How does Shiva treat his wife?
Shiva is one of the most popular gods in the Hindu Pantheon. He is worshipped in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka but his fame and popularity have been carried all around the world. Shiva’s popularity leads to many scholars discussing and arguing about the many different aspects of Shiva and his existence. One of the most commonly asked question happens to be: How does Shiva treat his wife?
Shiva has always been known as a multi-faceted god. While he is a god who disappears for months into the great Himalayas to meditate and live as an ascetic, he is also simultaneously known as a god who respects his wives and treats them as equals. Shiva is not just an ascetic, he is also the perfect husband and a great father.
There are many young girls in India who would want a husband like Shiva. In fact many who worship Shiva and pray to him also ask that they be blessed with a son, son-in-law or husband who is just like the almighty god in thought and deed. But how can one who is considered detached from all worldly affairs also be a great father and an understanding husband? This dichotomy of Shiva is one that has astounded scholars, philosophers and laymen for centuries.
And it is this dichotomy that makes him the great husband that he is. For it is through meditation that Shiva exercises a tight control over his destructive and fierce nature. Through meditation, Shiva brings a balance or sayyam to his nature. He pursues it strictly so he can be a better god to his devotees, a better father to his two sons and an ideal husband to his willful wives.
But it is not simply through meditation that Shiva maintains an ideal relationship with his wives. Through the balance that he has achieved by rigorous meditation and the destruction of ego, Shiva listens, understands and converses, and sometimes banters with his wives. He treats them as equals and not as a subservient being like Lord Vishnu does with his wife the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi.
Shiva was married first to the Goddess Sati and then to the Goddess Parvati who is said to be re-incarnation of Sati. Both his wives are willful and demanding. There are many stories about the fights that Shiva has with his wives. There are a greater number of stories that speak about the joyous relationship that he shared with Sati, and after her with Parvati. Shiva is a God with a very unique and indomitable personality who does not let himself be cowed down by the powerful personalities of his wives, but he is very considerate to their wishes.
The Goddess Parvati is known to posses a particularly strong personality. She spends a lot of time with Shiva in conversations about a myriad things ranging from parenthood to the deeper mysteries of life and the cosmos. They also spend their time indulging in playful banter and many games. Once as they were playing chauser (probably the precursor to modern day chess), Parvati was winning. Shiva’s Ganas or followers who are known to accompany him everywhere, were surrounding the couple and egging him on to win. They did not bother to hide where their loyalties lay. So, when Shiva began losing, they tried to salvage the situation by diverting Parvati’s attention, but to no avail. Eventually, as victory was imminent Parvati told Shiva that for every round he lost he must take off a prized possession that she would keep! As the game proceeded and Shiva kept on losing, she asked for the moon from his head, the snakes that adorned his neck and finally, his loincloth! Shiva, is shocked. This demand takes him completely by surprise and he retorted by trying to shame her, asking her, what kind of a wife asks her husband to go naked in the presence of other people? Parvati at that point, reminded him of his ascetic days when he used to roam around naked and enchanting all the sages’ wives in the Daruvava forest! Having proved her point about the importance of material conditions and social realities, Parvati relented and let hiva have his loincloth.
This story itself is a perfect example of how Shiva treats his wives. He respects their wishes and their ideas and supports them in everything they do even though many times this lands him in trouble!
I an earlier incident, soon after the marriage of Shiva and Sati, Daksha, Sati’s father, held a Yagya (large sacrificial function) and invited the great sages and Gods from all over. In his attempt to purposefully spite Shiva, for he disapproved having to let Shiva marry his daughter under pressure from his father Lord Brahma, he refused to invite either Sati or Shiva to the Yagya. Shiva was unperturbed given his trenchant dislike of ceremonies and material propriety. Sati however was beside herself in indignation and wanted to go to the Yagya and ask her father how he could be blatant enough to not invite Shiva- foremost among Gods and the inseparable part of the Tridev or the Hindu trinity to such an event. She insisted that they should attend the Yagya. Shiva told Sati that he will not go to her fathers’ palace, as they have not received an invitation from him and it would be wrong to go to a place where one is not wanted. The duo argued on the matter until finally Sati claimed that she would go on her own, without Shiva. Even though Shiva had no wish to accompany her, he understood his wife’s obstinacy and her need to go to her family, especially to her father. As such he asked his Ganas (his aides) to accompany her for her protection during the journey.
Notwithstanding Sati’s belligerence, Shiva let her go. Not many have the patience to hear and understand another person’s point of view even when they are being logical, least of all when they are overcome with emotion. Lord Shiva, in allowing Sati to go by herself showed a rare degree of merit that allows a person to empathize with another person despite one’s own ego. He put her feelings before his apathy.
It is safe to say thus that unlike the other Gods, Shiva is not bound by ego and nor does he adhere to the norm of a conventional man. He actually respects and listens to his wives, something that is found amiss even in many marriages in the modern world. He treats his wives as equals and values their opinions. When his wife Sati died, he wept for her and as a grief stricken lover, angered by the untimely death of his beloved wife he came very close to destroying the world. Acts like these show how dearly Shiva loved Sati.
Once Parvati built a clay model of a house for Shiva and wanted him to help her build it for them. News arrived at that point that Lord Shani wanted to visit Kailash. Parvati was annoyed at the news because Shani’s gaze was considered a terrible omen, capable of destroying even the most pretty of things. She asked Shiva to not let Shani arrive. Shiva refused saying anybody who sought him with clean heart could access him whenever they wanted. He asked Parvati to take the model away and stay in the caves if she did not want to meet Lord Shani. Parvati complied and in a while heard Shiva ringing his Dumroo. She assumed Shiva was trying to warn her of Shani’s arrival. She destroyed the model to pre empt Shani’s gaze. Later Shiva told her Shani had come only to calm his troubled mind and requested him to play his Dumroo so that its cosmic rhythm would soothe his senses. Shiva explained that Shani’s gaze was far from evil. He is assigned to be the destroyer of vanity and ego. When Parvati was paying so much attention to the model, she was falling in the trap of Moh-Maya or the desire for worldly beauty. Shani’s arrival and Parvati consequently destroying her own model was a symbolic act of her overcoming her desire for evanescent materiality. Unknowingly thus Shani was visiting Shiva and still fulfilling his cosmic duty.
So we see that even though he is fierce and impatient at times, Shiva addresses his wives queries as a loving patient husband but admonishes them for foolish statements and behavior. Shiva is a god who refuses to adhere to the preconceived notions of a conservative society on how a relationship between a husband and wife should be.
There are many stories written in the holy texts that talk about the beautiful relationship between Shiva and Parvati. In each story, Shiva is exalted as the one god who treats his wives as equals. He does not look down on them or think of them as subservient. He does not see them solely as a homemaker or a mother who has to look after his home and his children. He sees them as individuals whose intellect is at par with him. Shiva is a keen listener, an understanding husband and a devout partner.
For many Shaivites Shiva and Parvati have the perfect relationship, one that does not conform to the conventional norms of how a man and wife should be with each other. Instead here is a couple who creates a unique relationship based on love, companionship and mutual respect.
Many other gods treat their wives and consorts as lesser. Vishnu, the preserver in the Hindu Trinity, is always depicted with his wife at his feet. Lord Shiva on the other hand is always drawn, sculpted or described as standing with Parvati as an equal, at the same level. Nor is the Goddess Parvati depicted as being demure with her face covered or her eyes lowered, she stays by Lord Shiva as symbol of support and power – as a wife ought to be.
It is because of his temperance, his understanding and his treatment of his wives as his equals, that there are many young women in India who wish that they would have an ideal husband like Lord Shiva.