Lord Shiva is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, the Lord of Love whose whirling cosmic dance dispels ignorance and the forces of anti-Love. Shiva’s action is crystallized in the world of form through his Shakti, or feminine counterpart, who appears in various forms.
As Parvati (“Daughter of the Mountain”), daughter of the god Himalaya, she is the beneficent, gentle mother and wife. Her union with Shiva is a prototype of the ideal marriage. A beautiful, gracious woman, she is often depicted with Shiva in domestic scenes or seated beside him in discourse. Shiva and Parvati are sometimes portrayed with their son Skandha. Skandha is also known as Karttikeya, the god of war, and is identified in one Upanishad with the sage-god whom we call Sanat Kumara.
According to Hindu mythology, when the lovely Parvati was unable to win Shiva’s love, she set aside her jewels, donned the garb of a hermit and retreated to a mountain to meditate upon Shiva and practice austerities. After she embraced the life of a renunciate for some time, Shiva finally accepted her as his wife.
Hindus believe that Shiva lives on the summit of Mount Kailas. He is pictured there both as a solitary ascetic and with his Shakti, Parvati. John Snelling, in his book The Sacred Mountain, recounts how Parvati contributed to the origin of Shiva’s third eye:
Legend describes [Parvati] playfully covering her Lord’s eyes as he sat in meditation on a peak of Himalaya. Instantly all light and life were extinguished in the universe until, out of compassion for all beings, the god opened his third eye, which blazed like a new sun. So intense was its blazing that it scorched the mountains and forests of [the Himalayas] to oblivion. Only when he saw that the daughter of the mountain was properly contrite did he relent and restore her father [who is the mountain] to his former estate.
This legend shows Shiva as the Destroyer. The opening of his third eye represents the opening of the eye of knowledge that destroys ignorance. Swami Karapatri explains:
The frontal eye, the eye of fire, is the eye of higher perception. It looks mainly inward. When directed outward, it burns all that appears before it. It is from a glance of this third eye that ... the gods and all created beings are destroyed at each of the periodical destructions of the universe.
Some artistic representations of Shiva show him as half-man and half-woman. According to legend, Shiva was determined that there be no separation between himself and his shakti, and he therefore decreed that his right side be Shiva and his left be Parvati.
Unto Parvati, then, I commend you, for she, my consort, has much to teach you. And when you have learned from her, go then to Durga! Go then to Kali! Go then to each and every manifestation of the Divine Mother, for you cannot learn too much from these incarnations of the Divine Mother and others, beloved.
For it is the Divine Mother who bears the sword, who places it in your hand, and it is the Divine Mother who teaches you how to triumph in all things in the Matter cosmos, over every detail of life and of the larger concerns of solar systems and lifewaves abiding on this earth.
Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 34, no. 62, December 1, 1991.
Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, The Masters and Their Retreats, s.v. “Shiva, Parvati, Durga and Kali.”
- John Snelling, The Sacred Mountain, rev. and enl. ed. (London: East-West Publications, 1990), p. 11.
- Swami Karapatri, “Sri Siva tattva,” Siddhanta, II, 1941–42, 116, quoted in Alain Danielou, The Gods of India: Hindu Polytheism (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1985), p. 214.
- Shiva and Parvati, “I AM Shiva Everywhere,” Pearls of Wisdom, vol. 36, no. 39, September 12, 1993.