is rich with several stories of Devis and Devatas (Goddesses
and Gods), of divine couples who work together as one, in order to
fight malevolence and protect their devotees from the dark forces of
evil. Today, we bring you the story of the Trimurti, or the Divine
Trinity-couples of Hinduism - the tales of Brahma and Saraswati; Vishnu
and Lakshmi; and Shiva and Parvati.
Together, we discover the true nature and mission of these three divine
couples of Hindu mythology.
PARVATI, LAKSHMI AND SARASWATI - CONSORTS
OF THE TRIMURTI DEITIES
Brahma and Saraswati
Lord Brahma - the Prajapati, the
Lord Brahma is considered the Creator of the entire world and hence, he
is also referred to as the Prajapati. Brahma is infinite and is the
source of space and time. Theologically, Brahma is eka akshara or made
up of one letter, the AUM. He is also a swayambhu devata, the self-born
In philosophical terms, Brahma is the first manifestation of one's
ahankara. In cosmological terms, he is the Hiranya Garbha or the golden
embryo, whence came all creation. He is considered the Ball of Fire,
from which developed the entire Universe. Hence, all creatures from all
the three worlds are his progeny.
Brahma is also referred to as the Pitamaha (Patriarch), Dhatru
(Sustainer), Lokesha (Master of the Universe), Vidhi (Ordinator) and
Viswakarma (Architect of the World).
Origin of Lord Brahma
There are several legends on how Lord Brahma was created.
According to Hindu mythology, Brahma rises from the Kamala or Lotus,
growing from the Nabhi or navel of Sri Maha Vishnu. Hence, he is also
called Nabhija (born from the navel) and Kanja (born from water).
Legend has it that his consort, Saraswati, manifested out of him and
all creatures of the world resulted from their union.
In the Manu Smriti, Lord Brahma manifested in order to dispel the
darkness in the Universe. He first created water and then deposited a
seed therein. This seed became a golden egg, from which he was born as
Brahma. Dividing the egg into two parts to construct the heaven and
earth, Brahma also created the ten Prajapatis, who went on to complete
the work of creation.
According to yet another legend, after dividing the golden egg, Lord
Brahma separated himself into two parts, the male and the female. From
these two halves sprang Viraja and from him Manu.
According to an account from the Ramayana, Brahma sprang from ether and
the sages Atri, Angiras, Marichi, Narada, Sanandana, Sanaka,
Sanatkumara, Sanasujata and others are his manasa putras or mentally
conceived sons. From Marichi came Kashyapa, from whom sprang
Vishwavata, who in turn, created Manu, the Procreator of all Human
Beings. Thus, Manu became Brahma's great grandson.
Imagery of Brahma
Mythologically, Brahma is believed to have had five heads, originally.
Unfortunately, one of these heads was cut down by Shiva in his rage.
Hence, Brahma's image now has four heads. He is depicted as the
Chaturmukha Brahma, each face looking toward the four quartem.
Each of Brahma's heads represent the four Vedas - Rig, Yajur, Sama and
Atharva; the four yugas or epochs - Krita, Treta, Dwapara and Kali; and
the four Varnas or classes - Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Shudra.
The four faces have white flowing beards. There are four arms holding
up different objects, such as
the akshamala (rosary), kurcha (kusha grass), sruk (ladle), sruva
(spoon), kamandala (water pot) and pustaka (book), in different poses.
Their combination and esoteric relevance vary with each image.
The Akshamala symbolizes time; and Kamandala, the waters of all
creation. The kusha, sruk and sruva, denote the types of sacrifices
used by creatures to sustain each other. The book represents religious
and secular knowledge. The icon may be shown in standing posture on a
lotus or in sitting posture on a Hamsa or swan. The Hamsa stands for
wisdom and discrimination.
Brahma is sometimes also shown riding a chariot drawn by seven swans.
This represents the seven worlds. Temples, which are rarely dedicated
to Brahma, show his Viswakarma aspect with four heads, the four arms
holding the rosary, the book, kusha and kamandala, riding his swan.
Temples of Shiva or Vishnu usually have a niche in the northern wall
for Brahma as a Parivara Devata and his image receives daily worship.
Except in places such as Pushkar, Ajmer, there are not many temples
dedicated to Brahma. Some experts believe that the Brahma cult that had
thrived in the pre-Vedic era faded away when the Shiva-Vishnu cults
came into being.
Saraswati - the Goddess of Learning
The name Saraswati is a combination of two words, Saras (meaning flow)
and Wati (meaning a woman). Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge
and Learning, is hence likened to a river; flowing with knowledge and
supremely alluring, like a beautiful woman. She is depicted as
beautiful Goddess with Four arms, wearing a spotless white saree,
seated on white lotus. Saraswati is also known as Sharada, Vidya, Vani
and Vagdevi. She is regarded as the Goddess of Music, Arts, Science and
Technology as well. In East India, she is considered to be the daughter
of Durga and sister of Lakshmi. In the South, she is regarded the
daughter-in-law of Lakshmi.
