Showing posts with label Durga. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Durga. Show all posts

Defining Hinduism by its History

'Hinduism' is an English term coined by Raja Rammohan Roy, an Indian social reformer, in 1816 and 1817. Rammohan Roy, a Hindu by birth and an outspoken critic of Hinduism as it was taught at the time, coined the phrase to characterize the religion of his forefathers, who believed in the unity of God, as'real Hinduism.' The word 'Hindu' is derived from the ancient Persian expression 'Sindhu', the name of the Indus river, which was initially used to describe a person who lived in the lands east of the Indus. While Al-Biruni in the eleventh century AD provided a precise and accurate description of those beliefs and practices, it is unclear how and when 'Hindu' with its ethno-geographical connotation came to mean a society with recognizable socio-religious beliefs and practices. The archaeology of Hindu worship and religion can be found in South Asia in the second millennium BC and Southeast Asia in the early-mid first millennium AD. Hinduism is still a living religion in India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, where it lost its dominance in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, with just around 5% in Singapore, 2% in Indonesia, though more than 90% of the Balinese, and a very small group of Chams in south-central Asia.


What distinguishes Hinduism as a faith in terms of worship and ritual? The explanation of Hindu ritual conduct in India:

Within each or more of these classes, the average middle-class Hindu may be brought by one or more aspects of his daily religious practice, namely:

1. The veneration of ordinary stocks and stones, as well as local arrangements that are odd or grotesque in scale, form, or place.

2. The veneration of inanimate objects endowed with enigmatic motion.

3. Creatures who are hated are worshipped.

4. The veneration of visible, animate, or inanimate objects that are explicitly or indirectly useful and beneficial, or that have some nonsensical purpose or property.

5. Worship of a Deo, or ghost, a formless and empty object - a hazy impersonation of the strange feeling that comes over in some locations.

6. Worship of departed ancestors and other people that were familiar to the worshipper throughout their lifetime.

7. At shrines, people who had a good reputation in life or who died in a strange or famous manner are worshipped.

8. The worship of demigods or minor deities as demigods or subordinate deities in temples.

9. Worship of various territorial incarnations of the elder gods, as well as their representations.

10. The worship of departmental or sub-deities.

11. Hinduism's supreme gods, as well as their ancient incarnations and personifications, as documented in the Brahmanic scriptures.

And, in terms of the types of worship described in the just-completed catalogue, they are all heavily tinged by a heavy skylight reflection of overarching Brahmanism, from which the upper classes now claim to derive their meanings instantly.


Hinduism is defined largely in terms of what Hindus 'do' rather than what they 'say,' according to this definition. Hinduism, unlike Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, does not have a historical creator or a codified canon that all adherents embrace. Hindu holy books are an incomplete guide to what the faith is about because they emphasize only certain elements based on the context from which they were written. Archaeology, with its focus on experience rather than contemplation, is a good place to start when looking into Hinduism's history.

Archaeological evidence has long been used to study Hinduism: temple architecture, statues, pictures and their iconography, and the spatial distribution of inscriptions are among the most studied categories. The body of Indian archaeological evidence from specific time periods needs to be analyzed on a regular basis. The essay explores holy sites in several spatial and temporal perspectives, from early historic Rajasthan to mediaeval Vijayanagara to Bali, to add to archaeology's contributions to the study of Hinduism. Another critical part of Lyall's interpretation is his focus on the overlapping existence of many modes of rituals and worship in most practicing Hindus' life cycles. The appearance of some of these elements in the Indian archaeological record indicates that they date from the late centuries BC; however, several of these elements seem to have a much longer ancestry. The apsidal finished shrines are part of a religious architectural pattern that dates to the third and second centuries BC. At third-millennium BC Nindowari in Baluchistan, the tradition of placing votive figurines at shrines is as old as the ceremonial obsession with cultic bathing - which would find continuity in later Hinduism's sanctity associated with water - and the worship of trees, with Harappan sites yielding evidence of both. But does the existence of certain elements imply that Hinduism can be traced back to India's protohistoric cultures? The substantive disparity in proof character cautions against drawing such a simple conclusion. For eg, at the Daimabad site in the second millennium BC, an agate phallus - later a symbol of the god Shiva, a member of the Brahmanical triad particularly synonymous with devastation - was discovered in an ash-filled pit, but it is only one specimen from a culture that spanned a wide area in Maharashtra. In comparison, there are many types of evidence of Shiva worship from the late centuries BC, including lingas or phallus, depictions of devotees worshipping a Shiva-linga, and emblems consistent with Shiva worship on coins. 

