The Power and Consort of Shiva
In his book Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Swami Harshananda calls Parvati “the power and consort of Shiva, the god of disintegration and destruction.” He tells us that an overwhelming majority of the goddesses of Hinduism are aspects and variations of Parvati, who has been worshipped since ancient times. (P. 91)
In her first incarnation as Shiva’s wife Daksa, she reviled him and died in sacrifice, ending her own life. Later she was reborn as Parvati, named for being the daughter of the king of mountains, “Parvataraja.” She performed intense
penance and austerities until she succeeded in pleasing Shiva and making him accept her again as his consort. During these times she refused to eat and her mother named her “Uma,” meaning “u-ma or do not” do this austerity. “Uma” also means “the Luminous or Serene One.” Since Shiva is also called “Bhava,” his consort is known as “Bhavani.”
Like Shiva and perhaps the majority of us, Parvati has two aspects: the gentle and the terrible. Parvati, Uma and Bhavani respresent her mild aspects, and Durgha and Kali represent the terrible aspects which she manifested to fight demons and save the universe. (We will save Durgha and Kali for upcoming issues.)
Though born human, Parvati became, through hard penance, the consort of Shiva and became “Mahadevi” or “Maheshvari,” the great mighty goddess who possesses all of the qualities of the goddesses who emerge from her. And as the supreme mother of the universe, she is also called “Amba” and “Ambika,” both words meaning “mother.”
As Bhavani, Parvati, Uma, or Amba, she is usually shown with Shiva and their two sons Ganesha or Karttikeya. At these times, she is depicted with a benign countenance and only two hands; one holding a blue lotus and the other hanging free.
According to Swama Harshananda, Parvati “is the power inscrutable, by which the whole universe is permeated and energized. She is the personification of all wealth, power, beauty and virtues. She is the embodiment of sacrifice, the highest knowledge concerning the spirit, as well as knowledge of the secular sciences. It is she who bestows wealth — both material and spiritual — dispels difficulties, and annihilates the evil ones. Her beauty as well as her valor, is incomparable.” (pp. 106-107) I am most honored that my first Yoga master, Yogi Amrit Desai, gave me the Sanskrit name “Maheshvari” to carry with me and live into. Parvati embodies all of the myriad qualities each of us aims to cultivate and enjoy. May her blessings be upon us.
Sources: Swami Harshananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Madras, India: Sri Ramakrishna Math Printing Press, 2003, ISBN 81- 7120-110-5. www.freeindia.org/parvati