Legend of Saraswati
According to the Rigveda, Saraswati is a river as well. In the
post-Vedic age, however, she began to lose her status as a river
goddess and became associated with literature, arts, music, etc.
According to Hinduism, Saraswati embodies intelligence, consciousness,
cosmic knowledge, creativity, education, enlightenment, music, the
arts, eloquence and power. Hindus worship her both for academic and
Some Puranas state that Saraswati is the daughter of Shiva. According
to some sects, Saraswati was born from the left body part of Vishnu
when He was in his eternal sleep. In any case, Saraswati is generally
worshipped as the wife of Lord Brahma. The Devi Mahatmyam too, mentions
her as Brahmapatni.
Interestingly enough, she is also sometimes considered Brahmaputri or
the daughter of Brahma. Brahma created everything in this Universe and
hence, he is believed to have created Saraswati too. This would then
make her his daughter.
The Devi Mahatmyam describes Saraswati as one of the Trinity of Maha
Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati. Here, she is depicted as being
an eight-armed Goddess. She is included as one form of Mahavidya Tara
in Tantra, as Goddess Nilasaraswati. Saraswati is also regarded as a
guardian deity in Buddhism - the one who upholds the teachings of
Gautama Buddha, by protecting his followers.
Iconography of Saraswati
Saraswati is usually portrayed as a beautiful woman dressed in pure
white, often seated on a white lotus, which symbolizes the Absolute
Truth. Hence, she is also considered to be the experience of the
Highest Reality. The colour white signifies her purity. Occasionally,
she is also associated with the colour yellow, the colour of the
flowers of the mustard plant, which blooms at the time of her festival
in spring. Unlike Goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati is adorned with simple
jewels and gold. This represents her preference of knowledge over
worldly material things.
Saraswati is usually shown with four arms, which represent the four
aspects of human personality, namely, mind, intellect, alertness, and
ego. These four arms also represent the 4 Vedas, which in turn,
represent the 3 forms of literature, namely, poetry, prose and music.
Prose is represented by the book in one of her hands, while poetry, by
the garland of crystals in her other hand. From another perspective,
the book represents Eternal Knowledge, as
also her mastery over science and the scriptures. The rosary of
crystals embodies the power of spirituality and meditation.
The aspect of music is
represented by the Veena, which she is shown playing. The Veena
embodies her mastery of all the arts and love for rhythm,
music and all the finer emotions.
Some she is shown to be holding a pot of sacred
water, which represents purity in all of
these three aspects, as well as their power to purify human thought. It
signifies her powers of creativity and purification.
A hamsa or swan is usually shown at her feet. When offered a mixture of
milk and water, the bird is said to have the wisdom to separate the
water from the milk and drink the milk alone. Hence, it symbolizes the
power of discrimination between good and bad. Saraswati is also known
as Hamsavahini, since the Hamsa is her vehicle.
Sometimes, a peacock is shown near the Goddess. The peacock represents
arrogance and vanity. By choosing a peacock as her mount, the Goddess
teaches one to go beyond external appearance and to be wise regarding
the eternal truth.
The Worship of Saraswati
In eastern India, Saraswati Puja is celebrated in the Magha month,
which coincides with Vasant Panchami or Shree Panchami. This falls on
the 5th day of the bright fortnight of the lunar month of Magha. People
place books near the Goddess' statue or picture and worship the
Goddess. Book reading is not allowed on this day.
In South India, Saraswati Puja is conducted on the 9th day of
Navaratri. The last three days of this ten day festival are dedicated
to Goddess Saraswati in this part of India. The Saraswati Puja is
conducted along with the Ayudha Puja, the worship of weapons,
implements and machines. Books and musical instruments are kept in
front of the Goddess Saraswati and worshipped as aspects of the Devi.
It is believed that the deity herself is blessing the books and the
instruments, and hence, no learning takes place on this day.
Interestingly, there are not many temples dedicated to Saraswati. The
Gnana Saraswati Temple in Basar, Andhra Pradesh, is believed to be one
of 2 temples in India dedicated to the Goddess.
Saraswati and Brahma - the Relevance
of the Divine Couple
Saraswati is known to have subdued the wandering mind of Brahma.
According to legend, at the very start of creating this Universe,
Brahma is believed to have become enchanted by his own first creation,
Shatarupa, goddess of material existence. So amazed was he by her that
he sprouted five heads, just so that he could keep watching her at all
times, from all directions. Though he followed her wherever she went,
he failed to possess this mercurial being.
In order to restrain Brahma's lust and get him back to the task of
creating the rest of the world, Shiva cut off one of Brahma's heads.
Instantly sobered, Brahma turned to Saraswati and learnt to control his
drifting mind. The Vedas, which are Saraswati's offspring, showed
Brahma the way out of his illusory sensual trap. From that day onward,
the four heads of Brahma began chanting the four Vedas. Brahma and his
consort, Saraswati, represent the four Vedas. All knowledge, both
religious and secular, comes from them.
According to some texts, the name Narayana had first applied to Brahma
and only later to Vishnu. In fact, the first three manifestations of
Vishnu, namely, the Matsya, Koorma and Varaha avataras, as also all the
sages, and Prajapatis were all originally attributed to Brahma, before
they shifted to Vishnu. Brahma is believed to have created all the
sciences, arts, music, dance and drama. He also later presided over the
wedding of Shiva and Parvati.
Vishnu and Lakshmi
Sri Maha Vishnu - the Lord of
Sustenance and Preservation
Vishnu is considered to be the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition
of Hinduism. The Vishnu Sahasranamam states that Vishnu is the ultimate
Paramatman (Supreme Being), the All-Pervading One and the One beyond
the past, present and future. He is the one who supports and sustains
the Universe and is a force of preservation. Hence, Vishnu is also
called the Preserver of the Universe.
The Puranas describe Vishnu as being blue-colored, four-armed, holding
a Padma (lotus), Gada (mace), Shankha (conch) and Chakra (wheel).
Vishnu is also known to take his gigantic Vishwarupa or the 'Universal
Form', from time to time. Vishnu is either worshipped directly or in
the form of his ten avataras or manifestations. Among the ten principal
avataras, only one, the Kalki Avatara, will take place in the future,
at the end of Kali Yuga.
Lord Vishnu has been associated with infinite auspicious qualities, of
which the following are the most important - Jnana or Omniscience;
Aishwarya or Sovereignty; Shakti or Energy; Bala or Strength; Veerya or
Vigour; and Tejas or Splendor. The Rigveda mentions Vishnu a total of
93 times. Though solar aspects have been associated with Vishnu, he did
not embody only the sun, as he is capable of moving around the world,
both vertically and horizontally.
Vishnu is known as the doer of the best deeds. He is considered to be
equal to Indra, the King of the Devas, and is even the key to Indra's
success. Vishnu is not considered a sacrificial deity, but one who
lives in the highest of celestial regions, far beyond the other
Devatas. He is also known to be appeased with a mere prayer, rather
than through elaborate rituals.
The Rigveda describes Vishnu as none other than the Sun God who also
bore the name Suryanarayana. But the Vishnu Purana describes Vishnu as
Narayana, the Supreme Lord who has Sreedevi (Lakshmi) and Bhoodevi
(Goddess Earth or Bhoomi) as his wives/consorts.
In the Puranas, Vishnu is often depicted as coming to the aid of the
Devas, helping them fight the asuras (demons) and other evil forces.
Indra very often turns to Vishnu, as there are many situations where no
one can save him but the Protector God Narayana. Vishnu obliges
him by taking his ten avataras (Dashavatara) or reincarnations,
including Matsya (the
Fish), Koorma (the Tortoise), Varaha (the Wild Boar), Narasimha (the
Man-Lion), Vamana (the Dwarf), Parashurama (the Axe-wielding Brahmin),
Rama (consort of Sita, slayer of Ravana), Balarama (Krishna's brother),
Krishna (the One who bestowed the Bhagavad Gita) and Kalki (the One who
would destroy Kali).
Iconography of Vishnu
Vishnu is depicted as a four-armed male form. The four arms indicate
his all-powerful nature. The two arms in front show his control on
material existence and the two arms at the back represent his presence
in the spiritual world. The color of his skin is dark blue, indicating
his all-pervasive nature. Blue is the color of infinite space as well
as the infinite Ocean of Milk on which he resides.
On his chest, near the heart, is the Srivatsa mark, symbolising his
consort Lakshmi. He also bears the mark of rishi Bhrigu's feet on his
chest. Around Vishnu's neck lies the auspicious "Kaustubha" jewel, in
which Lakshmi resides, and a Vanamala or garland of flowers. Sometimes
he is also shown
holding his bow, the Shaaranga, and his sword, Nandaka.
His head is ornamented by an elaborate crown, which symbolizes his
supreme authority. This crown is sometimes depicted having a peacock
feather, thus displaying an aspect of his own avatara, Krishna.
He also wears earrings, representing the inherent opposites in creation
- knowledge and ignorance; happiness and unhappiness; pleasure and pain.
Lord Vishnu reclines on Ananta or Shesha, the immortal thousand-headed
snake. Hence, he is considered to be in the Anantashayan or
Sheshashayan position on the bed of snakes. At his feet is his consort
Lakshmi, pressing his feet.
