Siva and Parvati both have several distinct aspects / facets. They are seen as loving, caring, and forgiving on the one hand (Pasupati, Parameswarar, Parvati, Uma, Gauri), aggressive, destructive and terrifying on the other (Bhairavar, Rudra, Sarabhar, Shakti, Durga, Kali), and everything in the middle! Devotees worship all these types of personas.
However, they are also regarded as the primordial couple, and the story of their marriage(s) is one for the ages. Here we take a look at some of the stories and temples associated with the marriage of Siva and Parvati.
(Notes: 1. Links that are not temple-specific will take you to all pages associated with that particular topic. 2. Not all temples have complete web pages devoted to them – some of these are work in progress.)
Siva and Sati
Dakshayani (or Sati) was the daughter of Daksha, one of the prajapatis or agents of creation. The name Sati itself derives from sat, which could mean truth, righteousness, and nobility. According to the Devi Bhagavata Puranam and Mahabhagavata Puranam, Sati was born when Daksha and his wife Prasuti mediated upon Adi Parasakti, for the Great Goddess to incarnate herself as their daughter.
From a very young age, Sati adored Lord Siva and became his ardent devotee. Over time, she became intent on marrying Siva (which, according to Brahma, would get the Lord to engage in worldly matters), much to her father Daksha’s disapproval. She undertook various hardships, and eventually Lord Siva acceded to her wishes and married her, which further annoyed Daksha.
Later, Lord Siva was not invited to Daksha’s yagam, the prime motive of which was to insult Siva. Uninvited, Sati attended the yagam much against Lord Siva’s wishes, but eventually ended up immolating herself after observing the disrespect shown by her father to her husband. (Kootiyur in Kerala and Draksharamam in Andhra Pradesh, among others, are considered the sites of Daksha’s yagam.)
At this, Veerabhadrar issued from an angry Siva, destroyed the yagam, and decapitated Daksha (this is according to Linga Puranam and Bhagavata Puranam; other puranams state differently), as a result of which Daksha had to take on the head of a goat as a replacement.
Daksha’s decapitation is considered one of the eight veerattams (victorious dances) of Lord Siva, and is the principal sthala puranam associated with the Veeratteswarar temple at Tiruparasalur (Tiruparayalur) near Mayiladuthurai.
Siva and Parvati
Lord Siva was grief-stricken on the loss of Sati, and was subsequently convinced by Lord Vishnu to stop carrying Sati’s body around with him all the time. Siva withdrew from creation and engrossed Himself in deep meditation.
Parvati (or Haimavati) was the daughter of Himavan, the god of the Himalayas, who like Sati, underwent many austerities and penances to beget Lord Siva as Her husband. Desperate, she even invoked Kama to help her cause, but Lord Siva destroyed him by burning him with His third eye. The Veeratteswarar temple at Korukkai is associated with this incident – Kama Dahanam. (Rati, the consort of Kama, prayed to Abatsahayeswarar at nearby Ponnur, and Kama was restored.)
Other gods, including Lord Vishnu, finally got Siva to realise that He needed to engage with creation, and therefore get married. While Parvati was a ready bride, Siva tested her in devotion in many ways before finally consenting.
Himavan and his wife Mainavati had not seen the groom, and were hoping he was smart and handsome enough to be married to their beautiful daughter. So Lord Siva decided to play one of his “games” to disabuse them of the notion of beauty. As part of the procession to Himavan’s place, He sent various deities, each of whom Himavan and Mainavati mistook to be their prospective son-in-law. At last, Lord Siva himself got there, in the garb of an ascetic, hair unkempt, wearing a tiger skin as his wedding attire and a snake as his necklace, surrounded by ganas who were causing all sorts of mayhem. The in-laws-to-be were shaken, and asked Parvati if she undertook so much effort for this. Of course, this was just a test, and after Lord Vishnu was able to disabuse them of their notions, Lord Siva emerged in his splendour and handsome form, as Sundareswarar!
Who are His antecedents?
It is customary in many wedding traditions for the ancestry of the bride and groom to be declared publicly. When the time came for this during the wedding, Himavan – as per stated procedure – announced Parvati’s lineage and then asked for Siva’s lineage to be declared. There was absolute silence.
Himavan felt disgraced – how could he give his daughter’s hand in marriage to someone with nobody to speak for Him? He expressed his disappointment loudly. To this, Narada stepped forward and twanged a string on the veena he carried with him at all times. Himavan was further annoyed at what he considered to be Narada insulting him.
Then, Narada explained that the twang of the instrument represented the primordial sounds with which Siva is associated – He has no ancestry and lineage. He is Swayambhu! Himavan understood the divinity of the bridegroom, and the wedding was then completed.
North Indian legends believe that the Triguninarayan temple, located north of Sonprayag in Uttarakhand, is the place where Siva and Parvati’s wedding was held. Also, according to those legends, Maha Sivaratri is the night of Lord Siva and Parvati’s wedding.
