like Durga, Kali, Chandi and the Mahavidyas as well as benevolent forms like Mahagauri, Shailputri and Lalita. Sometimes, Parvati is considered as the supreme Divine Mother and all other goddesses are referred to as her incarnations or manifestations.

Etymology

Parvata is one of the Sanskrit words for "mountain"; "Parvati" translates to "She of the mountains" and refers to Parvati being born the daughter of Himavan, lord of the mountains and the personification of the Himalayas. Other names which associate her with mountains are Shailaja (Daughter of the mountains), Girirajaputri (Daughter of king of the mountains).

She is also known by a number of other names, including Ambika (mother), Gauri (golden, fair), Shyama (dark complexioned), Bhairavi (awesome), Kali (black-colored), Umā, Lalita, Aparna, the maternal epithet Mataji, and many hundreds of others; the Lalita sahasranama contains an authoritative listing. The name Uma is used for Sati in earlier texts, but in Ramayana is used as synonym for Parvati. In Harivamsa, Parvati is referred to as Aparna (One who took no sustenance) and then addressed as Uma, who was dissuaded by her mother from severe penance by saying u mā (oh don't).

The apparent contradiction that Parvati is addressed as the fair one, Gauri as well as the dark one Kali or Shyama can be explained by the following Hindu myth: when Shiva rebuked Parvati about her dark skin colour, the angry Parvati left him and underwent severe penance to get a fair colour as a boon from Brahma.

Rise to Prominence

The Parvati does not appear in Vedic literature. The Kena Upanishad (3.12) contains a goddess called Uma - Haimavati. She appears as the shakti, or essential power, of the Supreme Brahman. Her primary role is of a mediator who reveals the knowledge of Brahman to the Vedic trinity of Agni, Vayu and Indra boasting and posturing in the flush of a recent victory over a demon hoard. But Kinsley notes: "it is little more than conjecture to identify her with the later goddess Satī-Pārvatī, although [..] later text that extol Śiva and Pārvatī retell the episode in such a way to leave no doubt that it was Śiva's spouse.. Both textual and archaeological evidence suggests Sati-Parvati appears in epic period (400 BC - 400 AD). Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata present Parvati as Shiva's wife. It is not until the plays of Kalidasa (5th-6th centuries) and the Puranas (4th through the 13th centuries) that the myths of Sati-Parvati and Shiva acquire comprehensive details. Kinsley adds that Parvati may have emerged from legends of non-aryan goddesses that lived in mountains.

Prof. Weber suggests that like Shiva is combination of various Vedic gods Rudra and Agni, the Puranic Parvati is a combination of Uma, Haimavati, Ambika and earlier Parvati, identified as wives of Rudra; of others like Kali, who could be a wife of Agni and of Gauri and others inspired by Nirriti, the goddess of evil. Tate suggests Parvati is a mixture of the Vedic goddess Aditi and Nirriti, and being a mountain goddess herself, was associated with other mountain goddesses like Durga and Kali in later traditions.

Birth and marriage

The Puranas repeatedly tell the tale of Sati's marriage to Shiva against her father Daksha's wishes and her subsequent self-immolation at Daksha's Yajna (fire offering) leaving Shiva grief-stricken and having lost interest in worldly affairs. In Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Sati appears before Shiva, in her divine form, and reassures him that she will return as the daughter of Himavan. Sati is reborn as Parvati, the daughter of Himavan, and the apsaras Menā and is named "Kali", the dark one as per her complexion. Sati as well as Parvati are considered manifestations of Mahadevi, the "great Goddess". In Ramayana, the river Ganga is depicted as the elder sister of Parvati; while in Harivamsa Parvati has two younger sisters called Ekaparna and Ekapatala.

Parvati is depicted as interested in Shiva's tales and appearance from her very birth and finally remembering her last life as Sati. As Parvati grew into a young woman, she began tapas (austerities) to please Shiva to grant her wish to reunite with him. She is portrayed as surpassing all other ascetics in penance, undergoing mortifications. Finally, Shiva tests her devotion by sending an attendant or appearing himself in disguise to criticize Shiva. Untouched by the act, Parvati retains her desire for Shiva compelling him to marry her. After the marriage, Parvati moves to mount Kailash, the residence of Shiva.