Vishnu's Shankha, named Panchajanya, held in his upper left hand,
represents Vishnu's power to create and maintain the universe. The
Panchajanya also represents the five elements or Panchabhootas of
water, fire, air, earth and space; and the five Pranas residing within
the body of living beings. The conch further symbolizes the Primal
Sound of Om, which is also embodied by the Lord himself.
Vishnu's Chakra or Discus, also called the Sudarshana Chakra, is held
in the upper right hand and embodies the purified spiritual mind. The
chakra represents doing away of ego and the true realization of the
non-dual nature of man and God.
The mace or Gada, named "Kaumodaki", is held in the lower left hand.
This implies that Vishnu is the source all spiritual, mental and
physical strength. It also represents Vishnu's power to destroy
materialistic tendencies within the person's consciousness, which poses
an obstacle to reaching Godhead.
The lotus flower or Padma, held by the lower right hand, embodies
spiritual liberation and the awakening of the spiritual consciousness
in the light of god. It also represents Divine Truth or Satya, and
Divine knowledge or jnana.
Vishnu is shown in any of three ways, as follows:
- Standing upright, on a lotus
flower, along with Lakshmi standing beside him.
- Reclining on the Shesha Naga, with
Lakshmi seated at his feet.
- Riding on Garuda, his Eagle Mount.
Garuda carrying Vishnu on his back, symbolizes the Jeevatma carrying
the Paramatma within it.
The Vaishnavite View of Vishnu as the
Vishnu is loved and venerated by Vaishnavites and Shaivites alike. The
Vaishnava canon clearly distinguishes Lord Vishnu from other deities
like Shiva and Brahma. In the first case, the most commonly accepted
iconography of Vishnu is in the reclining position, having Brahma
emerging from Vishnu's navel. Hence, Brahma, the Creator of the
Universe, is himself said to be created by Vishnu.
Secondly, Brahma and Shiva go on to give boons to demons or Asuras, and
as a consequence, they end up making the evil forces stronger. Then it
is up to Vishnu to take various avatars to slay or defeat those demons.
This is again considered Vishnu's triumph over Shiva's and Brahma's
Vishnu in Sri Vaishnavism
According to the school of Sri Vaishnavism, Vishnu has five forms,
which are as follows:
- In the Para Form, which is the
highest form, Vishnu can be found in Sri Vaikuntha (also referred to as
Moksha), along with his consort Lakshmi, Bhuma Devi and Nila Devi. He
is surrounded by great souls such as Garuda, Ananta and other Muktas.
- In the Vyuha Form, Vishnu takes
four forms, in order to exercise different cosmic functions.
- In the Vibhava form, Vishnu assumes
various manifestations, called Vibhavas or Avataras in order to
- In the Antaryami Form, the One
"dwelling within" or "Suksma Vasudeva" exists within all living beings
and in every atom of matter.
- In the Archavatara or Image
manifestation, the Lord is easily approachable to the devotees
directly, by way of images and idols.
Lakshmi - The Goddess of Wealth and
Lakshmi is the Hindu Goddess of wealth, prosperity, wisdom, fertility
and courage. She is the very embodiment of beauty, charm and grace. So
popular is Goddess Lakshmi that she is even found in Jain monuments.
Also referred to as Mahalakshmi and Shri (the Auspicious One), she is
said to bring good luck, and protects her devotees from sorrow and
misery. Lakshmi in Sanskrit is derived from its elemental form laks,
meaning "to perceive or observe". The name is also related with the
term, "lakshya", which means "aim" or "objective".
Lakshmi is endowed with six auspicious qualities or Gunas, and she is
the source of strength to Lord Narayana himself. She is the consort of
Vishnu and took the form of Sita in the Ramayana. She was Radha,
Rukmini and all the other wives of Krishna. Lakshmi is the vital
driving force behind Vishnu's energy. In Bengal, Lakshmi is considered
to be a daughter of Durga, along with her sister Saraswati and her
brothers Ganesha and Karthikeya.
Iconography of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is depicted as a beautiful woman with a glowing, golden
complexion, having four hands, sitting or standing on a full-bloomed
lotus, holding a lotus bud. The lotus bud stands for beauty, purity and
fertility. Lakshmi's four hands represent the four main aims of human
life, namely, dharma (righteousness), kama (desires), artha (material
wealth), and finally, moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and
From her hands flows a constant, unending stream of gold coins. This
goes to imply that those who worship her gain wealth. She is draped in
gold embroidered red clothes - the color indicates auspiciousness and
the golden lining indicates prosperity.
Usually, two elephants are shown standing on either side of the
Goddess, spraying water with their trunks. This denotes that ceaseless
effort, in accordance with one's dharma leads the follower to both
material and spiritual prosperity.
Lakshmi as a Mother Goddesss
Lakshmi is considered as a Mother Goddess and is addressed as Mata, and
not just as Devi. Lakshmi is also the household deity of most
Hindu families, and a favorite among women. Householders worship her
for their well-being and prosperity. Businessmen worship her and offer
her daily prayers to her, so as to make immense gains in business.
