The Story of Shakti Peeths

Shiva & Sati. Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

Daksha is one of the sons of Lord Brahma and a great Brahmin King. According to Vishnu Purana and Padma Purana, Daksha had 24 daughters and the youngest of them was Sati who was determined to marry Shiva. Daksha does not like Shiva and does not agree to offer Sati’s hand in marriage to Shiva. Anyways, Shiva is also least interested in marrying Sati. However, Sati turns her back on Daskha and follows Shiva, making no claims and loving him unconditionally and soon Sati comes to be known as ‘the ideal wife’. However, her efforts change nothing as Shiva refuses to accept her and Daksha finds his son-in-law useless. Helpless between Shiva’s apathy and Daksha’s hatred for Shiva, Sati struggles to grow passion in the hearts of both these personalities.

Sati comes to know that Daksha had arranged for a great Yagna and has invited all the gods and their wives. Sati was determined to go there too but Shiva was reluctant. However, Sati was stubborn and Shiva had to let her go. When Sati reached her father’s house, she found all the gods gathered to receive the offerings of the Yagna. There was no seat reserved for Shiva. She realized her father had deliberately not extended any invitation to Shiva. “He does not know how to dress or behave in public. He covers himself with ash, holds a skull in his hand, lives in crematoriums with ghosts and dogs for company and does not even show me the respect due to a father-in-law. This makes him unworthy of any offering” said Daksha. Sati was upset and angry. In her fury, she leaped into the sacred fire of the Yagna, determined to pollute the sacred fire and stop the ritual. Agni, the fire-god, refused to touch her. So Sati invoked Tapa, the inner fire and set herself alight on the sacred altar. With that, the sacred precinct was polluted and Daksha’s Yagna ground to a halt. The death of Sati sets the stage for a violent confrontation. News of Sati’s demise stirs emotions Shiva has never experienced before. There is loss, pain and rage. The fire withheld in his body for centuries explodes like a volcano, taking the form of Virabhadra. Sati’s death broke Shiva’s heart. His serenity was shattered. He was furious. In his rage, he pulled out his hair and created a fanged warrior called Virabhadra. Virabhadra rushed into Daksha’s house, followed by hordes of ghosts and goblins who rode on rabid dogs. The air was filled with the howl of death.

The followers of Shiva leaped on the assembled Devas, ripping out their hearts and gouging out their eyes. They drank blood and bedecked themselves with limbs and entrails. Virabhadra often referred to Bhairava caught Daksha hiding behind the altar. With one swoop of his axe, he beheaded the great patriarch and tossed his head in the altar. Shiva clung to Sati’s corpse and wandered across the three worlds howling in agony and dancing the “Dance of Destruction – Tandava”. His tears turned into sacred beads known as Rudraksha, meaning ‘from the eyes of Rudra who is Shiva’. The world had become a miserable place, full of suffering. Vishnu was alarmed. He feared for the well-being of the cosmos. So he raised his serrated discus – the Chakra that destroys all negativity and hurled it in the air. It cut Sati’s body in 51 pieces (according to some it is 108 pieces). All the places, where the body parts fell became the Shakti Peeths or Sati Peeths. With the body gone, Shiva regained his senses and restored the gods to life and revived Daksha by replacing his severed head with that of a goat. Daksha completed his Yagna and empowered the Devas so that the cycle of life could rotate once more. This time an offering was made to Shiva too, at the end of the ritual. Shiva let his dogs consume it. He simply withdrew into a cave, shut his eyes and immersed himself in his meditation sitting atop Mt. Kailasha.

The Goddess Sati is soon reborn as Parvati – princess of the mountains. Again determined to marry Shiva. Parvati left her father’s house and took to living like an ascetic in the forest and indulged in Tapasya. So great was her Tapasya that Shiva had to finally agree to marry her. Their marriage ceremony was presided by Brahma himself.

Extracted from Myth = Mithya – Decoding Hindu Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik.