The underlying wisdom of the Shakti Peeth Myth

Shiva & Sati

Daksha and Shiva, the Rishi and the Yogi, embody two opposing approaches to life. For Daksha the Rishi, the world is Shakti, energy with the power to make existence delightful. For Shiva the Yogi, the world is Maya, delusion. Truth lies beyond the enchanting forms created by space, time and matter. From the Rishis came Vastushatra, Jyotishashastra and Ayurveda, sciences that aim to manipulate space, time and body to harness happiness, fortune and health. Shiva being the ascetic has no interest in happiness, fortune and health. Space, time and body do not interest him. He therefore prefers the inner fire to the outer fire. His doctrine is Yoga, the science of managing the mind, uncrumpling the consciousness and attaining sat-chitta-ananda. Daksha and Shiva steer clear of each other.

Sati embodies the voice of those who challenge ritualism because it gives more importance to the mechanical execution of ceremonies than to the needs of the heart and the question, of the mind. Shiva’s intellectual detachment from things worldly is not the answer either. Sati yearns for the middle path where there is husband’s love and father’s affection. She begins by turning away from Daskha and following Shiva, making no demands, loving Shiva unconditionally. The death of Sati sets the stage for a violent confrontation between the world-rejecting Shiva and the world affirming Daksha.

News of Sati’s demise stirs emotions Shiva has never experienced before. There is loss, pain and rage. Sati brings Shiva in touch with his feelings. In her company he experiences love. In her absence, he experiences sorrow. Her death makes him realize the cruelty of social rules and regulations that often ignore feelings in the quest to establish order. His outrage manifests itself through his followers, the gana, who spread mayhem wherever they go. By destroying the Yagna, they destroy society with all its values and judgements. Virabhadra is a violent form of Shiva associated with outrage and punishment. He is associated with dogs and ghosts. In his hand he holds the head identified either as Brahma or as Daksha. Virabhadra is the alter ego of the serene Shiva, who meditates on Kailasa. For many, Virabhadra is the warrior manifestation of Shiva to be invoked before battle. Others see Virbhadra as Bhairava – the fear-evoking form of Shiva. But the rage and retribution, the destruction of society, do not take away the pain. Shiva clung to Sati’s corpse and wandered across the three worlds, howling in agony.

Vishnu can understand Shiva’s rage against the nature of civilization, but he cannot let Shiva destroy society. By destroying Sati’s corpse, he is able to make Shiva detach himself from the stimulus of pain. With Sati gone, Shiva is able to overcome his grief and sense of loss. He can even let go of his outrage. He resurrects Daksha by replacing his head with that of a goat and lets him continue as before as patriarch of the Vedic civilization. Shiva, however, remains an outsider. He disengages himself from the world, seeking freedom from those stimuli that cause pain and suffering. Sitting atop Mount Kailasa, he shuts his eyes, withdraws his senses inwards, relights the fire of Tapa.
As Sati, the Goddess makes Shiva experience Bhoga, the pleasure of the senses and the joy of emotions. But these sensory pleasures and emotional joys have a rhythm – waves and troughs; pleasure is followed by pain, joy by sorrow, just as day is followed by night, summer by winter, high tide by low tide. Shiva discovers this in his moment of crisis. He responds by recoiling from the world. He withdraws from all senses and detaches himself from all emotions. He uses Yoga to prevent his mind from being swept away by Samsara. A mind swept away by the ever-changing material world ends up being controlled by memories, desires, ideas and ego. It therefore experiences suffering, pain, misery, frustration, anxiety and insecurity. With Tapa, Shiva destroys memories, desires, ideas and ego. With Yoga he uncrumples his consciousness. There is no confusion then. Only clarity.

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