Guest Author - Sangeetha Ekambaram
As consorts, the Hindu god and goddess Shiva and Parvati are often depicted together in Hindu art and architecture. Additionally, narratives from various scriptures detail episodes between the two. Among these are a few versions that narrate how Shiva and Parvati got married. From these narratives we learn that Parvati is actually Shiva's second wife, the first being Sati. Both Sati and Parvati are considered manifestations of the same universal, divine Goddess from who all goddesses are believed to manifest. Parvati is the reincarnation of Sati who tragically immolated herself in anger and grief against her father who did not approve of their marriage and tried to humiliate Shiva.
Sati immolated herself with the dying wish that she be reborn to parents who she could truly respect. This wish was granted as she was born as Parvati to Himavat, the God of the mountains and his wife, Mina. Himavat was a devotee of Shiva and from a young age, Parvati seemed to already know that she was destined to marry Shiva. She would insist on listening to stories about Shiva and constantly repeat His name. At one point Parvati also became aware of her previous birth as Sati. The confirmation of her marital destiny occurred when an ascetic who could foresee the future visited her home and predicted that she will marry an ascetic, someone who has renounced the world.
This ascetic was Shiva, who had assumed this role after the devastating loss of Sati. In traditional Hindu society, the role of the ascetic is the alternative to domestic life as a householder and is taken up by very few people. However, Shiva was so heartbroken by the death of Sati that he turned his back on living in society.
In an attempt to please Shiva, Parvati also underwent ascetic practices. She practiced acts of self-denial such as fasting in order to test the body and the mind. By doing so, Parvati also proved that her devotion and abilities were matched to those of Shiva. In many Hindu narratives, both gods and people often engage in ascetic practices in order to gain favor and be granted special wishes. Therefore, Parvati also engaged in the ascetic practices to ask Shiva the favor of marrying him.
Shiva granted her wish and Parvati and Shiva left asceticism to live in divine, domestic bliss. Their wedding was luxurious and attended by all the heavens. Their union represents the most ideal domestic union and many subsequent narratives detail episodes of their life as husband and wife.