Shiva is the destroyer, God of the yogis, self-controlled and celibate, while at the same time a remarkable lover of his spouse. Parvati is a family Goddess, known for her wifely devotion to Lord Shiva. She has many other names and aspects. Often Durga, Shakti, and Kali might be considered other forms of Parvati.
They are a symbol of love, power, and devotion. The principle power of Shiva comes from helping you realize your true self by destroying the aspects of your beliefs and false ego. Whatever Shiva dissolves is recreated by his consort Parvati, the goddess of love, fertility, and devotion. Together they make a formidable couple. When you invoke the qualities Shiva and Parvati reveal, it enables you to adopt new behaviors and leads to personal transformation. Lord Shiva is an unpredictable God. Although he can appear tranquil, he easily flies into fits of rage, impulsive acts, and, at times, can be callous. Yet he is considered the most powerful of the Gods in Hindu Mythology. Brahma and Vishnu come to realize this in the story of the Shiva Linga – the Universal energy of life that has no beginning and no end.
Ancient Symbolism of Shiva
Shiva is mostly associated with a serpent, a necklace of skulls, a trident, and a third eye he uses for enveloping his enemies into a ball of flame.
The symbol of the serpent appears in all cultures around the world and has done so for thousands of years – sometimes in the form of snakes and dragons.
Symbolism of Parvati
There are many different styles of pictures of Parvati. Often she can be seen as the family woman, with Shiva at her side and young Ganesha in her lap. Other times she is in the form of Durga: dressed in red, riding a lion, her arms full of weapons. The red represents purity and powerful destruction of evil. The weapons destroy ignorance, evil, and ego. At times she is shown carrying the trishula trident, the same as Shiva. Its three prongs are said to represent the three Gunas/qualities: tamas, rajas, and satwa.
“Fertility, marital felicity, devotion to the spouse, asceticism, and power are different virtues symbolized by Parvati.”
Epitome of Love & Devotion
“I am capable of seeing the truth. That you allow me to see you fully, without judgment, tells me that I have become trustworthy. Thus you become the mirror, the Parvati Darpan, that reflects who I am. You help me discover myself. You become my Saraswati. You reveal the true meaning of ‘darshan’. In joy, I dance. I become Nataraj.”
It’s been said that Shiva never spoke a single word until Shakti came into his life as Parvati/Sati.
She not only became his wife, but also his student, asking questions, discussing and deliberating with him, till he revealed the mysteries of life.
One day, She asked him, “What is love?” He looked at her and smiled. “Tell me, please, what is love?” she asked, turning away to hide her blush. This is what he said.
“You come to me as Annapoorna, The goddess of food, and feed me with unconditional love and care, I feel love. For you have taken my hunger unconditionally. When you come as Kamakhya, the goddess of pleasure, and hold me intimately as no one does, I feel love.
“When you come to me as Gauri, delicate and demure, allow me to dominate you, demand things from you knowing that you cannot be dominated by anyone, I feel love. When you come to me as Durga, bearing weapons in your hand, and protect me, I feel secure and safe, cared for, I feel love. This is shakti. This is power. By granting me power, by defending me, protecting me, empowering me, you make me feel loved. This is the second kind of love.
But there is another kind of love. “When you dance atop me as Kali, naked with her hair unbound, unafraid to be powerful and vulnerable and unafraid to be judged and mocked, I feel love. When you open my eyes, I realize that Lalita, the beautiful one, is also a Bhairavi, the fearsome one. I realize Mangala, the auspicious one, is also Chandika, the violent one. I see you totally without judgment, and I realize I am capable of seeing the truth. That you allow me to see you fully, without judgment, tells me that I have gained your entire trust. Thus you become the mirror that reflects who I am. You help me discover myself. You become my Saraswati. You reveal the true meaning of “Darshan”. In joy, I dance. I become Natraja.
Shakti smiled and offered Shiva a boon for this wonderful answer. As he said, “As Shyama, the dark goddess, who is Kali and Shakti, you have taught me love. Grant me the chance to do the same to you”. So the goddess asked Shiva to descend on earth as the fair Radha whose love and pining would make her descend as the dark-one Krishna.
