The Goddess Parvati : Inspiration for Enlightenment

The Goddess Parvati represents an aspect of Divine Mother. She is the sacred Feminine in the aspect of the consort or bride of the Divine Masculine, Shiva, and in this way can also be seen as Nature (The Soul) merged with Spirit, as a metaphor for Divine Union .

She also represents the divine aspect of the Yogi or Yogini who is in search of spiritual perfection and union with God. There are many stories about how Parvati becomes the wife of Shiva. But before she does  (and also in many of her legends where she is incarnated as various beings on earth), she is just a girl who falls in love. Can we all relate to that?

Shiva is a deity who represents both an aspect of formless pure God consciousness & Divine Masculine Energy, the aspect of God as the Destroyer of the World (Illusion & Darkness)and the Adi-Yogi (First Yogi), or Adi-Guru- (First Guru) “Adi” meaning first, and Guru meaning, among other things ‘one who dispels darkness’. In the aspect of the Adi-Yogi, he is an ascetic completely absorbed in meditative union. As Adi-Guru he is the first to teach mankind (the ancient rishis) the ancient spiritual science of Yoga, or attaining oneness with God.

In Indian culture, devotees believe strongly in Shiva’s personal aspect and even human aspect. According to Sadhguru Sri Jaggi Vasudeva – “In the yogic culture, Shiva is not seen as a God. He was a being who walked this land and lived in the Himalayan region.” In Vedic mythology, he is also seen as having various human incarnations, as an Avatar, such as the saint Goraksh, of Gorakhpur.

Parvati (whose name means Daughter of the Mountains), is originally born as Shiva’s former wife, Sati, who was insulted by her fathers dislike of Shiva and threw herself into a ritual fire in a sacrificial act. (It was said of Sati that she loved Shiva so much that she refused to marry anyone and shunned all suitors, then eventually stopped eating altogether, until Shiva finally consented to marry her.) After Sati’s death Shiva goes into a cave and meditates unceasingly.

By the time Sati is reborn as Parvati,  Shiva has absorbed himself completely in meditation and none can distract him.  Parvati has been born into a nice royal family, and grows up with everything she could want. But even as a child she is in love with Shiva. As she gets older she falls more in love with him. Longing to become his wife, she watches him and admires him from a distance. Then she begins to serve him constantly, bringing him food, offerings, and decorating his cave, hoping that she will win his love that way. Immersed in deep meditation, he ignores her!

Parvati decides that the only way to win her Lord, who is the Adi- Yogi, is to practice yoga and meditation as well as serving Him and being devoted. Her family scolds her that this is no way of life for a woman, and her mother begs her to marry a king and lead a normal life. But she insists, saying “No, Mother!” (this is why she is also called “Uma”) and gives up her riches and the comfort of the palace to live in a humble dwelling, serve Shiva, and perform yogic disciplines. In some versions of the story she is said to have stood on one leg for hundreds of years, a metaphor representing her one pointed concentration in her sadhana.

So deeply does she practice  her austerities that it is said that eventually the Heavens are set ablaze with her yogic fire, and the gods realize they will have to devise a way to get Shiva to love her in order to keep the universe in balance.

So the gods send Kamadeva, the deity of Passion and Desire, to shoot Shiva with one of his arrows while Parvati is there, making offerings to him. Shiva realizes what is happening and opens his Third Eye, scorching Kamadeva to a crisp. But not before he is hit by one of the deity’s arrows.

As his eyes are open, he sees Parvati finally and falls in love with her. But its not enough for him, and he goes back into meditation. He decides to test her and make sure she is truly devoted to him before he will give his heart to her.

As Parvati is performing her daily rituals for her Lord, a wandering monk comes into her dwelling place. He says, ‘I have come to see Parvati, the daughter of the King who has become a renunciant and devotee of Shiva.’ She greets him, and he goes on to ask her, “A beautiful woman like you, you could have any man you want. Why do you want to marry Shiva? You could even have any other god you’d like. What about Vishnu? He has all the wealth and beauty of the Universe at his fingertips. You would be the Queen of Heaven. What can Shiva give you? He has nothing! What do you want to do with an ash smeared ascetic yogi who meditates all the time? He wont have time for you.”