Widely worshipped on a daily basis by several Indian families, her
special festive month falls in October. The elaborate Lakshmi Puja is
celebrated on the full moon night following Dusshera or Durga Puja. It
is believed that on this full moon night, the Goddess herself visits
the homes of her devotees and bestows them with peace, prosperity and
wealth. A special worship is also offered to Lakshmi on the auspicious
Lakshmi and Vishnu - the Preservers
Together, Vishnu and Lakshmi are the embodiment of love and good
fortune. They work to bring peace and happiness in this world. They are
the Preservers and Maintainers of the Universe, the Ones who bestow
both material and spiritual abundance on their devotees.
While Goddess Lakshmi seems to be the submissive one in Vishnu's
traditional Ananta Shayan pose, she is in actuality the one who gives
the power to Vishnu to carry out his mission. This is amply proved by
one legend. Sage Bhrigu, in a rage, had once hit Vishnu's chest with
his feet and created an imprint on it. He felt he had been ignored by
the divine couple. This was the place that Lakshmi resided, and so, she
had been deeply hurt by the sage's misdemeanour and left Vaikuntha.
Her departure made Vishnu sorrowful and the whole world came to a
standstill, with evil forces gaining more power and creating anarchy
everywhere. It was only after she returned to her Lord in her next
lifecycle, that peace and righteousness were re-established in this
Shiva and Parvati
Shiva - the Destroyer
Shiva, the "Auspicious One", is also known to be the destroyer or
transformer God among the Trimurti. Shiva is an omniscient and
omnipresent yogi or mendicant, who lives the life of a sage at Mount
Kailas. In Shaivism, Shiva is seen as the Supreme God.
Lord Shiva or Rudra, as he is also known, is generally worshipped in
the abstract form of the Shiva Linga. Image-wise, he is depicted as a
handsome and strong man, deeply immersed in meditation or dancing the
Tandava upon Apasmara, the demon of ignorance, in his manifestation of
Nataraja, the Lord of the dance. Shiva is considered as having the
authority over death, rebirth and immortality - he retains his youthful
looks due to this quality. He is also the father of Ganesha and
Adi Shankara interprets the name "Shiva" as having several meanings,
including, the "Eternally Pure One", or "the One who is not affected by
three Gunas of Prakriti", as also "the One who purifies everyone by the
very utterance of His name". Shiva is considered as Anaadi (no
beginning) and Anant (no end - infinite).
The other names of Shiva include Maheshwara and Mahadeva (the Great
Lord), Vamadeva, Neelakantha (the One with the Blue Neck), Parameshwara
(the Supreme One), Pashupati, Dakshinamurthy and so on.
Shiva's Identification with Vedic
Shiva worship is a very ancient tradition and spans across the length
and breadth of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Shiva is as major a God as
Vishnu. This rise in Shiva's position in the Hindu pantheon was
probably because of his identification with several major Vedic
deities, such as Agni, Indra, Prajapati, Vayu and so on.
Rudra and Agni shared a close relationship. In fact, Agni is called
Rudra too. Agni is believed to be a bull and Lord Shiva's vehicle is
Nandi, the bull. In medieval sculpture, both Agni and Bhairava, a form
of Shiva, have flaming hair.
According to certain schools of thought, Puranic Shiva is a
continuation of the Vedic Indra. Both Shiva and Indra are very fond of
the divine drink, Soma. Both deities are associated with mountains,
rivers, male fertility, fearlessness, fierceness, warfare, the sound of
Aum and finally, the Supreme Self.
Shaivism, like Vaishnavism, is a major religious sect in India.
Followers of Shaivism, called Shaivas or Saivites, revere Shiva as the
Supreme Being. Shaivites believe that Shiva is the Ultimate God, the
Creator, Preserver, Destroyer, Revealer and Concealer.
Imagery of Shiva
Shiva is portrayed as a powerful and rugged youth with matter hair,
vibhuti and ash smeared all over his body (this indicates Shiva's
aspect of Bhairava, who is associated with ancient Tantra and
cremation-ground asceticism), having a Third Eye, wielding the Trishul
or the Trident. He wears a crescent moon on his head (which shows the
control he wields over his own mind, through the waxing and waning
phases of the moon) and the matted Jata on his head holds the Ganga
(the flow of the Ganga implies the nectar of immortality), who
constantly spouts a thin stream of water.
In depictions of Shiva in the Nataraja form, shown as dancing the
Tandava dance, He is shown with four hands. He holds fire in his upper
and a Damaru in his upper right hand. The Damaru stands for creation,
while the fire, for destruction. He is pressing with his feet the
demon Muyalaka, a dwarf holding a cobra. He usually faces south.
He wears serpents (a sign of wisdom)
and a garland of skulls as ornaments.
