The Rudrasainhita portion of the Shiva Purana has a very interesting and enlightening tale to tell. The narrator is Lord Brahma, and the listener is the sage Narada. The story goes that Himachal the father of Parvati took flowers and fruits to Lord Shiva and prostrated to him. He requested Shiva to allow Parvati along with two of her friends to serve him. The reason Himachal gives is “the eager desire” of Parvati to serve the Lord. When Shiva saw Parvati he closed his eyes and went into tapa samadhi (intense meditation). After waiting for very long Himachal again hesitatingly bowed to Shiva and prayed, “ Oh Lord, oh giver of joy to the world, grant me at least this much that I along with my daughter can come to pay our respects and bow before you everyday.” The deva Maheshwara opened his eyes and spoke after some reflection, “Oh lord of the mountains you may come for my darshan (respectful obeisance and prayer) daily, but only after leaving your daughter behind at home.” On hearing this, Himachal persisted in at least being told the reason for this refusal of his daughter’s seva (worshipful service). The Purana very categorically says that Shiva stated his purpose “specially to demonstrate to the dushta yogis (Those who are evil but wear the garb of goodness of yogis) how they should behave.” Shiva then goes on to say that a tapasvi (a seeker undergoing regimented discipline) should not keep company of a stree (woman) because that can very soon destroy vairagya (detachment) and throw one into the mire of desires. The word stree stands here for the opposite sex, and is therefore relative to the one being addressed. Shiva also clearly says that he cannot be affected by Maya and has no use for a woman’s seva (services). He is refusing purely to set an example of what a tapasvi should do. Brahma ji also refers to shiva as mahayogashiromani (the crest Jewel of the yogis, and the pride and honour of all the yogis.) Hearing the hard cold speech of Shiva which was totally devoid of emotion or desire, Himachal was wonderstruck and dumb, but Parvati, on seeing the state of her father stood up to challenge Shiva. She first bowed to Shiva and then spoke. It is worth noting here that though Parvati’s speech questions Shiva’s speech, and also that her speech is highly logical, yet it is totally devoid of any ego. She knows the greatness of Shiva and her respectful bowing to Shiva speaks of her humility in addressing him.
Parvati begins by addressing Shiva as “Yogin”, then “Tapasvi” and then “Gyan-vishaarad” all terms of great reverence, yet in the light of which, her speech is even more pertinent. She requests him to hear her out fully. At the outset Parvati establishes the meaning of “prakriti” as that mighty power which creates, sustains and destroys. She questions the “tapasya”, the destructive power, as well as the very form of Shiva without the help of prakriti. No “action” or form is possible without the help of prakriti (nature power). Even the worshipful form of Shiva himself is possible only through the grace of prakriti, as Shiva can only “perform” tapas or destruction through a form, and that is possible only through dependence on prakriti. In a hard hitting but polite statement she says, “Even your speech of the unacceptability of my service was possible only with the help of prakriti, the one that creates bodies and enables speech… If you dear lord are beyond prakriti then you can neither speak, nor act, nor have a form! The pure consciousness, the purusha is formless and motionless as he is limitless. Only the limited can have a form. How then can you perform tapasya (austerity) on this mountain? If you can ‘hear’ me or ‘see’ me then I am ‘another’, and if you are omnipresent then how can you see or hear another? Even your Tapasya has a ‘purpose’ which again is a play in prakriti. Anything that is an object of your perception is considered by the wise as prakriti alone. Know for certain then, that the seer is not the seen.”
Parvati then concludes her logical argument ( Sankhya Shastra) by a great statement, “I am prakriti (matter) and you are the purusha (pure energy). It is only through my grace that you the formless can appear with form, and you the ( nirguna) attribute less appear as saguna (with attributes). You the supreme consciousness can act only with my help. You cannot create sustain or destroy but through me alone. As of now, you as Shankara who has a form, how can you be away from me? A form is me alone. This being the truth, your very form is my expression.” Then finally in a coup de grace, accepting his claim to being “beyond” prakriti she says, “ If I accept as truth that you are beyond the ken of maya or prakriti, then more the reason for you to have no fear from my proximity, for, from that standpoint there is none ‘other’ than you.”
This then won the day for Parvati. Lord Shiva saluted her knowledge and masterly logical delivery. He allowed her to serve him daily but on condition that the service was in total adherence to the conduct laid out by the shastras.
Just as the powerful electricity is itself motionless but lends motion to all electrical equipments, so is the action less consciousness that lends action to matter. Thus symbolically represented as Ardhanarishwara—the half male and half female form of Lord Shiva, whenever he is in expression. This form of Parvati is known as Shivangi, she, who dwells as the power of creation, sustenance, and destruction in the limbs of Shiva.
The author is president, Chinmaya Mission Delhi