200 BC - 1200

Tracing the Female Dominance in Siva Iconography 

American Institute of Indian Studies

'The Divine Wives'

Present exhibit concisely aims to explore the conceptual affinities and collimitic prominence between the Crescent-head God Siva and his consorts-majorly Parvati and Ganga. However female-Centric the article may appear, author in her analysis has remained indifferent mostly relying upon the primary textual and archaeological sources available on the subject.
Ancient text identify the Siva-Parvati (Sakti) relation with that of Purusha-Brahman and Prakriti where Siva owns, commands and preside over the modes and modalities of creation. but even Sakti or the Parvati ( hereafter) is not pretermitted to a lesser position when she is identified with the bounteous earth: her fertility and her motherhood can be like those of Aditi and Usas, autonomous and free of the authority and the influence of any consort. she Herself is the earth, source of plants, and all that has life and wealth-here she is called Shakambhari! Her yoni and the breast can be identified with the actual landscapes, like Bhimasthana and Gaurishikhara mentioned in the Mahabharata. She being the life giver to the land of Kashmir as Vitasta, is Parvati herself appraises Kalhana in his Rajatrangini. The Devi-Mahatmya says-

" You are the mother of the world, the earth, the waters".

Despite implicit assertions of her power, with multiple heroic deeds, respective of the emphasis on majesty and sovereignty Parvati makes a perpetual couple with Siva.The problematic yet fabulous matrimony of Siva and Parvati provides an excellent anecdote as a backdrop for real relationship issues: the discourse of power between men and women, extra-martial affinities, parenting, and support. While the hindrances that Siva and Parvati had to face in their married life seem not alien to those of common mortals. expression of the same can be seen in the biunity in god and mutual opposition as in Ardhanarisvara and Gangadhara forms of Siva.

The earliest representation of Siva-Parvati as a couple is seen on a coin of Kushan king Huviska, which shows siva with Nana ( Greek goddess) as well as Siva with Uma. Nana here is depicted carrying a crescent on the head, holding a animal-heade rod in hand while Uma stands by the side of Oesho or Siva, holdin a lotus in her hands.
Siva and Parvati, depicted seated together is known in iconographic texts variously as Uma-Mahesvara, Alinganamurti or Umasahitmurti was a poular theme in Gupta art. Siva is seating in urdvamedha ( still) posture embracing Parvati whi is seating in sukhasana-the graceful comfortable pose, her right shoulder reclining against Siva.

In classical Hindu mythos, the raison detre of Parvati exitence is to tempt Siva into matrimony and the circle of worldly life.
In the composition of the scene of the marriage of Parvati with Siva, popularly know as 'Parvati-Parinay' or the 'Kalyansundara' theme; Siva and Parvati form the central figure facing the east. Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi and Bhumi are represented as the givers of the bride standing behind her, touching her waist indicative of hadnling her over to her Lord and Vishnu stands in the background between Siva and Parvati with a golden pot of water ready to pour in it the ceremony of giving the bride to the bridegroom. There is Brahma in the foreground, seated and performing the ceremony of homa, making offering to the fire. in the background there can be seen the various Dikpalas ( guardian of the eight directions) Siddhas ( Arhats) Yakshas, Gandharavas, rishis, matrikas and a hosts of other gods with their respective goddesses, all of them standing with arm folded in anajali pose, with the feeling of pleasure, happiness and memorization on their faces.

The image of Parvati, with her face slightly bent down in shyness, stands by the right side of that of Siva. Parvati is depicted adorned with heavy and intricate ornaments of good workmanship; she wears an inquisitively embellished cloth which descends in flowing folds on either side and is held on the loin by mekhala- a kind of belt. Even as the She demure bride; ready enter the wedlock ,she seems perfectly at ease with the upcoming role of being a wife and later mother where she gets to actualize Siva's stored-up ascetic energy in most possible worldly matters.

