How Shiva Got His Groove Back

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Pavarti and ShivaThe Hindu legend of Parvati, who is the primary personification of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu tradition, paints a fuller picture of the true spiritual depth underlying Tantra than we usually see in the West. It also points to a more vital, disciplined and profound role for women who feel drawn to the Tantric path known as the "left-hand path." (The "left-hand path" incorporates sexual union rather than requiring celibacy.)

The tale began with the cosmos in an uproar because Lord Shiva, the Hindu tradition’s chief male deity ("The Auspicious") was in a profound sulk. The other gods had dismembered and scattered the corpse of his first wife (who had brought about her own death after her father insulted Shiva) in an effort to stop his destructive mourning. Utterly disheartened, he renounced the world and resumed his life as an ascetic in the remote Himalayas. Without a living Shakti (manifest Divinity) to balance his Transcendent Divinity, he lost the desire to act in the world.

Profiting from his absence, the demon Taraka overran both heaven and earth. Things were so grim that even the gods prayed to Shakti to incarnate once again as Shiva’s consort. She returned in the guise of Parvati ("Daughter of the Mountain") to lure Shiva out of his asceticism with her abundant magnetism, beauty, and charm. Each day she visited his cave to clean and decorate it, offering him fruits and other gifts in order to win his love.

Shiva wouldn’t even open his eyes, ignoring her presence completely. Parvati enlisted the services of Priti and Rati, the goddesses of love and longing. They transformed Shiva’s cave into a sensuous pleasure garden of love, filled with flowers, fragrance and birdsongs. Kama, the god of love, arrived and shot Shiva with his arrows of desire. This tacticPavarti meditating on one foot apparently annoyed Shiva, who opened his third eye and incinerated Kama on the spot. As a result of this rash act, love disappeared from the world.

Undaunted, Parvati told the gods that Shiva would become her consort, and that when he did, "love (Kama) would be reborn."

Recognizing that if a goddess with her looks, persistence and allure couldn’t seduce Shiva, seduction was a dead-end, Parvati entered the forest and become an ascetic herself. She fasted, performed self-mortification, endured privations both summer and winter, and stood motionless on one foot for long periods. She, too, completely detached herself from the world by mastering her body and mind perfectly.

Parvati’s intense efforts ultimately matched Shiva’s own asceticism. Indeed, her amazing austerities generated enough heat to shake Shiva out of his profound trance. Awakening from his cave and observing what Parvati had accomplished, he agreed to unite with her as her consort.

They married amidst the most divine celebrations, then left together for the peak of Mount Kailasa, where the Two became One, and Kama [love] was reborn into the world. [1]

Pavarti and ShivaTheir marriage of blissful companionship converted Shiva the ascetic into Shiva the householder. Sharing not only pleasure, but also serious philosophical discussions, their conversations formed the basis of the Hindu faith (the Vedas, the Yoga Sutras and the Tantras). In addition, inspired by Parvati, Shiva became the wellspring of the arts.

Hindus generally portray Parvati in the role of submissive, obedient wife and helpmate. However, those who choose the Tantric path and the worship of the Divine feminine emphasize Parvati’s equality with Shiva, recognizing that he would still be missing his groove without the intervention and balance furnished by his consort Parvati.

The legend offers another, deeper lesson. Tantra often casts women in the role of objects of sexual desire,Pavarti and Shiva implying that beauty and sexual magnetism are all that men need from women to use Tantra as a spiritual path. In fact, the legend of Parvati and Shiva suggests that true union is the province of self-disciplined spiritual heroines and heroes. Seduction - however well intentioned - cannot serve as the basis for Divine union. Both male and female must be willing and able to overcome the pull of materialism in order to accomplish it. In short, they must seek God before they can awaken each other.

  1. Devi Bhakta, article entitled "Shakti Sadhana".

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