I’m participating in an 11-week Shakti series with Devi Yoga’s Kirsten Warner and almost 30 other magnificent Colorado women. Each week, we examine a different goddess of the Hindu pantheon and embody her energy, teachings and wisdom.
Noticing my reactions to these archetypes is pretty hilarious. I snubbed my nose a bit at Lakshmi–because everybody loves Lakshmi–and devoting my week to her brought abundance in ways I couldn’t imagine. Initially, I found myself turning away from Parvati a little bit, too. She’s the goddess of marriage and motherhood, and is the gentle, nurturing aspect of the Great Mother.
And I just don’t have time for that.
The creation of Parvati is so saccharine, it makes my teeth ache: Shiva was up in a cave doing his hermit thing, not deigning to engage with this world after his first wife, Sati, threw herself onto a sacred fire because her father didn’t show up to their wedding. (Parvati, by the way, is the second incarnation of Sati–they’re the same Goddess.) Without Shiva, the transformer, things had become tumultuous in the world of the gods. Brahma and Vishnu appeal to Shakti, the Great Mother, who agrees to take form as Parvati, make Shiva fall in love with her and restore the world to its rightful order.
So Parvati is born, already knowing that she is fiercely devoted and in love with Shiva, even though he doesn’t know she exists yet. She tries to get his attention–including employing Kama, god of desire, who ends up just making Shiva angry and is incinerated into formlessness–and resolves to devote herself to her own practice in order to get him to look her way.
She throws herself into her spiritual practice, feverishly practicing yoga and meditation and reading scripture, and eventually standing on one foot in the middle of a river for eons. Now even though Shiva is up in the mountain cave, in total union with the divine, he notices the spiritual energy coming off of Parvati’s devoted practice for millennia. Finally curious about what’s up with this chick, he poses as a young ascetic, who approaches Parvati in the river, and asks her what all this intense penance is for.
“I do this for love,” she says. “I am going to marry Shiva.”
The boy starts laughing. “Shiva?” he says. “That old dude in the freaking mountains? You’re kidding. You’re gorgeous, devoted…come hang out with me and Vishnu. He bestows his followers with wealth and gifts, and would never make you stand in a river on one foot for thousands of years.”
Parvati rolls her eyes and goes back to her meditation, but after more prodding from the boy, finally blows up at him, spewing accusations of blasphemy and proclaiming her devotion to Shiva.
Convinced of her devotion, Shiva appears and they get married.
But then I started thinking: what is Shiva? Shiva is a symbol for awareness, consciousness. Shiva is what stops Kali’s rampage, when he gazes at her with accepting, unconditional love for all her wrathful rage. Shiva is change, he destroys the ego to get you to your purpose and highest potential. Who are we, as yoga practitioners, if not devotees to that same, ultimate truth?
This Parvati legend can be interpreted as a woman’s quest for enlightenment, for awareness. She is so determined to unite with this ultimate truth, she sheds her ego for her intense love for Shiva, the spiritual awareness. Shiva can be a representation for spiritual progression, where it is not woman abandoning herself for a man, but a woman dedicating herself to a practice, and is united with consciousness.
There it is. That was the aspect of Parvati that struck a chord with me. Not only is she the goddess of marriage and childbirth, she is the Yogini, the devoted practitioner. She is emancipated and dedicated to her own spiritual growth, while engaging with Shiva as a wife and a mother. Not to mention that Shiva and Parvati have the most intense, cosmos-shaking lovemaking sessions, and talk philosophy and yoga theory as foreplay. Meow.
Let’s not forget that she is the mother to our fav.
Parvati reminds us that it’s possible to be devoted to the practice while still engaging in the world around us. As a spiritual seeker, I tend to lose myself in books, meditation, and my practice. I love to live and breathe it, listening to lectures as I cook, devouring literature, taking classes and workshops. Parvati says “Reel it in, girl.” Show your feathers, but clean your bathtub. Chant the Gayatri but then go have a beer with your friends. Study the texts, then close the book and watch cat videos on YouTube. Parvati shows us that as spiritual women, we are more able to interact with the world, even turning up the volume on our own reality, because we view it from a sensual place of awareness.
It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.