Kalidasa's epic Kumarasambhavam ("Birth of Kumara") details with matchlessly lyrical beauty the story of the maiden Parvati; her devotions aimed at gaining the favour of Shiva; the subsequent annihilation of Kamadeva; the consequent fall of the universe into barren lifelessness; the subsequent nuptials, in these circumstances, of the partners of many previous births; the immaculate birth of Skanda (Kumara, Shiva's first son) and the eventual resurrection of Kamadeva after intercession by Parvati to Shiva in his favour.

The depiction of Parvati’s marriage to Lord Shiva, in the Shiva Purana, could be seen as an allegory illustrating the desire of an individual to achieve a state of liberation from strife and banality. If one sets aside, for the moment, the idea of Lord Shiva as a male entity, and sees him instead as representing a state beyond human suffering, then Parvati becomes symbolic of the aspirant who wishes to achieve nirvana, and the story becomes something considerably more than a quaint romantic tale. The acharyas (scholastic saints), who wrote the Puranas, may have interpreted Parvati’s asceticism as a means of winning Lord Shiva’s hand in marriage, in order to discourage young girls from following the Goddess’s example, and becoming renunciates. In modern day Hinduism the marriage aspect of this story has been inflated in importance, but the most compelling picture we are left with, is Parvati as an ascetic.

Consort of Shiva

Parvati's legends are intrinsically related to Shiva. It in only in goddess-oriented Shakta texts, she is said to transcend even Shiva, identifying her as the Supreme Being. Just as Shiva is at once the presiding deity of destruction and regeneration, the couple jointly symbolise at once both the power of renunciation and asceticism and the blessings of marital felicity.

Parvati thus symbolises many different virtues esteemed by Hindu tradition: fertility, marital felicity, devotion to the spouse, asceticism and power. It is said in the Saundaryalahari, a famous literary work on the goddess, that she is the source of all power in this universe and that because of her, Lord Shiva gets all his powers.

Parvati represents the householder ideal in the perennial tension in Hinduism in the household ideal and the ascetic ideal, represented by Shiva. In classical Hindu mythology, the "raison d’être" of Parvati, and before that of Sati, is to lure Shiva into marriage and thus into a wider circle of worldly affairs. Parvati civilizes Shiva, the "great unpredictable madman" with her presence. When Shiva does his violent, destructive tandava dance, Parvati is described as calming him or complementing his violence by slow, creative steps of her own Lasya dance. In many myths, Parvati is not as much his complement as his rival, tricking, seducing or luring him away from his ascetic practices. Again, Parvati subdues Shiva's immense sexual vitality. In this context, Shiva Purana says: 'The linga of Shiva, cursed by the sages, fell on the earth and burnt everything before it like fire. Parvati took the form of a yoni and calmed it by holding the linga in her yoni'. The Padma Purana also tells the story of Parvati assuming the form of yoni to receive lingam of Shiva, who was cursed by sage Bhrigu to be the form of the lingam.

Three images are central to the mythology, iconography and philosophy of Parvati :

  1. The theme of Shiva-Shakti
  2. The image of Shiva as Ardhanarishvara (the Lord who is half woman)
  3. The image of the linga and the yoni

These images that combine the two deities - Shiva and Parvati, yield a vision of reconciliation, interdependence and harmonic harmony between the way of the ascetic and that of a householder.

The couple are often depicted in the Puranas as engaged in "dalliance" or seated on Mount Kailash or discussing abstract concepts in Hindu theology. Occasionally, they are depicted as quarrelling. In stories of birth of Karikkeya, the couple are described as love-making generating the seed of Shiva. Parvati's union with Shiva symbolises the union of a male and female in "ecstasy and sexual bliss". In art, Parvati is depicted seated on Shiva's knee or standing beside him (together the couple is referred to as Uma-Maheshvara or Hara-Gauri) or as Annapurna (the goddess of grain) giving alms to Shiva.

Mother of Ganesha

Though Ganesha considered as son of Shiva and Parvati, the Matsya Purana, Shiva Purana and Skanda Purana ascribe the birth of Ganesha to Parvati only, without any form of participation of Shiva in Ganesha's birth.