This scene, that of the actual marriage ceremony, which is depicted in the center of the panel, Parvati is seen, standing to the right of Siva is offering her right hand to him, who receives the same in his right hand. At the background and between the bride and the groom is Vishnu standing with a pot ready to pour in the hands of Siva, as a symbol of making the gift of the bride. Lakshmi's face is seen behind the head of the bride as she is standing behind Parvati and presenting her to Lord Siva. Behind the bride are two female attendants, one of them carrying a box and behind the bridegroom are two devas and a gana. Brahma, assisted by a rishi is seen performing the fire offering ceremony. this panels represents the finest and the perfect illustration of 'Kalyan-Sundara' theme.

Images of Siva and Parvati, in the act of holding each others hand in marriage is presented here. In this panel Siva stands, with his front right hand stretched out to receive that of Parvati, who in this instance alone stands left to the Siva.

Both textual and archaeological evidences for the existence of Parvati-Sati appear by the epic period (400 B.C.-400 A.D.) Both the Ramayana and Mahabharata mention Parvato or Sati as the wife of Siva. Despite being repeatedly urge not to marry distasteful Siva Parvati seems undeterred and seeing her steadfastness Siva accepts her marriage proposal. The marriage is properly arranged and elaborately conducted. Siva and Parvati marriage procession is one of the most preferred themes in Indian art and often described at length.
This illustration is from the cave temple of Elephanta, that is remarkably well executed Kalyansundara panel, although mutilated from here and there. Siva is standing with Parvati to his right ; his front right hand is as usual stretched out to receive Parvati's hand. The Parvati a vision of striking beauty has a down-cast look, depicting an amount of shyness. Her narrow waist and the broad hip, the well formed bosom and the relaxed posture of the leg all lend a celestial charm to the her figure.

As the bounteous consort of Siva, novel to the wedlock, Parvati holds attributes symbolic of her generosity, as the source of all life she may be represented by an impersonal figure combing the symbolism of the nature personified , opening the room for the interpretations has the attributes appropriate both to the earth mother and to the Devi as sovereign, merging, as it were, two apparently distinct aspects.

The pompous and astoundingly warm environment of the Kalyanyansundara themes has its archetype in the troupes of gana musicians and in the celestial dancers. The ganas we see here are not only musicians but also dancers themselves. They being the part of Siva family represent the aspects of Sivas masculinity. In the sculptural panes depicting Siva-Parvati Prinay they are no less than the dancing form a corps de ballet. From weird and impish, bizarre and demonic to peaceful, serene, sublime, the dancing, music-making, frolicking genjis of lord Siva are the loveliest creatures found frequently in the minor figural art of Siva panels as the companions of Lord Nandin . Even in their deformity they appear cherubic and merrier, they are human in appearance, though sometimes with animal heads, short and round in shape , they are often shown potbellied and lacking neck . in the inwards realization of non-existent body in a state of concentration they are the manifestations of none other than the Supreme Lords Spirit . In, Saiva texts they are mentioned as under Siva’s command, dwelling at the foot of Mount Kailasa, mostly dancing. In their most important appearance for us, at the time of Siva-Parvati Parinay they come across as strong natural forces, accommodated with the symbolic scheme of the creation, in their childlike quality they possess to have ability to join in with Siva rather than merely watch.

This sculpture from Ellora depicts Brahma negotiating with Himvan-father of Parvati doing Homa ceremony or making offerings to fire during marriage of Siva-Parvati. Brahma is seen seating in Padmasana facing the north,adorning jatamukuta. in his left hands Akshmala is visible clearly surva in the right one.

The goddess in Siva panels is-Parvati, the beautiful lady who is Siva’s love. The representation of Siva in his saumya forms seems always to have been accompanied by the goddess Paravti as his consort. She stands, leaning lightly to one side, as the principal witness of Siva.

A certain amount of menage could be sense these elaborately cut up panels. The Deva Siva and Devi Parvati, the central figures are shaped rather larger than the other deities attending upon them . In the lower section is the big bull of Siva-the mighty Nandi is is seating slightly over tended.

Lord Siva is the god of extremes-both ascetic and sexual. its is Parvati who subdues,tames or controls Siva's immense sexual vitality. She cools the heat of his anger. As the representative of the household ideal Parvati emerges as a paragon of controlled sex or married sex in ancient Indian psych, which is opposed to Siva's asceticism and eroticism. The ideas that the mighty male gods are inherently bestowed with the potency undertaking creative activity, Parvati quite naturally comes across the pacifying force underlying and impelling creation. In the panel before us where Parvati is represented holding the Linga symbolizes the creative release in the erotic act of power stored within Siva. The erotic act is hence increased, made more potent,prolific and creative her encapsulating capacity and the nurturing nobleness above all. This also symbolizes the creative interaction between asceticism where sexual abstinence is must and perspective of a householder, in which sexual intercourse is a necessity.