Shiva's Trishul that he holds in his right hand, represents the three
Gunas, thus indicating that he rules the world through these three
Gunas. The Damaru in His left hand represents the Sabda Brahman. It
represents OM from which all languages are formed. It is believed that
it was Shiva who formed the Sanskrit language from the sound of the
Normally in a highly meditative mood, Shiva opens his third eye only
when he is deeply disturbed. This action usually causes massive
destruction. He had once burnt down Kama, the God of Love, when the
latter tried to disrupt his penance. But Shiva also occasionally opened
his third eye to create as well. In the case of Karthikeya's birth, he
had initially created six sparks, which turned into six children, which
fused together to make one child with six faces. This was Karthikeya or
Shiva is blue-throated and hence, he is also referred to as
Neelakantha. This occurred in the Samudra Manthan episode, wherein
Shiva drank the deadly Halahala poison that churned up from the Ocean
Shiva is often shown seated upon a tiger skin, also wearing tiger skin
around his waist. This is an honour reserved only for the most powerful
Hindu ascetics, the Brahmarishis. Tiger represents lust. Hence, his
sitting on the tiger's skin indicates that He has conquered lust.
Shiva rides the Nandi, the Bull. The Rishabha or
the Bull represents the Dharma Devata, the Deity of Righteousness. The
Ganas are his attendants. Surrounded by dance and music, accompanied by
his consort Parvati, Shiva resides in the frigid peaks of Mount Kailas.
Sometimes, Shiva is shown with his Five Faces of Satyojata, Vamaka,
Tathpurusha, Eeshana and Aghora.
The Many Forms of Shiva
Shiva is given several opposite attributes. While he is the Destroyer,
he is also considered the Benefactor. While he is concerned with the
cremation ground on the one hand, he is also considered equally
auspicious. In fact, the name Shankara, means, "the one who does good".
Hence, while he is terrible and fearful in his aspect as the Mahakala,
he is equally calm and benevolent in his form as the Dakshinamurthy or
the Divine Teacher.
The other strange aspect of Shiva is that he is essentially a Yogi,
yet, he is a loyal householder, a loving husband and a doting father of
Shiva, in his aspect of Nataraja, is portrayed as Nartaka or dancer.
Hence, he is also referred to as Natesha (Lord of Dance) and Nityanarta
(the Eternal Dancer). He is most known to perform the Tandava, a
vigorous, male-oriented dance, which aids him in performing the tasks
of creation, preservation and destruction.
Parvati performs the Lasya, which is a much softer, more feminine
version of the dance. Together, their dance represents the balance of
opposites in this Universe.
The form of the Ardhanarishvara, shows Shiva as the fusing of himself
and Parvati in one single body. The right side shows the male half of
Shiva and the left side is the female half of Parvati. This shows that
the world is a balanced place only when the Universal male-female
energy is balanced.
Worship of Shiva as a Linga
The worship of Shiva in the form of a Linga, is very important. The
Linga is commonly found in the shape of a vertical rounded column.
Shiva means auspiciousness, and Linga means a sign or a symbol. Hence,
the Shivalinga is regarded as a symbol of the great God, who is also
the Auspicious One.
Shiva means "the one in whom the whole creation rests after
dissolution". Incidentally, the Linga is also a place where objects get
dissolved during the disintegration of the created universe. At
present, Shivalinga worship is the most widely accepted type of worship
to Lord Shiva.
The Maha Shivratri is the main festival of Lord Shiva. Celebrated
annually on the 13th night or the 14th day of the new moon in the
Krishna Paksha of the month of Maagha or Phalguna in the Hindu almanac,
Shivaratri also marks the night when Lord Shiva married Parvati.
On this sacred day, the devotees observe fast and offer fruits, flowers
and Bel leaves to the Shiva Linga.
Temples of Shiva
Of all the Shiva temples spread across India, the Jyotirlingas are the
most prominent. They are Somnath in Gujarat; Mahakaleshwar in Madhya
Pradesh; Omkareshwar also at Madhya Pradesh; Kedarnath at Uttarakhand;
Bhimashankar at Maharashtra; Kashi Vishwanath in Kashi, Uttar Pradesh;
Trimbakeshwar at Maharashtra; Ramanathaswamy at Tamil Nadu;
Grishneshwar at Maharashtra; Vaidyanath at Jharkhand; Nageshwar at
Uttarakhand and Mallikarjuna Swamy at Andhra Pradesh.
In South India, there are five temples of Shiva, which are particularly
important, as they each represent one of the five elements. These
temples are Jambukeshwar (Water), Arunachaleshwar (Fire),
Kalahasteeshwar (Air), Ekambareshwar (Earth) and the Nataraja Temple at
The Amarnath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, in Jammu and Kashmir, is of
great significance. Here is where you can find a natural frozen Linga,
which is worshipped as the physical embodiment of the Lord Himself.