Once, while Parvati wanted to take a bath, there were no attendants around to guard her and stop anyone from accidentally entering the house. Hence she created an image of a boy out of turmeric paste which she prepared to cleanse her body, and infused life into it, and thus Ganesha was born. Parvati ordered Ganesha not to allow anyone to enter the house, and Ganesha obediently followed his mother's orders. After a while Shiva returned and tried to enter the house, Ganesha stopped him. Shiva was infuriated and severed Ganesha's head with his trishula (trident). When Parvati came out and saw her son's lifeless body, she was very angry and sad. She demanded that Shiva restore Ganesha's life at once. Unfortunately, Shiva's trishula was so powerful that it had hurled Ganesha's head very far off and thus could not be found. Finally,an elephant's head was attached to Ganesha's body and bringing him back to life. Still upset, Parvati demanded her son be made head of the celestial armies, and worshipped by everyone before beginning any activity and gods accepted this condition.

Ganesha is identified as a god named after his mother. He is called Umaputra, Parvatisuta, Gaurisuta meaning son of Parvati and Heramba, "mother's beloved (son)".

Iconography

Naturally Parvati’s unique characteristics have become more and more obscured, as she absorbed more and more Goddesses into her Iconography. Therefore, her depictions have become rather generic today. When shown with Lord Shiva, She carries a blue lotus in full bloom, shows the abhaya mudra (hand gesture of fearlessness, like every other Goddess) and usually has one of her children on her knee. The only hint of her former occult status is the somewhat languid appearance of her eyes, as one who has recently emerged from deep meditation. Other Goddesses are usually shown with large staring eyes as this is considered a mark of beauty. The consorts of the other two Gods of the trinity, Saraswati and Lakshmi, may be depicted alone, and enjoy large followings of their own, apart from Brahma and Vishnu, but Parvati hasn’t been depicted this way for many centuries. Still, for the dogged researcher, depictions are there which give hints as to the original appearance of Goddess Parvati even if they are a bit clouded. The goddess is usually represented as a fair and beautiful. The colour of her vestments is milk-white, the colour of enlightenment and knowledge.Since white is a combination of all colours it shows that She has all the qualities or Gunas. Since white also depicts colourlessnss,it indicates that She is devoid of all Gunas.Hence,She is referred to as Trigunatmika(having the three gunas- Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas) and at the same time being Nirguna(without any gunas ). She has three eyes. Her accoutrements tend to be those of a Rishi (seer) but she may also wear the ceremonial garments and carry the ritual items of a Gur (Himalayan Oracle). She is also usually depicted with jatamukuta or a crown of matted hair,as Shiva is usually depicted.She is also shown as having a cresent moon bound in her locks,like Shiva.

Parvati is consistently depicted with bare breasts and wearing a sacred thread in Pallava, Chola, and Jain statuary, right up until the muslim invasion in 12th century A.D.. Bare breasts were considered a mark of divinity in ancient India and only those Goddesses who were exclusively divine may go about "sky clad," as it were. Clothes symbolised the body and earthly attachments whereas nudity was indicative of unfettered divinity. According to the Iconographic Dictionary of the Indian Religions by Gosta Leibert, She carries a rosary, mirror, bell, and citron in her four hands. Her Mudras (symbolic hand gestures) are Kataka—fascination and enchantment, Hirana—the antelope, the powers of nature and the elusive, Tarjani—gesture of menace, and Chandrakal—the moon, a symbol of intelligence. Kataka must be affected by one of the foremost hands as it is a means of drawing the worshiper closer. Tarjani must be described with the left hand, which symbolises contempt, and usually in the back set of hands. If Parvati is depicted with two hands, then Tarjani and Chandrakal may be dropped but Hirana and Kataka are signature except in very modern representations, where Abhaya (fearlessness), and Varada, (beneficence), are used. Abhaya and Varada are depicted almost as a matter of course in modern depictions as they are “safe” mudras and are unlikely to carry any inauspicious side affects for the artist if he is superstitious. Therefore these two mudras are a common resort when the artist is in doubt about the specifications of a particular deity; however they are not special to Parvati more than any other deity.

Parvati’s Vahana (animal vehicle), is usually considered to be a lion nowadays, like Durga’s, but was probably originally one of the mountain lions native to the Himalayas. It was also, likely, a lioness, as Parvati’s cult is so exclusively feminine. There is a type of lioness revered by the Tibetans exclusively in feminine form, called Seng-ge-dkar-mi-g.yu-ral-can. The idea of this fabulous animal being Parvati’s vehicle seems probable as there was so much overlap between the tribal religions of India and the Tibetan Bon Religion, particularly in the Himalayas. This Lioness is described as white, with turquoise tipped fur. Although there is no documentation to support an affiliation between Goddess Parvati and this wondrous, mythic animal, it does seem an appropriate vehicle for an ascetic magical mountain goddess with an exclusively female clergy and following..In certain aspects of Parvati,such as the Mahagouri form of the Navadurga group,her vahana is Shiva's vahana,Nandi, the sacred bull.