After Siva and Parvati are married they set out to Mount Kailasa, Siva's most loved home and engulf themselves completely into sexual-coquetry for a long periods of time.For the most part their married life and family life is portrayed as harmonious, blissful and calm , in iconography the two with their children are seen happily embracing each other. However, Siva and Parvati do have marital conflicts and quarrel ferequently, specially during a game of dice when Parvati looses and Siva laughs at her.
The panel before us depicts the same theme where Siva and Parvati are playing the chausar as a symbol of divine sport, described in detail in next illustrations under the titel 'Siva and Parvati Playing Dice.'

Present sculpture brings before us is the Varaha-Purana narrative the story of Siva wanting to test the steadfastness of Pravati, assumed the form of an old Brahmin and begged Parvati for food. Parvati asks the ascetic to finish his bath and come for meals. As soon as he got down into the water contrived to be caught by a crocodile called out Parvati for help. Pravati initially under the vows 'not to touch any other man other than that of Lord Siva' could not stretch her arm for help but soon overcoming it puled the Brahmin out of water saving his life from crocodile.

Siva, pleased with Parvati's compassion showed his real self to her and Parvati gratified with her love interest-the supreme Lord saved from being held by the crocodile dedicated herself to Siva and their marriage was celebrated later on.

Images that show Siva on the right half and Parvati on the left of the same figure are known as Ardhanarisvara. The figure symbolizes the blending of Siva and Parvati, Brahma and Maya -the male and female principles responsible for creation of the cosmos. according to the Indian concept the supreme transcendent-'Siva' and the creative energy ' Sakti' are inseparable and play the apparent role in creation as both are the aspects of same reality.
As per the Siva-Purana the god Brahma unable to continue his task of creation, requested Siva to come to his aid. Siva then takes the form of the hermaphrodite, splitting again as Siva and Parvati to continue the creation.
Earliest Ardhanarisvara images are assignable to the Kushana period and come from Mathura. the figures are two armed and remarkably the rect male organ and female organ have both been shown. Ardhanarisvara is also seen on some of the gold coins of later Kushana rulers. Multi armed Ardhanarsvara became popular in the Gupta period.

Siva as Gangadhara, “ Bearer of the Ganga” is commonly depicted wearing the Ganga in his hair, either as the mermaid who clings to the crescent moon in his topknot or as the stream of water spurting up like a geyser . The Ganga, therefore, is Siva’s constant companion, making his tangled ascetic’s locks her way station on her perpetual arrival from heaven to earth. In agreeing to bear the Ganga, Siva involved himself in a relationship rather than a simple task. So closely is the relationship of Siva and Ganga that she is called his and is occasionally depicted in sculpture approaching him as a bride. Naturally, as co-wife and rival, she arouses the jealousy of Parvati that became a favourite theme of both poets and artists.