There are many, many other temples dedicated to the worship of Lord
Parvati - The Daughter of Himavan
Parvati or Shakti is the consort of Shiva and the gentle aspect of
Mahadevi, the Great Goddess. Parvati is considered as complete
incarnation of Adi Parashakti, with all other Goddesses being her own
incarnations or manifestations.
She is the Parvata Raja Kumari, the daughter of Himavan, the King of
the Mountains. She is also believed to be the Shyama Krishna Sodari,
the sister of Krishna or Vishnu.
Parvati as Sati
The Mother of Ganesha and Karthikeya, Parvati is the reincarnation of
Sati, Shiva's first wife. Sati, in humiliation, had jumped into her
father, Daksha's, Yagnakuntha (sacrificial fire), when he tried to
insult her husband. Daksha never approved of Sati's love for Shiva and
always found a way to ridicule the latter. After Sati married Shiva, he
refused to accept his son-in-law and cut off all ties with them. When
Sati heard of Daksha's Yagna, she went to attend the same, much against
Shiva's wishes. Daksha insulted her and Shiva in public and this went
beyond Sati's tolerance. She immediately jumped into the fire and gave
up her own life. Shiva was bereft on hearing the news and in a rage,
stormed into the Yagna, picked up Sati's body on his shoulder and left
to his abode, where he stayed single for many hundreds of years, till
he found Parvati.
Other Names of Parvati
The term Parvati is sometimes considered a form of "Pavitra" or pure
and sinless. Parvati is also referred to as Shailaja or Shailaputri,
Bhairava, Kumari, Kali, Uma, Aparna, Lalita, Mata, Sahana, Shyamala,
Gauri, Shivangi, Durga, Bhavani, Kamakshi and so on.
Strangely, Parvati is referred to both as Gauri (the Fair One) and
Shyamala (the Dark-complexioned One). Legend has it that Parvati was
dark in color and so, once Shiva made fun of her complexion. Taking
immediate offence, an angry Parvati left him and underwent severe
austerities to get a boon to become fair-complexioned. Succeeding in
her mission, she went on to become Gauri.
Parvati's Marriage to Shiva
After her death, Sati had come to Shiva and had promised him that she
would return to him soon. Parvati was very interested in hearing
Shiva's tales, right from her very birth. She remembered her earlier
life as Sati. As Parvati grew into a young woman, she began to perform
tapas (penance) to please Shiva and to reunite with him. As Aparna, she
surpassed all other ascetics in austerity, undergoing severe penance
and fasting. She would meditate for days in the biting cold, wearing
not even a piece of cloth around her. As Uma, she refused all food and
She would then visit him while he was deep in meditation and offer
aarti to him. Finally, Shiva decided to test her devotion by appearing
in disguise as an old Brahmin, severely critical of Shiva. Parvati,
though, remained unaffected by him. Finally, Shiva revealed his true
form and conceded to marry Parvati. After the marriage, Parvati moved
to Mount Kailash, the residence of Shiva.
The True Signifance of the
Parvati's marriage to Shiva could be seen as an allegory illustrating
the desire of an individual to achieve a state of liberation from a
life of strife and banality. Spiritually, Shiva represents a state
beyond human suffering. Parvati, on the other hand, symbolizes the
aspirant seeking to achieve nirvana. Their union actually indicates the
final union of the Jeevatma and the Paramatma.
This perspective changes the entire flavour of the relationship between
Shiva and Parvati, as of one having high esoteric value, and not merely
as a romantic love story. Also, the story of Parvati proves beyond
doubt that she too was a powerful ascetic, who transcended the worldly
Imagery of Parvati
Parvati, when depicted with Shiva, usually appears with two arms. But
when she is shown alone, the Goddess is portrayed as having four or
eight arms, astride a tiger or lion, sometimes even Nandi, Shiva's
Bull. When shown with Shiva, she carries a fully bloomed blue lotus,
shows the abhaya mudra and usually has one of her children on her knee.
As against other Goddesses who have their eyes fully open, Parvati's
eyes are languid and dreamy, as if she just emerged from deep
meditation. In her aspect of Parvati, the deity is most commonly
depicted along with Shiva, and not alone.
Parvati is referred to as Trigunatmika (having the three Gunas) and
yet, as being Nirguna (without any Gunas). She too has three eyes. She
is also sometimes depicted with Jatamukuta or a crown of matted hair,
just like Shiva. Like Shiva, sometimes she is shown as having a
moon bound in her locks.
In many sculpture, Parvati is depicted as bare-breasted, wearing a
sacred thread. Bare breasts were considered a mark of divinity in
ancient India. Clothes symbolised earthly attachments and nudity was
indicative of divinity. She also carries a rosary, mirror, bell, and
citron in her four hands.