By this time, a few deities had developed a transregional influence, and a worshipper of one deity in one place would have been completely at ease worshipping the same deity in another. Many regions of early historic India, for example, had deities synonymous with fertility, water, and safety, as well as shrines for their worship. The Brahmanical system, with its numerous socio-religious sanctions and legislation, was still in effect by this period, and was a defining characteristic of Hinduism. For the first time, a cohesive body of evidence dating from the late centuries BC in South Asia and the early-mid first millennium AD in Southeast Asia has been assembled, allowing the 'archaeology of Hinduism' to be mapped out. As a result, this essay does not subscribe to the view that Hinduism was a nineteenth-century colonial invention, as premodern sources reveal the existence of Hinduism as a religious system of beliefs and practices, and the Dharmasastra texts, some of which date back to the second century BC, are a clear indicator of a self-aware social and religious identity.

Furthermore, the archaeological prominence of Hindu values and practices in India in the late centuries BC, which coincided with the advent of a materially configured Buddhism, may have been partially a reaction to and a result of a broader engagement with contemporary religious groups that contested the Brahmanical tradition's dominance. The Mauryan dynasty's consolidation of urban development and development of a pan-Indian empire were key factors in the convergence of early India's religions. In a situation where various religious traditions were both in conversation and rivalry with each other, worshippers of Shiva, Vishnu, and other Hindu gods and goddesses seem to have created and consolidated their own material language of theistic worship. Architectural, sculptural, inscriptional, and other material evidence for Hindu beliefs and practices exist many centuries later in Southeast Asia - especially from the Malay Peninsula, parts of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, and some of the Indonesian archipelago's islands - but not simultaneously or identically manifested in all of these regions. Two early sources of evidence currently come from Vietnam and two Indonesian islands: from the former comes the Vo Canh inscription written in Sanskrit on three sides of a stupa, and which is dated palaeographically to the third century AD: 'The surviving passages appear to describe a donation of wealth made by "the joy of the family of the daughter of the grandson of the king Sri Mara" to give equality to his sons, brothers and male descendants .... Theological words used in the text are most likely Hindu in origin, but they come from a pre-Puranic tradition.' Slightly later are the east Kalimanatan stone pillars or stupa, inscribed with Sanskrit verses and dated palaeographically to c. the fourth-fifth century AD, which commemorate gifts given to brahmins for their performance of rituals characteristic of archaic Hindu practices in India on behalf of king Mulavarman.

Several fifth-century Sanskrit inscriptions from a polity named Taruma orTarumanagara, which refer to Hindu deities, as well as fifth-sixth-century Vishnu sculptures, lingas, and other Hindu-related materials from Cibuaya, have yielded roughly contemporary evidence. Evidence of the local acceptance or transformation of other Indian ideas and components, such as Buddhism, which coexisted and or or fluctuated in dominance within any given region during the premodern period, models of kingship and social order, Sanskrit, the calendrical structure, literary practices, and so on, occurs around the early-mid-first millennium AD. The fact that Hinduism has been shaped and reshaped by numerous influences over its history in South and Southeast Asia warrants further investigation.


Identifying prayer and ceremonial spaces


Hindu worship and practice are made up of intertwined components that can be used in both public and private spaces. Though a detailed examination of this rich and diverse geography is beyond the reach of this article, the following section provides a general typology of the contexts in which Hindu worship took place.


Temples are a form of religious structure.

The temple, which was found both within and outside villages, was the most visible place of Hindu worship. The first temples in South Asia appear in the late centuries BC, and although no complete specimen has survived, the ground plans indicate a variety of forms, ranging from elliptical to apsidal. Many depictions of temples in Indian art from the late centuries BC are made of perishable materials. Temples of this kind were popular in village India until recently, implying that, although excavated stone examples date from the late centuries BC, temples made of clay, bamboo, or wood may predate them. The earliest temples in Southeast Asia date from the mid-first millennium AD, and are known from the remains of their foundations, as in India. For example, remains of fourth-sixth-century AD brick temples and a fifth-seventh-century AD stone and brick temple foundation and linga uncovered at Nen Chua, and remains of a sixth century Vaishnodevi temple uncovered in the Malay Peninsula. Shrines were often made of perishable materials, but whether they predate the oldest temples in Southeast Asia made of robust materials needs further research. The remaining shrines from the fourth to sixth centuries AD, coinciding with the Gupta dynasty, are comparatively complete, with most of them having been discovered in central and north India.

Temple plans were more elaborate in the intervening years, with podiums, superstructures, colonnaded rooms, vestibules, and open courts. They are often adorned with reliefs portraying saints, mythological scenes, and regal processions. However, though elaborate buildings became more prevalent in later times, such as at mediaeval Vijayanagara; similarly, architecturally simplistic shrines did not vanish in Southeast Asia, such as at Angkor. As temples generally enshrined a presiding deity, which, particularly from early shrines, often no longer survives in situ, an immense wealth of Hindu icons of worship are encountered in South and Southeast Asia - rendered in a variety of mediums such as wood, stone, various metals, and terracotta - as temples generally enshrined a presiding deity which, especially from early shrines, often no longer survives in situ. Where they do exist, they can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Shiva was worshipped in his aniconic form, the phallic symbol, and sometimes in his human form, or a mixture of both. Vishnu, or the preserver deity of the Brahmanical triad, was generally worshipped by images. Brahma, the triad's creator deity, was often depicted in human form, but his popularity as a cult god was limited. In India, goddesses such as Gajalakshmi and Mahishasuramardini were widely worshipped, and some of the oldest temples featured goddesses like Gajalakshmi and Mahishasuramardini on plaques. There were also classic depictions of animal-human hybrids, such as Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity. Humans were often often depicted as animals, such as Vishnu as Matsya, a shark, Kurma, a tortoise, Varaha, a boar, and Kalki, a horse. Outside of temples, images were revered in open air shrines and when carried in processions, such as many of the famed South Indian bronzes carried in processions.

Texts identify a wide range of temple rituals, and archaeological representations of those activities can be looked for when excavating temple sites. Some of them started well before the foundation was built. For example, after a location was selected, it had to be consecrated by foundation ceremonies; ceremonial deposits were often deposited in temple foundations. Furthermore, some temple rituals have left material remains, such as large terracotta bowls excavated from the temple areas at Bhitari in north India between AD 450 and 550, which were likely used to give food to the deity or for the ceremonial feeding of large numbers of worshippers or pilgrims. Sprinklers or from the Bhitari temple fields, which priests likely used to sprinkle water when doing worship; animals sacrificed for the deity or e.g. domestic sheep and humped cattle bones were discovered in the inner sanctum of the Parasuramesvara temple in Gudimallam, Andhra Pradesh. Votive offerings in the shape of terracotta figurines of various gods and goddesses, as well as lamps, ablution basins, and votive offerings in the form of terracotta figurines of various gods and goddesses.

Generally, the votive figurines given were associated with the shrine's presiding deity, though this was not always the case. In addition to a Vishnu portrait and sculpted panels portraying him, the excavated votive artefacts at the ninth-century AD Avantisvami temple in Kashmir dedicated to Vishnu contained terracotta miniature lingas, which were usually rendered to Shiva. The appearance of such offerings can be explained by the surrounding presence of a Shiva temple or Avantisvara: devotees may have reached the Avantisvami temple after worshipping Shiva there, bearing the same kind of paraphernalia that was used for Shiva worship. They made miniature linga offerings to Vishnu as well, disregarding those who believed Vishnu and Shiva worship were mutually exclusive. Mendicants and preceptors have traditionally held a special role in Hinduism, which is also evident in the temples with which they were associated during their lifetimes. 

The temple of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu, dedicated to Vishnu, is a well-known example of this; the twelfth-century Hindu reformer and philosopher Ramanuja lived here for a large part of his life and, evidently, was also buried here, his shrine being built at that exact place. Although the origins of this tradition are unknown, evidence of teacher shrines can be found as early as the Gupta period, for example, a c. fourth-century AD stone pilaster from Mathura bears an inscription suggesting that it was used in a shrine dedicated to recalling a line of Maheshvara teachers. Preceptors may also influence the design of temples constructed by their devotees.


Tanks, sacrifice places, and folk shrines

Though temples remain the most spectacular of Hinduism's holy sites, public ceremonies were not exclusive to them. Other arenas include sacrificial sites, areas where ceremonial donations are publicly performed, prayer near rivers, and village shrines. The options for identifying such locations, as well as the nature of archaeological evidence that may shed light on the related rituals, are discussed further below. Many of India's popular Hindu pilgrimage sites are situated at the source or along the banks of rivers, where ancestor oblations, river worship with fire, and bathing in them on special days are all practiced on a regular basis. Such performances rarely leave permanent archaeological marks or Hooja, according to this article, while Sringaverapura, on the left bank of the Ganga river, is one site that has yielded such evidence in connection with a water source. 

The river was some distance from the village in ancient times, so a huge tank complex was built to provide good potable water for the inhabitants. The system drained water from the river into a silting chamber and a series of tanks through a canal. In the first century AD, one of them, Tank C, became associated with certain religious rites, and among the remains are terracotta figurines of deities such as Kubera, Shiva, Parvati, and Hariti or Shashthi, as well as animals and votive tanks. The essence of the ceremonies that necessitated such objects remains unclear, but the tank complex seems to have served a dual purpose: its waters offered both physical and moral nourishment. Outside of temples, archaeological remnants of public ceremonies can be found in specially prepared grounds or spaces for the execution of sacrifices. There are brick platforms in the shape of a syena, hawk, or eagle with spread wings at Jagatgram, in the north Indian state of Uttaranchal, that closely resemble descriptions in Vedic literature.

The epigraphs on some bricks show that these consecrate rites were associated with the asvamedha or horse sacrifice. Oblations of various kinds were commonly offered at such sacrifices, but no such evidence has been found at Jagatgram. However, the Kushana period from AD 100-300 altars at Sanghol in Punjab have yielded large quantities of organic material from ritual fire altars, and a palaeobotanical investigation of these Kushana period from AD 100-300 altars confirmed that the material was of the kind that was usually used in sacrifices, e.g. of various food grains, such as rice, barley, black gramme, lentil, and sesame; edible fruits These findings bring to life, possibly for the first time, the detailed depictions of intricate sacrificial sacrifices and oblations used in Hindu religious texts. The question of social access to worship and the rights of various communities to conduct rites at Indian religious sites is typically overlooked in archaeological studies. While it is difficult to find archaeological evidence of the Brahmanical system in Southeast Asia, in which different social classes were given entry based on their caste hierarchy position, or which only occurred in theory, it is difficult to believe that such sites were not distinguished by caste exclusions.

Given that the Arthasastra, a text from the late third millennium BC, prescribed where the cremation grounds of the various varnas, or four social divisions, should be located, it seems possible that not everybody was granted entry to arenas like temples, to worship and conduct rituals there. In terms of whether there were any arenas outside of temple Hinduism where all these communities could come together to pray, ethnographic records indicate that there were. The 'Devi,' or goddess, who is commonly revered in such places, is represented by a variety of village shrines, ranging from artificial platforms on which a rough stone is worshipped as her embodiment to natural objects such as trees, caves, and hills. 

