Pârvatî, goddess of the mountain, Himâlaya, primary wife of S´iva, mother of at least two of S´iva’s sons, is by far the most complicated of Hindu goddesses. She is given differing and often contradictory natures by the three main perspectives of later mythology—S´âktas (those who worship the divine mother), S´aivas (those who worship S´iva as the Supreme), and Vaishnavas (those who worship Vishnu as the Supreme).
Scholars often classify Pârvatî as a “cool,” or orthodox, manifestation of Devî, yet she also has her own “hot” aspects. Pârvatî is complex even as wife of S´iva and mother of two sons. Part of the tension derives from the ambiguous nature of S´iva—both an ascetic and a husband. Some myths attempted to preserve his asceticism even though he had sons.
Some made a concession: he had to end his austerities (tapas) to provide a divine son by Pârvatî in order to conquer evil. S´iva was aroused from his meditation (or austerities—not always the same) by Kâma, the god of love, to marry Pârvatî.
However, an ascetic should not be aroused by Kâma or actually consummate marriage, so Pârvatî’s motherhood was often denied by S´aivite versions. In these versions, it was because these sons of S´iva were either S´iva’s creations from his mind or by Pârvatî’s own mind-creations, that Pârvatî acknowledged Ganes´a (originally named Vighneshvara) and Subrahmanya (also known as Skanda and Kârttikeya) as her sons.
Yet, there were also several more children—another son and daughter, Andhaka and As´okasundarî—again raising the question whether they were mind-born from one or the other parents. Many other sons of S´iva, such as the sage Durvâsa, were accounted for alternately as manifestations. The idea of manifestation of the Supreme is less mythical, less anthropomorphic, and less problematical—and does not require a real wife or mother.
There are a number of accounts that are not ascetic in regard to paternity issues. Several semi-divine beings come from the love play (coition) of S´iva and Pârvatî: Andhaka (a demon) and Hanuman (a divine monkey). Pârvatî could be quite rambunctious in her love play. It was said in the Vâlmîki Râmâyana that Pârvatî and S´iva’s love play rocked the foundations of the heavens and the earth, so both the gods and earth complained to S´iva.
He stopped, but Pârvatî became angry. She cursed Bhûmî-devî (mother earth): she would become many forms and be the wife of many. Pârvatî also stated that, since Bhûmî had prevented her from having a son, Bhûmî-devî would have no more children. On another occasion Pârvatî cursed citraketu and his wife for laughing at her love play with S´iva, which they chanced to see.
While S´iva and Pârvatî were married and thus should have served as a divine model for the householder life, their relationship was not always desirable. S´iva was usually the problem. One day S´iva had behaved so badly, abusing the devas (gods) and his wife Pârvatî, that she decided to leave him. In order to prevent this, S´iva discarded that portion of himself that was making life miserable for everyone—to be born as a sage, Durvâsa.
Another time S´iva received a woman visitor named Madhurâ at Kailâsa while Pârvatî was away. Madhurâ came to worship S´iva but was rewarded with special favors. When Pârvatî returned to Kailâsa, she saw Madhurâ’s breast smeared from the ash of S´iva’s body. Pârvatî went into a fury and cursed Madhurâ.
S´iva was not able to do anything. When Pârvatî was first born as Satî, the daughter of Daksha, she wedded S´iva. This episode complicated Pârvatî’s character beyond most mythmakers’ abilities to restore clarity. Pârvatî would be the eternal wife of S´iva, yet it was S´iva’s angry sweat as Bhadrakâlî (an aspect of Pârvatî), coming to protest Daksha’s snub of S´iva as Satî (another manifestation of Pârvatî) and killing Daksha, Satî’s father.
Satî burned herself in Daksha’s Brâhmanical fire sacrifice, becoming the paradigm for “widow-burning” (sati) as an act of purification. When S´iva learned of his wife Satî’s self-immolation in the sacrificial fire of her father Daksha, he loosened his matted hair in full anger. Out of this angry energy was born two attendants: Vîrabhadra and Bhadrakâlî. Bhadrakâlî was Pârvatî in another form.
S´iva sent Vîrabhadra and Bhadrakâlî to kill Daksha. Even though Bhadrakâlî was Pârvatî’s manifestation, her actions were seen in the myths as S´iva’s karma, making him a brâhmin-killer. It was S´iva, not Pârvatî, who had to do penance. Pârvatî seemed to need to be where the action was and sometimes got into trouble because of it. Pârvatî complained to S´iva that she had not been given a role in Vishnu’s Râma incarnation.
Therefore, S´iva caused her to lose consciousness of her true nature and be reborn as Lankâ-Lakshmî, a doorkeeper or guardian in Lanka for Râvana. She fought with Hanuman who knocked her unconscious with a blow from his left hand. When she regained consciousness, she remembered that she was Pârvatî as Bhadrakâlî.
She thanked Hanuman and returned to Kailâsa and S´iva. Pârvatî’s role in the Krishna incarnation was most dramatic. In order for Krishna to escape death at his birth by the hands of his evil uncle Kamsa, a baby girl was substituted. As Kamsa tried to kill her, Bhadrakâlî appeared in full glory and power.
Pârvatî is worshipped today in many forms, beginning with Kâlî in the S´aktî cult, Tântric forms like Candî, Câmundî, milder forms like Gaurî, Kârtyayanî, and so on. Candikâ was the furious aspect of the Goddess for those who interpret all her manifestations as those of the Supreme.