Siva is called Uma-Ganga-Patisvara, “ Husband and Lord of Uma ( Parvati) and Ganga” and depicted as such by artisans of Ellora, who show Ganga clinging to his hair and a frowning Parvati growing faint and turning her face away in jealousy. The goddess extrapolated and distanced from Siva, sways away yet leans towards the god. Though Siva and Uma can be dissociated as little as a word from its meaning, the presence of a second female element is paramount in the narrative of Siva-Gangadhara. And why would not Parvati be jealous? Ganga descanting from the top of the world mountain, dwelles in close 'physical' contact with Siva in his flowing hair , at a later point is to carry the fetus of Siva's son, Karttikeya who was not born from Parvati womb. Parvati has reasons to be jealous and in the sculpture at Elephanta, Siva, bearing the small, 'triple' figure of Ganga on his head, sways in bliss, away from Parvati.
In the Skanda Purana Siva, Speaking to Visnu, resolves the issues by saying, “ As Gauri ( Parvati) is, so is the Ganga, therefore, whoever worships Gauri properly also worships Ganga”.
Siva-Gangadhar Murti represents the Supreme Sada-siva active energy or Sakti, that can be apprehended, loved and praised. Kalidasa, in Kumarasambhava calls it ‘ sambhor ambumayi-murti: Siva’s water-form.” As this “embodiment” the Ganga makes Siva’s activity in the world possible. Siva-in-action is indeed Sakti. Her fall from heaven to the head of Siva is repeated countless times daily in the simple ritual act of pouring water upon the Siva linga. The unutterable incandescence of the Linga of fire is joined with the torrential energy of the celestial water. Without the Ganga, Siva would remain the scorching, brilliant linga of fire; without Siva, The Ganga would flood the earth. Bearing her in his matted locks Sada-Siva-Gangadhar became the vehicle for the Ganga’s descend, the Ganga through her liquid sakti that Siva is able to enter into the world, is also a vehicle for Siva towards salvation. No wonders, the opening stanza of the “ Ganga-Lahari” calls her the ‘essence’ of the scriptures and embodied goodness of the gods

The marriage of Siva and Parvati is frequently blighted by disputes over Siva's tenacious adulteries or by his yogic aloofness from domestic life. These disagreements often erupts while playing dice-an act of cosmic and divine significance. The four throws of the dice represent the four ages of the world. While playing dice Siva always wins-mostly by cheating and that ensues the argument between them in which Siva pulls the rank, he blots out all the stars or annihilates the sun and moon creating massive cosmic vandalism untill Parvati tactfully withdraw the accusation to prevent further trouble. The vivid depiction of this theme showing Siva-Parvati with a full complement of family and attendants, enjoying domestic bliss in mount Kailasa is from cave no 14 Ellora.

Ravana, the demon king in his paramount arrogance decided to uproot mount Kailasa and carry it to Lanka in order to enhance the magnificence of his capital.Therefore, he started to uproot the Kailasa, which began to shake, and in fright and awe Parvati clung to Siva. To teach Ravana a lesson, Siva pressed Kailasa with his toes until the demon king was at the point of being crushed beneath it.
Ravana seeing own his miserable condition to propitiate Mahadeva wept and sang hymn in parse of Siva for thousand years and thus was spared. Since he cried, he was given the name Ravana.

The natural proportions of each image in the Ravananugrahamurti panel, the great realism in their moulding and the expression on the face of many a figure in it, specially the fright of Parvati, is admirably worked out. Parvati in great fear, embraces the well-proportioned and well built body of Siva, who is seen calm and free from any agitation and is seen in his turn embracing and reassuring his terrified consort.

Ravana trying to lift mount Kailasa or the Ravananugrahamurti became very popular with sculptors of a later time, but began at Mathura in the early Gupta period. There Parvati and Siva are presented seated on a rock being borne on the masculine shoulders of Ravana in demon form.
In the main scheme of the Siva Parvati myth, Parvati is contrived as a figure who upholds the order of dharma, enhancing life in the world she represents perspective of a wife who cherishes house and society rather than the forest, the mountains or the ascetic life. Parvati as a driving force in Siva's life civilizes him and domesticates him.
Siva as Agni is fire that demolishes the world, it is Parvatias Soma-the cosmic fluidity from which the world is ineluctably reborn. Siva as a cosmic dancer while performing the tandava is uncontrollable destroyer, Parvati, in contrast, is portrayed as patient creator trying to soften the violent upshots of her husband. Her role as his sakti is almost always remains positive, without her he would remain withdrawn, sluggish and inactive, Parvati as sakti not only complements Siva-she completes him. It is Parvati who succeeds in entrancing Siva's attention, in awakening his concerns for the world, enabling his great wisdom and knowledge, attained by heroic aeons of yogic meditation and solitude. Parvati represents humankinds who are are proactive for and welfare from all that Siva reveals. Although Parvatii is not the only one to whom Siva reveals, she is definitely the most outstanding to be cast in this role.

Centre for Art and Archaeology, American Institute of Indian Studies
Credits: Story

Credits- American Institute for Indian Studies
Curated By-Tishyarakshita Shyamali Amardeep Nagarkar

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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