Since Brahman priests are not expected to mediate at these shrines, devotees from all social classes attend. Similarly, ethnographic accounts of village shrines are likely to be signifiers of a premodern existence, as folk gods revered at such shrines can be found in the early historical record. In the Hindu tradition, public places of worship and ceremony were of different forms, some of which were distinguished by caste sanctions that revealed limits. Convergences and backgrounds with shared social values and tolerances may also exist; village shrines were one such intersection point.


Worship in the home

Hindu rites and worship took place in a variety of domestic settings. Unfortunately, little is known archaeologically about domestic-level Hindu activities in Southeast Asia; much of what is currently known is focused largely on what can be gleaned from excavation reports of historic settlements in India, especially data on their structural remains. One point to remember is that, much as today, citizens of diverse religious faiths lived together, resulting in the spatial coexistence of various forms of domestic worship. Excavations at Kapilavastu, for example, have uncovered habitational evidence dating from about 800 BC to the third century AD, as well as terracotta Buddha figures attesting to Buddhist icon worship in the early centuries AD. 

However, as shown by terracotta heads or, for example, one depicting Shiva with a snake-hood on top and a long yajyopavita or holy thread on his back, there were Shiva devotees. Jains may have also worshipped there, as evidenced by the presence of a naked Jina figure or ibid. on the terracottas. In India, terracotta figurines, votive terracotta reservoirs, and female and male figurines were commonly used in domestic worship. Female terracotta figurines have been discovered in ancient rural settlements, such as Narhan, where they were particularly prevalent between c. 200 BC and AD 600. Some of the plaques at Narhan are of the same genre as those found in the north Indian cities of Tamluk, Kausambi, Ahicchhatra, and Rajghat, implying that those who believed in the influence of this 'goddess' comprised a wide cross-section of urban and rural communities. It's also worth noting that female figurines and terracotta votive tanks are commonplace items with nothing particularly 'Hindu,' 'Buddhist,' or 'Jain' about them when seen in isolation. As a result, interpretations of them as Hindu ritual markers must be dependent on their archaeological background.

An Ode to the Goddess

Have mercy, O Goddess who relieves the pain of your supplicants!

Be humble, Mother of the Universe!

O world-protecting mistress of the cosmos!

Please, have mercy!

You're the mistress of all that moves and doesn't move!

You are the world's sole pillar, residing in the shape of earth.

You nourish the world in the shape of the oceans, O you of unrivalled prowess.

You are Vishnu's strength, boundless light.

You are the universe's ultimate seed.

This planet is raptured eternally by your intelligence, 

the web of illusion you cast in your endless bliss, O resplendent Goddess!

You are the source of release on Earth while you are gracious.

All the infinite wisdom and sciences live within you, Goddess.

You are all women, and you are the entirety of the universe.

This world is populated entirely by you, O Mother.

How do we thank you because you alone are the most praiseworthy manifestation of the high and low?

Praise be to you, Narayani, whose hands and feet are everywhere, whose heads, mouths, and eyes are everywhere, who watches and listens from every part of existence!

Save us from harm, O Mistress of the Cosmos, whose essence is the earth, overflowing with all forces!

Praise be to you, goddess Durga!

Katyayani, with your friendly face, I salute you!

Protect us from our worries, three-eyed Goddess!

Bhadrakali, I salute you.

Might your terrifying trident, encrusted with flaming stakes, Destroyer of all demons, hold us safe!

May your bell, which annihilates the Daityas' glory when it fills the earth with sound, shield us, your sons, from evil!

Might your blade be auspicious, smeared with demon blood and fat, ablaze with rays!

We bow to you, Candika!

Be generous to those who prostrate themselves before you, Goddess who takes away the world's misery!

Bestow boons upon these planets, worthy of worship from all who dwell in the triple universe!