Association with other goddesses

In several myths, the presence of a dark, violent side of this otherwise benign Parvati is suggested. When approached by the gods to defeat demons, Parvati typiclly gets angry at the prospect of war and from her wrath emerges a violent goddess, which proceeds to fight on Parvati's behalf. This goddess is usually identified as the terrible, black ascept of the goddess, Kali. In Linga Purana, Parvati summons Kali on the request of Shiva, to destroy a female asura (demoness) Daruka. The legend further concludes with Kali breast-feeding Shiva, who appeared on the battlefield as an infant. Kali is associated and identified with Parvati as Shiva's consort.

In Skanda Purana, Parvati is said to have assumed a form of a warrior-goddess and defeated a demon called Durg who assumes the form of a buffalo. Thereafter, she is by the name Durga. In myths relating her defeat of demons Sumbha and Nisumbha, Durga emerges from Parvati when Parvati sheds her outer sheath, which takes the identity of its own as a warrior goddess.

Although it is true that the great Goddess Parvati is, in modern day Hinduism, considered to be synonymous with Kali, Durga, Meenakshi, Gauri and many others, it is important to remember that many of these “forms” or incarnations originated from different sects, or traditions, and the distinctions from Parvati are pertinent. The Shastras (sanctioned works of religious doctrine) attribute the golden colour of Goddess Gauri’s skin and ornaments to the story of Parvati casting off her unwanted dark complexion after Shiva teased her, but the cult of Gauri tells a different story. Gauri is in essence a fertility Goddess, and is venerated as a corn mother which would seem to suggest that she owes her colouring to the hues of ripening grain, for which she is propitiated.

Parvati’s worship originated in the Himalayas. Her qualities were not so much warlike, or deathly, (as Kali’s and Durga’s,) but rather supernatural. She was venerated as the Queen of the Pariyan. These are small, winged, female woodland beings, not unlike English Fairies. Men were, and are, forbidden in the inner sanctum of many of her temples. She was considered to be an ascetic, an adept in the arts of Yog and Dhyan (austerities and Meditation), and enigmatic in the extreme. Images of Parvati, wearing a sacred thread (a symbol forbidden to women, but not it seems to Goddesses), and with her hair styled in a top knot like a Rishi (seer) survive into the Chola period (approximately ninth century A.D.). In fact, these two particularities were the only means of distinguishing her statuary from the images of the Goddess Shri of the time.

Worship and Festivals

Festivals

The Gauri Festival is celebrated in on the seventh, eighth, ninth of Bhadrapada Shukla. She is worshipped as the goddess of harvest and protectress of women. Her festival, chiefly observed by women, is closely associated with the festival of her son Ganesha (Ganesh Chaturthi). The festival is popular in Maharashtra.

Another festival Gauri tritiya is celebrated from Chaitra shukla third to Vaishakha shukla third. It is believed that Parvati spends a month at her parent's home now. This festival is popular in Maharashtra, less observed in North India and unknown in Bengal. The unwidowed women of the household erect a series of platforms in a pyramidal shape with the image of the goddess at the top and collection of ornaments, images of other Hindu deities, pictures, shells etc. below. Neighbours are invited and presented with turmeric, fruits, flowers etc. as gifts. At night, prayers are held by singing and dancing.

Famous temples

Some of the famous temples where Parvati forms are predominantly worshipped include,

See also

Notes

References

  • Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions (ISBN 81-208-0379-5) by David Kinsley
  • Researches Into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology By Vans Kennedy; Published 1831; Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green; 494 pages; Original from Harvard University; Digitized Jul 11, 2005
  • Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic By William J. Wilkins; Published 2001 (first published 1882); Adamant Media Corporation; 463 pages; ISBN 1402193084
  • Śiva, the Erotic Ascetic By Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty
  • Mythology of the Hindus By Charles Coleman
  • Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations By Karen Tate

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