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purAna and the sibling ideal -Part 4

From: sudarshan (
Date: Sun Sep 27 1998 - 00:23:12 PDT

Dear bhAgavatOttamA-s,

The "purAna" narrates how the cursed Parvati lived the life of an
unintelligent cow on earth --- as a derelict beast, a ragged "vAzhA-vatti"
least deserving of wordly notice or care... so much like what the
Upanishads declare is the common condition of humanity at large ....
humanity which in spite of wandering aimlessly through numerous epochs of
bodily re-births in "janma" after "janma" (successive incarnations) remains
spiritually gross, withered and unregenerate.... condemned to distance and
separation from "dAmpatyam" with Siva : that special "conjugal bond" with
that Great Eternal Groom, the "para-brahmham", the Glorious One..... the
acme of human purpose!

>From the gentle flow of the "purAni-c" narrative we gather that Parvati,
though being a Goddess in her own right, "mAta parAsakti" Herself, however
remained true to the "sAstra-ic" ideal of classic "pativratA" : the great
ideal which in hoary Vedic times enjoined wives to submit totally to and
identify completely with the dictates of the husband's "aatmic" aspirations
and earn thereby their own "aatmic" deliverance.

Parvati, the mighty goddess that she was, could well have rebelled, if she
had really wanted, against the condition she was beset by as a result of
her husband, Parameshwara's curse. She could have been easily tempted to
think, "Why should I yield to this ill-tempered husband of mine? Why should
I put up with his curse ....why should I suffer the ignominy of bovine
existence on earth as punishment for a trivial transgression of mine? Who
is Siva in any case to mete out punishment to me? Whom does this
Kailasa-natha think He is? If he is God Almighty am I not Goddess Parasakti
myself? Am I not Sankara's equal in many ways?".

(Such a reaction from Parvati would strike extremely sympathetic chords in
our hearts in these modern times of gender equality and women's rights,
would'nt it?)

The "purAnA" however records that Devi Parvati did no such thing. She
humbly accepted her fate and descended to earth as a cow. Not a whisper of
protest against the unreasonable and intemperate outbursts of her husband.
Not a tear shed in self-pity. Not a harsh thought for the Lord of Kailasa.
The only thoughts that filled her mind, we learn, were those of sadness and
utter remorse over her unfortunate behaviour : the principal cause of so
much mutual heartburn for the Divine Couple.

Gods and goddesses, men or supermen, noble or petty beings... the
"purAnA-s" seem to clearly convey to us here... all wedded partners in the
world are absolutely bound to conform to the universal "dharma" of
"pAti-vratam" i.e. mutual tolerance and obedience amongst married partners
("stri-purusha") according to the dictates and expedient of each other's
"aatmic" advancement in life. 

There is no escape from such an inexorably "dhArmic" law. Not even Goddess
Parvati could avoid it in the story of our "purAna"!

Thus did Uma, the contrite Consort of Siva, descend to earth as a cow. In
the "Lalitha-sahasranAma", (the hymn of 1000 holy names of Lalitha) which
is just as dear to the devotees of Siva-Parvathy as the
"Vishnu-SahasranAma" is to we Vaishnavas, Goddess Parvati is hailed
variously as "gOmAtA" and "guhajanmabhu" i.e. the "mother" who came to
earth as a "pashu" or "cow". In the bargain Lord Siva too earned the
additional appellation of Lord "pashu-pati", the "Groom of Cows".

We shall continue the story of "gOmAtA" in the next post.