~ Kiran Atma

The Puranas call several Goddesses, each with their own unique personality. They play a variety of roles, including wife, lover, and destroyer. Brahma and Vishnu's wives tend to be nothing more than appendages to their celestial husbands, with no tales or personality of their own. Yet, like Siva himself, Siva's queen, Devi, or "the Goddess," seems to be a jumble of diverse identities, both beneficent and fierce. It's unclear if the Goddess's various names refer to deities, or if the Goddess's plethora of epithets simply reflect the various qualities of what has only been a single deity.

The origins of Goddesses in Indian culture seem to be in doubt, provided that the Vedas, the oldest literature of this tradition, makes no mention of female deities of any type. However, the issue is even more serious. While their origins can be traced back to Vedic gods, both Vishnu and Siva, for example, have complex personalities in the epics and Puranas that appear out of nowhere, with divine feats and qualities that do not present in Vedic history.

The Goddesses feel the same way. The undocumented religious traditions of the indigenous, pastoral peoples of India who populated the Indus Valley long before the proto-Sanskrit speaking nomadic Aryans invaded northwest India around 1500 B.C. may provide an explanation for this.

For over a century, the Aryans dominated the hybrid civilization that resulted. The Vedas, their oral literature, show a sacrificial cult that worshipped celestial deities like Varuna of the heavens, Indra of the thunderstorm, and Surya, the light, to the exclusion of all Goddesses and earthly divinities.

Female figurines and phallic artefacts, on the other hand, abound in the archaeological remains of Indus Valley civilization, almost definitely used in some religious ritual, and aimed at the fertility of humans, animals, and the Earth. As a result, it's possible that the Puranic Goddesses are relics of non-Aryan indigenous peoples of the Indian subcontinent's fertility worship.

In the course of time their Aryan conquerors increasingly adopted the local religious practices until, in Epic and Puranic literature, the older tales were at last retold in the official language of the Aryans themselves, Sanskrit. Via the same phase the religious traditions and values of the lower classes become part of the upper-class or ruling culture of the country. Except for the fierce and warlike Durga and Kali, nearly every Goddess in the Puranas is married to a deity. Maybe the union of Gods and Goddesses in Hindu mythology represents a convergence that happened in the early history of Indian civilization between two distinct races and cultures.

Certainly, the Goddesses as wives are fully reliant on their gods, just as the tribal people were defeated and made slaves by the invading Aryans. In either case, it appears that the tales contained in the Puranas only include snippets of the Goddesses' lives in Indian culture. Depending on her mood, the Goddess brings fertility or pestilence and death to modern-day rural India. As a mother, she is both the source of life and the terrifying force that takes it away prematurely due to starvation or disease or calamity. Female deities, on the other hand, play several roles in the Puranas.

The Goddess can be a mother, a wife, a lover, or a war-like destroyer, but she is never just a mother. The archetypal Mothers, a nebulous group stemming from and formed by Siva's Shakthi, appear briefly and attempt to devour the earth. No Deity, on the other hand, literally gives birth or manifests maternal or loving qualities. The Goddess is described as the root of the universe with the same epithets as the gods Vishnu and Siva. In this way, the holy Goddess takes life again and again to preserve life, even though she is immortal. Both in a spiritual, mythical and metaphorical context, the price of life and existence is exacted as a sacrifice at the altars of the Goddess.

She is the one who deludes the world; she is the one who gives birth to it; she is the one who grants wisdom when prayed to and wealth when pleased. This 222nd incarnate Goddess from the bosom of Brahma, the creator is Mahakali. The Goddess yet pervaded the whole Brahma Egg, the lord of men within her own cosmic womb. She assumes the form of Mahamari, the world's great destructress, during the terrible period of dissolution or rapture. She is also its unborn source; eternal, she is the lifeblood of all living things, pervading through all manifestation. This vocabulary shows a monistic interpretation of the origins of the universe, but it is not unique to the Goddess. It contains what tends to be generalized conception formulae that can be attributed to any originating god, male or female, without distinction.