In south India
Legends in Tamil Nadu and south India have two versions of the Siva-Parvati wedding.
The Tirumananjeri wedding
The first is as Siva and Parvati themselves. There are multiple versions of how Siva got angry with Parvati, cursed her to be born on Earth, and how they finally reconciled. The most popular of these is as follows.
During a game of Chokkattan, Parvati upset Lord Siva, and so He cursed her to be born on earth as a cow. When She pleaded with Him, He assured her that She would be reunited with Him, with the help of her brother, Lord Vishnu.
Parvati was therefore born as a cow at Tiruvavaduthurai. She would graze around nearby villages, and She once worshipped Lord Siva at Tirukozhumbiam, where her leg hoof the Lingam by mistake, leaving a mark on it (which can be seen even today).
Later, while grazing on her own at Therazhundur, Lord Vishnu (in some retellings, He is Parvati’s brother) in the form of a cowherd recognised her and took her back to Tiruvavaduthurai, where she gained the form of a young girl, and was brought up as the daughter of Bharata maharishi, at Tiruturutti (Kuttalam).
When She came of marriageable age, Lord Siva’s benediction came true, and He came down from Kailasam to Ethirkolpadi (Mela Tirumanancheri), where He was met by sages, and also by Parvati (ethir = opposite, kol = seeing). The pre-nuptial yagams were conducted at Velvikudi (velvi = rituals), and the marriage itself took place at Tirumanancheri.
All of these temples are within a 8-10 km distance, and in most of these places, one of the names of the Lord is connected with his role as bridegroom (Kalyana Sundarar, Manavalar, etc).
Also, the own sthala puranams and a lot of the stucco work and temple architecture at these temples are also connected with Siva’s marriage to Parvati – be sure to look out for those when you visit.
The Madurai story
Malayadhwajan, the Pandya king, did not have children. He obtained a girl child from the sacrificial fire at the yagam he performed to beget children, and named her Tataatakai. She had eyes beautiful as those of fish, and was therefore also called Meenakshi. Meenakshi was born with three breasts, but a celestial voice at the sacrifice indicated that the third breast would fall off when she met her husband-to-be.
Meenakshi was a warrior, and eventually went to the Himalayas and was able to defeat several of the Devas. They rushed to Lord Siva to seek His protection. When Siva appeared on the battlefield, Meenakshi’s third breast disappeared, and She knew she had met her future husband. Siva also knew this, and asked her to go back to Madurai, promising to be there in eight days.
Lord Siva duly arrived at Madurai on the 8th day, resplendent and handsome in his form as Sundareswarar (the handsome one) and married Meenakshi. This is the chief puranam of the Sundareswarar temple in Madurai (more popularly known as the Madurai Meenakshi temple).
Madurai is where Siva transformed from an ascetic to a householder, and therefore gets prominence in the culture of south India and Tamilakam.
Associated with the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar wedding is another puranam. Lord Vishnu left His abode at Alagar Koil to attend the wedding. However, His progress was impeded slow, as He had disguised himself as a robber in order to protect himself and his belongings.
When crossing the Vaigai river, he got news that the wedding was over. Furious, He decided to turn back, but Sundareswarar and Meenakshi came to the Vaigai river to pacify him. He then gave them the gifts he had carried, in a mandapam in the middle of Vaigai river.
The Chitirai festival (April) in Madurai celebrates both the wedding and Lord Vishnu’s return to Alagar Koil, as a single festival (originally these were different festivals, but were combined by the ruling Nayaks to promote Saivite-Vaishnavite harmony).
There are several places and temples connected with the legend of Lord Siva’s wedding. Some of these are:
Nellaiappar temple, Tirunelveli…where a tired Lord Vishnu – as Nellai Govindan – is resting after the wedding celebrations are over.
Bhagavati temple, Kanyakumari…where the Goddess waited in vain for Lord Siva to come and marry her.
Veezhinatheswarar temple, Tiruveezhimizhalai…where Lord Siva is called Mappilaiswamy (the divine groom), and is said to have told Parvati’s father that he would go to Kasi if he was not given Her hand in marriage (this is also said to be the origin of the Kasi-yatra ritual in many south Indian weddings).
Pathaleeswarar temple, Haridwaramangalam…where Lord Vishnu chased Lord Siva down a hole in the ground, because the latter fled fearing his impending marriage to Parvati.
Chaturanga Vallabha Nathar temple, Poovanur…celebrates Siva’s marriage to Parvati after He defeated Her at a game of chess.
Details of the above and other temples associated with the divine marriage are here.
The wedding feast
No wedding is complete without a proper feast, and so we too will partake of one. It is said that the whole city of Madurai attended Meenakshi-Sundareswarar’s wedding. Here is Bhojanam Seyya Vaarungal, a Carnatic rendition of the menu at the feast; and here’s a slightly different rendition which includes details on some of the guests, etc.
I must admit that just listening to it makes one feel really full! Enjoy!