Normally considered a benevolent Goddess, Parvati also has terrible
incarnations, such as Chandi, Durga, Tara, Kali and the darker,
Tantric, Mahavidyas. Her benevolent forms include Kamalatmika,
Kathyayini, Bhuvaneshwari, Mahagauri, Lalita and so on.
Parvati as the All-Powerful Goddess
Being Adi Parashakti herself, Parvati is the Goddess of Power. She
gives Prana Shakti or life energy to all beings, including Shiva, who
is shorn of all power, without her presence in his life. Hence, Parvati
is also known as Shakti. Parvati grants the power to all living beings,
including Devas and even Asuras, the power see, hear, feel, think,
walk, eat, and do all else. This is why the Goddess is worshiped by all
Gods, the Trimurti, Rishis and all other beings.
Parvati features prominently in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Poet
Kalidasa gave Parvati an exalted status through his several works. Just
as Shiva is a combination of Rudra, Agni and so on, the Puranic Parvati
too is a combinato of Kali, Gauri, Aditi and Nirriti (the Goddess of
Sickness and Evil). She features primarily as a Mountain Goddess.
Most Important Forms of Parvati
Parvati took various forms as and when the occasion demanded it. Here
is a list of her major manifestations:
- Durga - the form of the Warrior
Goddess that she took to defeat demons like Durgam and more
importantly, Mahisha. Here, she emerged as the joint strength of all
the Devas and wielded each of their weapons in her hands.
- Kali and Chandi - these terrible
forms were taken to fight and defeat asuras such as Chanda and
- The Ten Mahavidyas or the Dus
Mahavidya - ten Tantric
aspects of Maha Shakti, they all incarnated from Sati, many of them
being dark, agressive Goddesses.
Worship of Parvati
The Gauri Festival is celebrated on the seventh, eighth, ninth of
Bhadrapada, Shukla paksha. She is worshipped as the goddess of harvest
and the protector of women. In Rajasthan, she is worshipped as Gauri
during the Gangaur festival. The festival starts on the first day of
Chaitra the day after Holi and continues for 18 days.
The most popular festival is Navratri, she is worshipped as Durga and
also as all her nine manfestations for nine days. During the festival
of Gauri tritiya, it is believed that Parvati spends a month at her
parent's home. This festival is popular in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The most popular Parvati temples include Akilandeswari temple at
Thiruvanaikaval in Tamil Nadu, Ambaji temple at Gujarat, Attukal Temple
in Kerala, Chottanikkara Temple in Kerala, Kamakshi Amman Temple in
Tamil Nadu, Meenakshi Temple in Tamil Nadu, the Shakti Peethas and so
on. The Vaishno Devi temple at Jammu and Kashmir is her most famous and
most celebrated temple.
Parvati and Shiva - Two Halves of a
Shakti, Shiva's reason of existence, is believed to transcend even
Shiva. Just as Shiva is both the deity of destruction and regeneration,
the couple jointly symbolise at the same time, both the power of
renunciation and asceticism and the blessings of marital felicity.
Parvati thus symbolises fertility (as the Mother Goddess of Ganesha and
Karthikeya), marital felicity and fidelity to the spouse, asceticism,
and power. Parvati represents the ideal Indian householder.
Legends talk about a constant bickering between Shiva and Parvati.
Shiva was living with Parvati in her father's house, while they had a
terrible argument one day. In a bout of uncontrolled fury, Shiva
attempted to walk out on her. But so enraged was Parvati, that ten
terrifying forms manifested from her, to block Shiva's every exit. This
is how the Dus Mahavidyas came into being.
Parvati civilizes and refines the rugged Shiva with her presence. When
Shiva dances his violent, destructive Tandava, Parvati calms him by
complementing his dance with her own slow, creative and graceful Lasya.
In fact, according to many myths, Parvati is even seen as his rival,
tricking and seducing him away from his ascetic practices. Again,
Parvati is also the one to subdue Shiva's immense sexual vitality.
Legend has it that when the linga of Shiva was cursed by the sages and
fell on the earth, burning everything before it, Parvati took the form
of a yoni and soothed it by holding the linga in her yoni. The Padma
Purana also talks about the time when Parvati assumed the form of the
yoni to receive the lingam of Shiva, who was cursed by Bhrigu.
Parvati's physical union with Shiva symbolises the union of a male and
female in ecstasy and sexual bliss.
These stories establish Shiva and Parvati as a balanced whole - telling
us about reconciliation, interdependence and harmony - maintaining a
family life, while also living with the attitude of an ascetic.
Shaivas look upon Parvati as Shiva's submissive and obedient wife.
However, Shaktas focus on Parvati's equality to or even superiority
over her consort. Together, Shiva and Parvati constitute the
Prakriti-Purusha (feminine and masculine) forces of the Universe. They
are opposites, yet are inseparable and interdependent, much like the
Yin and Yang.