In the Hindu religion, gods and goddesses are paired in such a way that the god is able to fulfill his Dharma (divine purpose) because of and by the grace of his consort’s Shakti (feminine power). Brahma is able to create because his wife is the goddess of wisdom, Vishnu sustains and preserves because his wife is the goddess of wealth and abundance. Shiva transcends physical reality and is enlightened because he is married to Shakti incarnate: pure, raw, spiritual energy. In terms of her relationship with Shiva, Shakti will take 5 different forms: Kali, Durga, Uma, Sati/ Parvati, and the 5th being simply Shakti as all in one. Shiva’s Tandava draws on the energies of Durga and Kali- the great mothers from which all life flows, but from whom death, destruction, and karmic justice also come. Uma and Parvati are gentler, more traditionally feminine versions of Shakti- they give birth, they are wives, they are nurtures, caretakers, and through their love life is full of joy, pleasure, laughter, and beauty.
I have a deep love and respect for Kali; her energies are violent and raw, but they are the source of life itself. Parvati is her contrast, and Parvati has been my favorite goddess since I first met her. She hardly ever stands alone, unlike Kali and Durga who are forces of nature all unto themselves, Parvati is most often noted not as an individual but as a wife and mother. The traditional texts uphold her as a “proper” wife, completely devoted to her husband, both in her first incarnation as Sati and in her second as Parvati. But she as an individual is often so completely underrated.
Parvati, in my opinion, is the closest depiction of Shakti one can find. Kali and Durga are amazing, incredible, astounding, and definitely demand respect. They are Shakti mobilized, they are tsunamis who cannot be escaped, avoided, or confounded. They will not be ignored, diminished, or disrespected. And I admire that- their strength and power. But Parvati, Parvati is the constant- the understated and overwhelming current which cannot be seen on the surface. Like her name, she is the mountain- unmovable, still- she just is, regardless of that which exists around her. She is known as a goddess of love, romance, and devotion. And while translations of her stories can often read like patriarchal propaganda on the surface, every Indian teacher I have studied under (through their books, or in person) has said that the stories of the gods are layered metaphors, and to always look beneath the surface. And then look beneath that layer, again and again, going deeper and deeper to understand the energies, the truths, and the lessons the gods and their stories have to teach us.
When I look beyond Parvati’s surface, beyond the Romeo & Juliet style romance tones, I see her devotion, her bhakti. In the stories her devotion is often touted as solely for her husband, but what is her husband? Her husband is the personification of freedom, of enlightenment, of transcendence. Shakti as Parvati is the love and devotion that gives freedom and joy to our daily lives. Her love and devotion is what transforms our realities, building day by day as new things are achieved. No one becomes anything without love and devotion to a cause or trade. People become musicians, artists, architects, teachers, and craftspeople through daily devotion to what they love. People become parents through love and devotion to their children. Anyone who creates anything does so through love and devotion to their aim. And why do we love the things that we love? Because we experience transcendence, freedom, and joy from those pursuits or with those people- because they grant us satisfaction and take us higher. Parvati, in my mind, is the personification of the desire, ambition, and bliss that comes from pursuing that which we love in life. She is the simple joy of the evolution of our days, weeks, months, and years, building towards and leaning into that which we become in life. She is the love for those things and people in life that are dharmic, that take us higher, and our devotion to that which is beautiful and fulfilling in life. Some transformations in life take place because the world around us shakes, but most happen through our own personal love and devotion.
Shiva is able to transform because of Parvati’s deep devotion. While Shiva dances the Tandava- a vigorous and intense dance, Parvati dances the Lasya, a graceful, sensual dance. Shiva dances at the juncture points of spirit and physical, Parvati dances through life (and lives) itself, swaying back and forth into various adjectives and labels: teacher, student, child, parent, employee, employer, potter, painter, singer, gardener, cook, lover, builder, joy-bringer, and so forth. While Shiva carries tools in his dance and things crumble around him, Parvati has nothing but herself, and life springs up around her. Shiva is creation through transformation; Parvati is transformation through devotion. Devotion through which mountains are moved.
Of course the famous story of Parvati is how she created her son Ganesha by herself- with no assistance from Shiva- but the one that moved me most as a child was one of her meditating. It was before she was married to Shiva, and she was up on her mountain home performing tapas, lost in meditative bliss below the light of the full moon. A hungry tiger spied her from a distance and began to creep up on her, excited to find such an easy meal. You see this tiger had not eaten in such a long time and he was absolutely starving, so as he crept closer and closer to the young Parvati, he became more and more excited, completely focused on her and nothing else. Parvati sits unmoved, eyes closed, completely in bliss. In her inner world, she is floating in a sea of love for Shiva and for all the world. She can feel the tiger creeping up on her, she feels his hunger, and knows that she is the subject of his single-minded focus. She feels love for the tiger, particularly marveling at the great strength of his focus- how there is no other thought in all his mind other than her. The tiger is getting closer and closer, ready to pounce but never actually pouncing. He simply continues, focused, hungry, creeping, until finally he is crouched before the young goddess, still intent on eating her, but transfixed. While his mind is focused and hungry, Parvati’s deep love for the tiger has touched his heart; the tiger’s mind is hunting but his heart is still, and thus his attack remains incomplete. Parvati simply continues to love the tiger from her deep meditative state. Eventually the tiger relaxes, and sits by her feet, content and calm, his hunger lessened by the love and peace in his heart from being to near her.
I adore Parvati for the simple reason that she is a constant reminder of the fact that joy, love, peace, and bliss come from within. She was able to have and hold these deep, profound, and soul-pervading emotions regardless of whom she was with and where she was. If you have love for someone, just be in that love, regardless of where your loved one is. If there is conflict in your life, find the beauty in that conflict. If you are drawing breath, seeing the sunrise, feeling it’s warmth, and hearing laughter- then drink in that bliss.