Friday, February 24, 2017

Maha Shivaratri and Parvati

A poster advertising an Indian smoke shop
depicting Shiva and Parvati, circa 1992.
My friend Jeannie Herer reminds me that this is Maha Shivarati, the holiday when Nepal relaxes its laws to allow the partaking of the holy ganga, generally in the form of bhang, an edible mixture of cannabis often mixed into milk that is also consumed on other holidays, like the spring festival Holi.

In some parts of India, rather than just worshipping the Lord Shiva, Maha Shivarati celebrates the day Shiva married the goddess Parvati ("She of the Mountain"). By some legends Parvati was as devout as Shiva, but when she saw him she had to marry him, and diligently brought him out of contemplation into the world.

I was told this legend straight from the Himalayas at an Albert Hofmann Foundation talk in Santa Monica around 1990: Shiva was busy frolicking on the mountaintops with various nymphs when Parvati, left alone at home, discovered a cannabis plant growing in her garden. When Shiva returned to her, Parvati put some of the plant into a pipe for him to smoke. He did, and thereafter the two invented tantric yoga and saved their marriage.

Rather like the Adam and Eve story, here it is the woman who discovers the magical plant (which is “forbidden” in the Bible, what Timothy Leary called “the first controlled substance”).

Shiva with the goddess Parvati,
approx. 600-700 A.D.  India; Bihar state 
Another legend told on the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History" is that Parvati soothed Shiva's throat with bhang after he drank poison to save mankind, turning him blue like the blue-throated cubensis mushroom. The event is another from Shiva and Parvati's life that is celebrated on Maha Shivarati (which looks to me like a combination of the words Shiva and Parvati).

Parvati is the Hindu mother goddess of love, fertility and devotion. Along with Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and learning) she forms a trinity of Hindu goddesses called a Tridevi. In the Navaratri ("nine nights") festival, the Goddess is worshiped in three forms, starting with Parvati for the first three nights. In Hindu temples dedicated to Parvati and Shiva, she is symbolically represented as the argha or yoni. She is found extensively in ancient Indian literature, and her statues and iconography grace Hindu temples all over South Asia and Southeast Asia. [Wikipedia]

Premiere edition of Ms. magazine with
artwork by Miriam Wosk
Shiva is also a god of destruction, and Parvati has come down to us as Durga, her warrior form, or as Kali, the destructor goddess. The cover of the original Ms. magazine in 1972 featured Kali as a modern woman trying to juggle work and motherhood.

Robert Bly wrote in Iron John, "Women in the 1970s needed to develop what is known in the Indian tradition as Kali energy—the ability really to say what they want, to dance with skulls around their neck, to cut relationships when they need to. Men need to make a parallel connection with the harsh Dionysus energy that the Hindus call Kala."  

I am told by a colleague that Shiva's female counterpart is also the divine feminine spirit Shakti, and that the two are seen in hermaphroditic iconography, called (by men, it seems) Ardhanarishvara, which "represents the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies of the universe (Purusha and Prakriti) and illustrates how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God, and vice versa."  

Shakti is also called Mahadevi, the Great Goddess. David Kinsley writes, "Texts or contexts exalting the Mahadevi however, usually affirm sakti to be a power, or the power, underlying ultimate reality, or to be ultimate reality itself. Instead of being understood as one of two poles or as one dimension of a bipolar conception of the divine, sakti as it applies to the Mahadevi is often identified with the essence of reality." In the Hindu calendar, the 13th day of every lunar month (the New Moon) is known as Shivratri. Mahashivratri is on the new moon that occurs in February-March in the month of Magha.

Mural by Katherine Arion at India Sweets
and Spices groceries in Glendale, CA
Parvati is the mother or creator of Ganesh (she molded him from clay, and Shiva gave him his elephant's head). She is often celebrated for her motherhood instead of her own divinity; I searched recently all over an import store for an image of Parvati, but could find her only minimized by Shiva and Ganesh, or replaced entirely with her son. 

She is believed to be sister to the Goddess Ganga, the personification of the sacred river Ganges and the term for cannabis leaves and flowers that are smoked. Another interpretation of these ancient myths is that the cannabis plant is another form of Parvati. She is also called "Uma" and it's where modern screen goddess Uma Thurman got her name, meaning Light, which comes down as Helen (she of the nepenthe) in Western myth. 

Bhang and Ganga are said to reside side by side on Shiva’s head, while s/he dances on the body of a dwarf who embodies indifference, ignorance and laziness. May we all dance on that dwarf tonight.