Ellen Goldberg

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


Pārvatī (“daughter of the mountain,” also known as Umā) is considered one of the most beloved goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, although she has not been the focus of sustained scholarly study. She figures prominently as the devoted wife of the great god Śiva, mother of Gaṇeśa and Skanda (also known as Kārttikeya or Murugan), and is closely aligned with the benign aspect of Mahādevī, the Great Goddess. There are no references to Pārvatī in the Vedas (the ancient and most sacred writings of Hinduism), nor do we find her image on early Indian coins. She first appears in the epic literature (sometimes dated from 400 bce to 400 ce, but with a shorter span of approximately two hundred years to the turn of the millennium) as the reincarnation of Śiva’s wife Satī who immolated herself in the fire of asceticism. Satī and Pārvatī are defined in the classical literature by their association with Śiva as his ideal wives. However, Pārvatī is not only Śiva’s wife; she is also his śakti, mother of the universe and a disciplined female ascetic (tapasvinī) in her own right. Her mythic profile unfolds through enduring stories told in the purāṇas including her rebirth as the daughter of Himavat and Menā, her practice of tapas (asceticism), her wedding ceremony and marriage to Śiva, the birth of her sons, her emanation as Durgā, the game of dice, and her role as half of Śiva’s body in the androgynous form Ardhanārīśvara (the half-woman lord). These narratives provide the basis of much sacred art and devotional worship in South Asia. Although there are few temples dedicated explicitly to her, Pārvatī’s presence is evident in Śiva temples across India. Some of the earliest representations of Pārvatī from Mathurā, Ellorā, and Tanjore show her sitting or standing on Śiva’s left side holding either a lotus flower (nīlōtpala) or a mirror (darpaṇa) in her right hand. She is central in traditions of Indian dance and can be seen watching Śiva-Naṭarāja’s tāṇḍava or performing the gentle lāsya (dance of creation) by his side. Pārvatī also is among the 108 deities represented in the Hindu tantric pantheon and is portrayed in the Āgamas as Śiva’s principal disciple (śiṣya) to whom he grants the transmission of secret teachings. Her narrative finds new expression in modern times through local festivals and various media including Indian comic books and film, attesting to her enduring place in the Hindu imagination.

Article.  5135 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.