The only exceptions are the epithets Ambika, "Mother," and Mahamaya, "Great Illusion," which only the Goddess carries, meaning that hers is the force that comes from casting a magic spell, the insubstantial but tangible dream that is the earth, rather than biological motherhood. Each of the three main male deities, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, has a faithful and dedicated partner or Shakthi to accompany and empower him. Sarasvati, Brahma's wife, is rarely mentioned, but only in passing. She doesn't get her own story as a Goddess. The Sarasvati, on the other hand, is often eulogized in glowing words as the famed holy river that rises from the Himalaya mountains and flows underground at Kurukshetra.

In the Puranas, all rivers are female, and each one is holy and pure, bestowing blessings and benefits on those who bathe in them. They are the locations of hermitages and sacred fords, where devout devotees of all gods are urged to worship. In fact, the Puranas devote a significant portion of their content to praising these hermitages and shrines, which are almost always situated on or near a riverbank. Many feminine rivers, especially the Ganges and the Yamuna, are honored in this way, as are many pilgrimage places, the most notable of which are Prayaga and Varanasi, modern Banaras. More than mere names, all of these rivers carry in essence the spiritual intelligence, vitality and mythical attributes associated with the incarnate and manifest Goddesses they represent on Earth.

The rivers, on the other hand, are scarcely granted complete identities, and Sarasvati, as Brahma's official queen, is practically characterless. The petulant Yamuna, whom Balarama drags about with his plough, causing her to swamp the Kurukshetra plain because she failed to appeal to his drunken whim and present herself by his side so he could bathe, is one lovely exception.

Lakshmi or Sri, the Goddess of Wealth, is Vishnu's devoted queen. It's been said that she who blesses people with wealth can sometimes curse them with a lack of it. Yet, for the most part, Lakshmi continues at Vishnu's side as a lordly adornment. She, too, lacks a distinct personality.

She is not involved in the tale of the Churning of the Ocean, which prominently features her birth. She jumps from the ocean's foam onto Vishnu's chest, where she belongs, and she remains there. Only Parvati, Siva's wife, has a distinct appearance, a unique family history, and a collection of fascinating stories. She is known by many names, including Uma, which means "mother," Gauri, which means "white," and Sati, which means "virtuous."

She renounces the universe to perform tapas with Siva, which is an unheard-of endeavor for a child. By this way, she can obtain control over the god, and they are properly married. When her father insults her divine husband in a former life, she is so angered that she immolates herself in flames, thereby becoming the original divine Sati, or supremely virtuous virgin.

She engages in several deceptions to seduce her unwilling, meditating husband elsewhere, desiring children; the most tragic of these attempts ends in the disembodiment of Kama, god of love or Cupid, who is burnt to ashes by Siva's wrath. Parvati is a dedicated character in both stories: she wants to be the ideal wife and have children. As Sati, she is the daughter of Daksha, the primal progenitor and one of Brahma's wise sons. She is the daughter of the Himalaya mountain, the "little mountain maiden," and is known as Parvati.

This mountain heritage is shared by both the Goddess and her husband, Siva, whose holy abode is Mt. Kailasa and who wanders the mountain fastnesses without a family or clan as an ascetic mendicant. Sarasvati, Lakshmi, and Parvati are all faithful and obedient wives, whether they are vestigial or entirely engaged.

Their task is to help their best half, just as Sita in the epic Ramayana is associated with Lakshmi as Rama is with Vishnu; in any case, the deity, their companion, comes first in importance. The object of Parvati's challenging task, even for the brave Parvati, appears to be to convince the ascetic god to end the austerities that deprive the earth of fertility and marry and have progeny himself.

The majority of Siva and Parvati's stories are amusing because they imitate everyday domestic life that most Earthly societies can readily relate to. There is, though, very little romantic imagery; they are a respectable married couple. The suggested union in Parvati's efforts to seduce her husband is made clearer elsewhere in the Puranas, where god and Goddess are regarded as lovers who place a high sacred value on either physical union, or the imagery associated with it. However, instead of becoming a wife, the Goddess more notably takes on the part of a divine lover. Siva and Shakti are consorts, but Shakti manifests herself in more ways than one, perhaps even before their sojourn in union began.

~ Kiran Atma