By Swami Harshananda
Pārvati literally means ‘daughter of the mountain-king’.
Names of Pārvatī
Pārvatī is the power and consort of Śiva, the god of disintegration and destruction. An overwhelming majority of the goddesses of the religion are the aspects and variations of Pārvati. The names by which she is known or worshiped are too numerous to mention.
Names Associated with her Origin
Some of the names indicate her origin from the Himalayas or Dakṣa. They are:
Names Associated with Lord Śivā
Some of her names stress her aspect as the spouse of Śiva. They are:
Names Associated to Literature
Other names like Aparṇā and Umā have specific reference to certain stories in the paurāṇic literature.
First References of Pārvatī
One of the earliest references to this deity is found in the Kenopaniṣad where she is mentioned as ‘Umā Haimavatī’ enlightening Indra, the king of gods, about Brahman, the Absolute or God. This reference concludes that the worship of this goddess is very ancient.
Incarnations of Pārvatī
According to the paurāṇic accounts in her ‘first’ incarnation, she was Dākṣāyaṇī, the daughter of Dakṣa and Prasuti and married to Lord Śiva. Unable to understand Lord Śiva’s greatness, Dakṣa once reviled him and started harboring hatred towards him. When Dakṣa undertook the performance of a great sacrifice, the notable exception among the dignitaries invited was Śiva himself. Much against the advice of her spouse, Dākṣāyaṇī went to the sacrifice uninvited. She ended her life by igniting herself through the fire of yoga. Hence she came to be known as Satī, the chaste one.
She was next reborn as Pārvatī, the daughter of Himavān and Menā. After performing intense austerities, she succeeded in pleasing Śiva and making him accept her again as his consort. During the performance of these severe austerities, she refused to eat even dry leaves to sustain herself and hence got the appellation Aparṇā. Her mother Menā unable to see her dear daughter languishing by austerities, tried to dissuade her by the words, ‘U mā’ which became her another name. Being the daughter of the Himalayas she has to be Gaurī. As the mother of the universe she is Ambā and Ambikā, both the words meaning ‘mother’.
Aspects of Pārvatī
Like her consort Śiva, she also has two aspects:
- The mild aspect
- The terrible aspect
As Pārvatī or Umā she represents the mild aspect. In this aspect she is usually shown with Śiva. Then she has only two hands, the right hand holding a blue lotus and the left hanging loosely by the side. The image is richly decorated. When represented independently she is shown with four hands, two hands holding red and blue lotuses and the other two exhibiting the varada and abhaya mudrās.
Though all the female deities are called Śaktis of their male counterparts, the words ‘Śakti’ and ‘Devī’ are more exclusively used to denote the Śakti of Śiva, the innumerable aspects of Pārvatī. Considering Śiva as Mahādeva, the Supreme God, Pārvatī represents his power by which the universe is created, sustained and destroyed.
Daughter of Umā-Haimavatī
The Himalayas represents the Ākāśa or ether, the first fundamental substance. Menā stands for intelligence. Hence Pārvatī, their offspring, represents the conscious substance of the universe. That is why she is also called Umā. At the subjective level, Umā-Haimavatī represents Brahmavidyā or spiritual wisdom, by which union with Śiva or God is attained.
Consort of Śiva
Being the consort of Śiva, who is Rudra, the terrible, she also has her terrible aspects which needs a separate study. It is interesting to note that the Vaiṣṇava symbols, Śaṅkha and Cakra are often shown in her hands also.
Sister of Viṣṇu
Though the purāṇas describe her as the sister of Viṣṇu, it is possible that Viṣṇu is considered as the active power of Śiva and hence these symbols in the hands of the Devī. This surmise is strengthened by the fact that in the Haryardhamurti of Śiva, the left half is Viṣṇu and in the Ardhanārīśvara form, Devī forms the left half.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore