In Hindu mythology Parvati (she who belongs to the mountains) is the daughter of HIMAVAT and Mena, and the wife of the ascetic god SHIVA. She is considered the REINCARNATION of Shiva’s first wife, SAT I. She also goes by the name Uma. The first textual mention of Parvati/Uma is in the KENA UPANISHAD (c. 600 B.C.E.). Many scholars believe that Parvati was a mountain goddess of the indigenous, non-Aryan people of India who was absorbed into the Brahminical tradition.
   Parvati is born, according to most stories, to lure Shiva away from asceticism so that he will produce a son. The gods are desperate for this to happen, since only a son of Shiva can kill the oth-erwise invincible demon Taraka. However, Shiva ignores all of Parvati’s seductions. The gods send the god of love to make Shiva lustful, but Shiva opens his third eye and destroys him.
   Parvati then sets out on a quest to gain Shiva’s love by doing austerities of her own. She does the most difficult austerities, such as standing on one leg for many years, and gains great merit. The gods, noticing the tremendous power that Parvati is accruing, ask Shiva to grant her wish to marry him. Shiva, impressed by Parvati’s devotion and steadfastness, agrees to marry her. The mar-riage is often described, depicted, and enacted in Indian literature and tradition. All the gods take part in the wedding party. The stories all include a humorous interlude when Shiva’s mother-in-law, Mena, is outraged at his ascetic appearance—he is smeared with ashes from the cremation ground, and wears a garland made of a serpent and other disreputable items.
   Shiva and Parvati go to live in Mount KAILASA. Some folklore shows Parvati as dissatisfied with living in a mountain cave instead of a proper house. Nevertheless, the lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati is so intense that it shakes the cosmos. One story recounts that Shiva’s amorous enthrall-ment with Parvati turns all the animals, insects, and plants in the pleasure grove where they make love female. A hapless king who enters the grove also turns into a woman, although he wins a partial remission of this condition. (He is only required to be female half of any month.)
   As fate would have it, just as Shiva is about to impregnate Parvati, the gods interrupt them and his semen flies off, leaping from one container to another till it finds a safe place only in the GANGES River, which thus becomes the mother of Shiva’s son, KARTIKKEYA. GANESHA, a second son, is born in a similarly unconventional way: Parvati rubs her arms, covered with sweet powder, before her bath; takes the residue; and forms a child of it. Parvati then has the child guard her bath (sometimes bedchamber). Unknowingly, Shiva encounters the child and thinks it an intruder. He cuts its head off. When Parvati emerges she chastises Shiva and has him find another head immediately. In a rush he gets a newly severed elephant head, and thus the younger son Ganesha has the head of an elephant.
   Parvati is often said to play dice with Shiva, and she always wins. She argues with him about his constant smoking of marijuana (a staple of Shaivite mendicants). Some stories connect Par-vati with KALI, saying that she was originally dark in color but because of Shiva’s teasing she changed to a light color. In other stories, Parvati is actually the left half of Shiva in his form as ARDHANARISH-VARA. As with other female divinities, Parvati is sometimes conflated with the great goddess or creator and protector of all the universe; she gains supremacy in some mythological contexts.
   Further reading: Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); John Stratton Hawley and Donnie Marie Wulff, eds., The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India (Boston: Beacon Press, 1986); David R. Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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