Shiva and Sati
Shiva and Sati are considered inseparable and epitomize one of the most ideal marital union in Hindu mythology. Sati is the Hindu goddess of marital bliss and longevity. There are many stories about why the goddess agreed to take human form. Some devotees of Shiva believe that Sati the goddess was asked by Brahma to take a human form so that she could bring Shiva out of his ascetic life and into one of wedlock. It seems that Brahma was tired of Shiva and his bachelor lifestyle and he was tired of Shiva making fun of Vishnu and his wedded life and the misery that it sometimes caused them.
Sati was born to the chief of the Manas Putras or the human sons of Brahma. This chief was better known as the learned and valiant Daksha. Since Brahma had asked her to take human form to get her married to the wild god Shiva, Sati right from the early days of her youth, was focused in her thoughts of Shiva. She loved all the Shiva tales, hymns, chants, songs and knew the Shiva stotras by heart. Every day she would pray to the great lord so that he would accept her. As Sati grew older, her beauty grew with her. Soon she grew into a beautiful, carefree girl whose heart was set on the great Shiva. Her father, Daksha, however had other plans. Kings and princes from all over came and asked for her hand in marriage but Sati had her heart set on Shiva. Her refusal of all her suitors frustrated her father. His fury finally compelled Sati to set out alone in her pursuit of Shiva. She forsook all the luxuries and security of her father’s palace and withdrew to the forest. In the forest she lived the life of an ascetic, forsaking comfort for devotion. Such was the passion to achieve her eventual goal of marrying Shiva, that Sati soon gave up all forms of nourishment. She followed this rigorous path for a long time till Shiva finally relented and agreed to have her as his bride. Her rigorous penance paid off and Sati got what she had always wanted, what she had been born for – to be Shiva’s wife.
One of the most famous stories of Shiva and Sati is the one about Daksha’s Yajna. This story highlights the passionate yet considerate nature of this great god. One day when Sati was outside her home on Mount Kailash, she noticed many gods heading in one direction. Wondering where they were all heading, she asked one of them. The god she asked looked shocked and replied that they were all headed to the yagna that the great King Daksha (Sati’s father and Shiva’s father-in-law) was performing. Sati was very upset with her father’s indiscretion and went to Shiva to ask him if he knew about this yagna. When Shiva replied in the affirmative, Sati was appalled that Shiva one of the most prominent gods of the Hindu Pantheon and the supreme power according to Shaivism had not been invited to the yajna. It was considered a great dishonor not to call upon The Destroyer when performing a yagna. Sati insisted that they must go to the yagna, but Shiva refused. While Shiva was not angry at not being invited to the yagna, (he was an ascetic after all) he could understand the shock and hurt that Sati felt. Since he had not been invited, Shiva felt it would be rude of him to “just show up” and refused to attend the yagna, asking Sati to not bother about going either. Their argument continued for a long time until Sati, in a fit of rage, decided that she would head to the yagna without her husband. Shiva warned her yet again that doing so was not a good idea, but Sati believing that her father would not ignore his beloved daughter was determined to go. Before she set off on her own Shiva decided to send his ganas or vassals with her to protect her on the road and to address her every grievance, in his absence. When Sati finally reached her father’s palace where the yagna was just beginning, no one came to greet her or welcome her home. In fact all the gods stood with their back to her and ignored her. Sati waited for a very long time as the yagna continued. Her father refused to acknowledge her presence. The longer she waited the more angry and ashamed she became. Her father would not acknowledge her and she could not go forward and attend the ceremony. She had fought with her husband to attend such a yagna! As more time passed her anger towards her father grew till she could take it no more. She accosted Daksha in front of all the gods present, who in turn, denounced Shiva in extremely derogatory terms. Upon witnessing such blatant abuse of her husband and the indifference of the others present at such affront being heaped upon Shiva’s honour, Sati cursed them all and called upon her cosmic powers as “Adi Shakti” (the form of the eternal mother Goddess) and immolated herself.
When the news of her death reached Shiva, he let out a great roar of pain that shook all of creation. Shiva pulled off a strand of hair from his head, and dashed it to the ground summoning Veerbhadra– his mightiest Bhairava form. Veerbhadra was charged to destroy Dakhsha and everything that kept him from attaining his objective. Part of Daksha’s impudence had arisen due to the fact that all the attendee Gods and Sages of the Yajna including Lord Vishnu himself was sworn to protect the yajna and him against all harm. True to their promise, the Gods and Rishis amassed an army but Veerbhadra cut them down in no time. It came down to Lord Vishnu to stop Veerbhadra. He magically tried to bind Veerbhadra but Shiva sent Bhardakali- the female destructive energy of Aadi Shakti who joined her consort and broke free of the bondage. The only means to stop this form of Shiva would have involved Lord Vishnu using his primary weapon- the Sudarshan Chakra. The resultant clash would have destroyed all of creation. Lord Vishnu stepped away and Veerbhadra destroyed the yajna, severing Daksha’s insolent head, casting it into the fire of the yajna.
Shiva having slipped into a fit of rage could not be pacified even with the death of Daksha failed to appease him. He was so enraged at the premature demise of his beloved Sati that he started to dance the Tandav Nritya or the “Dance of Destruction”. With Sati’s charred body wrapped tight in his arms, Shiva was a fierce sight. The gods were afraid for they knew that the end of this dance meant the end of all creation. What happened next has two slightly different versions. In one, as Shiva got more and more fearsome and his dance became more and more chaotic, Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra and dismembered the body of Sati into 51 pieces, which fell down to earth and Shiva’s trance was broken. According to the other version, Shiva’s fearsome momentum during the increasingly violent dance causes Sati’s body to come apart in 51 pieces which then fell to earth. It is only then that Shiva realized his folly and began to calm down.
As Shiva calmed down and beheld the damage he had brought to everyone and everything before and during his Tandav Nritya, he grew remorseful and in one sweep of his arm restored the life and limb of all those who had faced his wrath, bringing back even Daksha to life. The once impudent king’s head was destroyed in the fire and was replaced by that of a goat. In addition to this Shiva created Shakti Pithas around all the spots where Sati’s dismembered body had fallen, assigning a Bhairav to each of the site to protect the site and the city near it for all times to come. The story of Shiva and Sati is one of tragic romance that transcends death to find fruition when Sati reincarnates as the Goddess Parvati and becomes one with her eternal mate Lord Shiva.