Parvati’s usually calm nature is roused and she passionately and angrily defends Shiva, expressing her love and reverence for him. “Don’t you know whom you are speaking of? My Lord is the Lord of the Universe and I will have no other. I don’t care about riches, or even Heaven. I love only Him.”

Shiva’s heart melts and he reveals himself, taking Parvati into his arms. He asks her to marry him.

The way that Parvati can inspire us in our own spiritual path and sadhana, is that she achieves union with Shiva (or Spirit),  through  her love, devotion, and service, and also through rigorous discipline and yogic austerities. She represents to us in this aspect, the ideal of a yogi and devotee. In that particular aspect of their relationship  Shiva and Parvati are a divine aspect of God and Devotee, and also embody in some ways the spiritual intimacy and loyalty of the ideal guru/disciple relationship. In Vaishnavite mythology Shiva’s first wife Sati is also his disciple, and because she takes him for granted and doesn’t listen to him as her satguru, she must be reborn as Parvati and achieve union with him through Yoga.

This story is inspiring especially to those on the yogic and or spiritual path, because it gives us insight into how yoga really works to bring us into spiritual maturity, and how in Raja yoga, or the “Royal” way to God-Realization,  devotion must be mixed with scientific techniques of meditation in order to achieve the goal of God-Realization, or union with God.

The way that Shiva tests Parvati is very sweet. In this way, God tests us. He tests our love. He wants to make sure we really want Him. We all have so many conscious, sub conscious, and karmic desires, as well as material needs and wants. Even just the everyday  ‘in your face’ quality of life on this physical plane can distract us. But when we are able to renounce the world, so to speak, and say to God, ‘It is only you that I want. You are the source of all of these things and without you they are meaningless’, then we can see a change in our spiritual practice.

Parvati is able to pass Shiva’s test not just because of her love for him, but because of her loyalty, devotion and renunciation.

Parvati’s love is not just a selfish love. It is self sacrificing love that is unconditional. Because of this it is a more pure love than a normal human love.

Loyalty is said by Paramahansa Yogananda, to be the highest spiritual law. In his teachings as well as in the story of Parvati, loyalty means loyalty to someone we love, but also loyalty to God and to one’s chosen spiritual path. When we dabble in many different spiritual teachings and paths, we dilute the effectiveness of them. This is a normal thing to do when we are just starting out our spiritual search and we want to try everything to see what works for us. But when we find the true path for us, we stick to it.

Renunciation, or giving up worldly things can be an effective tool to break worldly habits and instill more spiritual habits, as well as for us to create the space inside ourselves where we can see and experience that we actually do have everything we need. When it doesn’t matter whether or not you have something or you experience something, but you have the *experiential* knowledge that you don’t desire or need it, because your love for God makes everything in the world pale in comparison, it brings so much peace in regard to external circumstances.

When someone is deeply in love, for instance, they don’t want to eat, they can’t sleep, they can’t think about anything else. Everything reminds them of the one they love. Even if someone offered them all the money in the world instead, they wouldn’t take it. They would die even for just a glimpse of their beloved (okay, we are drawing on classical literature here for effect!) Nothing else really matters to them. There is a simplicity in that, and a freedom. And this human love is only a tiny fraction of the love that we can feel for God, and that God can feel for us.

On another level, renunciation can be a means to adopt a more simple life, a life which focuses on God and service to others. This service to others, or ‘karma yoga’ is an important aspect of the spiritual path as well, as one is focused on setting aside the ego to serve God and others, and in doing so finds greater attunement with the Divine.

Paramahansa Yogananda says we must be like ‘the naughty baby’, who cries to our Mother. The Mother will give the baby many toys to placate it, but only when the baby throws the toys away, only crying for her, then the Mother will come. He is speaking as well of the one pointedness  that the devotee must develop on all levels, in order to get God’s attention. The metaphor that is used of the ‘baby’ conveys to us the childlike humility and surrender that is also an important part of our relationship with God.

Parvati’s story is a beautiful reminder of all the ways in which we can deepen our relationship with the Divine, of the various folds that make up the paths of Yoga, and also of how simple and natural it can be, this unfolding into our true nature.

In a way, its as easy as falling in love. 🙂

Om Shanti

Further Reading:

Raja Yoga as explained by Paramahansa Yogananda