Story of Shiva and Parvati
After the death of Sati, the goddess Shakti incarnated onto the Earth again as the daughter of King Himavat and Queen Mena. After her birth as Parvati, the sage Narad Muni declared that this infant princess was destined to marry Shiva. All while growing up, Parvati would fantasize about Shiva and how she was meant to be his wife. When the time came that Parvati was of marriageable age, she traveled to the Himalayas in order to perform penance to appease Shiva. But Shiva was still grieving for his lost wife, Sati, and would not leave his meditation. Yet, he was unaware that Parvati was the very incarnation of Sati since they each embody Adi Parashakti. So Parvati continued her penance, only allowing herself to eat roots and leaves while bearing the climate of the mountains without any clothing. So great was Parvati’s suffering in order to win Shiva’s heart, that she soon grew very thin, but still, she continued to praise Shiva and follow in his footsteps of asceticism.
Meanwhile, the gods and humans were being terrorized by the asura Taraka. The gods went to Brahma for help and he responded that only the son of Shiva could defeat Taraka. This caused the gods to step in and assist Parvati in drawing Shiva out of his meditation. They sent Kama, the god of desire, to Mount Kailash where Shiva stayed.
Once there, Kama shot one of his divine arrows into Shiva in order to rouse desire in him for Parvati. However, this only enraged Shiva, causing him to open his third eye and annihilate Kama into ash. Parvati continued her severe penance for around 5,000 years and had stopped eating and drinking altogether, becoming skeletal in appearance. Her body had been at the mercy of the winds, the cold, the searing heat, and yet, Parvati remained. So determined was she to be with Shiva, that her penance equaled that of the Mahayogi Shiva himself. From this great penance, Parvati came to remember her past life as Sati, and thus realized that she was the incarnation of Shakti. The energy she created from her penance grew so strong that it reached all the way to Shiva, who stirred from his meditation. Noticing Parvati, he became immensely impressed by the princess and he too noticed that she was his loft wife. He gathered himself up and decided to go test Parvati’s devotion to him.
Under the guise of an elderly brahmin, Shiva approached Parvati and asked her, “Why
are you performing such severe penance, my dear? What do you wish to obtain?” To this, Parvati replied that she wished to marry Lord Shiva. This caused Shiva to cringe, for he realized all this suffering was for him. He then asked “Why would such a beautiful woman like you want to marry someone who covers himself in ash and wears a tiger skin?”
At that question, Parvati became enraged and snapped, “What do you know about him?
I am the reincarnation of goddess Sati, his other half. We are incomplete without each other. "Knowing that her heart was true, Shiva revealed himself to Parvati and tearfully reunited with one another, agreeing to marry. He took Parvati into his arms and cleaned her body with the water of the Ganges flowing from his hair, causing her to emerge as beautiful and radiant like the Moon, and earning her the name Mahagauri. On the day of her wedding, Parvati awaited Shiva at her palace in the company of her family. But when Shiva arrived, he appeared in a terrorizing form with his body smeared in ash and snakes all around his neck and hair.
Accompanying him was a whole host of gods, spirits, ascetics, sages, goblins, ganas, and aghoris. Upon seeing this, Parvati’s parents are left in shock and horror, with many other members fainting out of pure terror. In order to help her family and save Shiva from embarrassment, Parvati takes the fierce form of her aspect Chandraghanta and
approaches Shiva. Calmly, Chandraghanta persuades Shiva to instead take the form of a handsome prince, to which Shiva obliges. The two of them have a grand wedding and happily remain together at Mount Kailash.
One of the 64 manifestations of Shiva, the man, woman form with Parvati constituting the left half of Shiva is Ardhanareeswara. The Ardhanareeswara is the concept that Shiva stands for. In this aspect, he draws the feminine into his own self. He is half man, half woman. A symbol of the Samkhya philosophy which talks of Purusha (the male energy) and Prakriti (the female energy) together makes the cosmic energy. As Ardhanareeswara, Shiva destroys the old, for in destruction, there is renewal, it cleanses and constructs anew. In this new construction, he is the Father of Brahma. And the cycle of time, the process of recreation begins all over again. Mother Shakti once propitiated Lord Shiva with such a fervent intensity that she was part of him in body and mind. Her pleased husband through his divine powers granted her this wish. The Master then absorbed her in half of himself and thus created the half-man half-woman aspect of Lord Shiva, symbolizing the oneness of all beings. One can state that even in gender definition, this aspect became the fundamental root of Advaitha.
When it comes to worshiping Ardhanareeshwara, some worship the Shiva aspect and some worship the Shakti aspect. Shiva is viewed as the holder of power, though he is inert. Shiva is Shava (dead body) thout Shakti. All that power in creation, maintenance, and dissolution rests with Shakti. However, the great mother does not exist without Shiva. When they become one, Ardhanareeshwara becomes a being of generative and constructive force.