Sati (Hindu goddess)
Goddess of Power, Marital Felicity and Longevity
|Other names||Dakshayani, Dakshakanya|
|Affiliation||Devi, Adi Parashakti, Parvati|
|Texts||Puranas, Kumarasambhavam, Tantra|
Sati (//, Sanskrit: सती, IAST: Satī, lit. 'truthful' or 'virtuous'), also known as Dakshayani (Sanskrit: दाक्षायणी, IAST: Dākṣāyaṇī, lit. 'daughter of Daksha'), is the Hindu goddess of marital felicity and longevity, and is worshipped as an aspect of the mother goddess Shakti. She is generally considered the first wife of Shiva, other being Parvati, who was Sati's reincarnation after her death.
The earliest mentions of Sati are found in the time of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, but details of her story appear in the Puranas. Legends describe Sati as the favourite child of Daksha but she married Shiva against her father's wishes. After Daksha humiliated her, Sati killed herself to protest against him, and uphold the honour of her husband. In Hinduism, both Sati and Parvati, successively play the role of bringing Shiva away from ascetic isolation into creative participation with the world.
Sati's story plays an important part in shaping the traditions of two of the most prominent sects of Hinduism — Shaivism and Shaktism. It is believed that parts of Sati's corpse fell on fifty-one places and formed the Shakti Peethas. The historical act of Sati, in which a Hindu widow self-immolates on her husband's pyre, is named and patterned after this goddess, though she is not the origin of it.
The word "Satī" means "truthful", "virtuous" or "noble". The word is derived from the "Sat" which means "truth". The word is also used for women who serve their husbands with full virtue or truth. During the medieval period, a practice of widow burning (sati) started to rise throughout the sub continent and the widows who burnt themselves were also referred as "Satī".
Sati is known by various patronymics, though these names can be used for any of the daughters of Daksha. Some of these names include Dakshayani, Dakshakanya and Dakshja.
History and textual background
According to scholars William J. Winkins and David R. Kinsley, the Vedic scriptures (2nd millennium BCE) don't mention Sati-Parvati but give hints to two goddesses associated with Rudra — Rudrani and Ambika.[note 1] In the Kena Upanishad, a goddess called Uma-Hemavati appears as a mediator between the devas and the Supreme Brahman but is not connected with Shiva.[note 2] Both the archeological and the textual sources indicate that the first major appearances of Sati and Parvati were during the period of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata (1st millennium BCE).
The Mahabharata mentions the destruction of Daksha yajna, the birth of Kartikeya, defeat the Asura Taraka as well as some plays between Shiva and Uma (Parvati). Scholars believe that by the time of the Puranas (c. 4th - 13th century), legends of Sati and Parvati rose to prominence and these were adapted by Kalidasa in his epic poem Kumarasambhavam (c. 5th - 6th century). Some of the Puranas which narrate Sati's story are the Vayu Purana, the Skanda Purana, the Bhagavata Purana, the Kurma Purana, the Padma Purana, the Linga Purana, the Shiva Purana, and the Matsya Purana.
Birth and early life
Prajapati Daksha was the son of the creator god Brahma. He married Prasuti, daughter of Manu and Shatarupa, and had many daughters. Sati was the youngest and Daksha's favourite one. In contrast, texts like the Shiva Purana, Matsya Purana and Kalika Purana mention Asikni as the mother of Sati. According to the Shakta (goddess-oriented) texts including Devi Bhagavata and the Mahabhagavata Purana, Brahma advised Daksha to meditate upon the Great goddess and convince her to take an avatar as their daughter (Sati). The goddess agreed but warned that if he mistreated her, she will abandon that body.
Sati, even as a child, adored the tales and legends associated with Shiva and grew up an ardent devotee. As she grew to womanhood, the idea of marrying anyone else, as intended by her father, became unfair to her. It is believed that Brahma intended to get Sati, the avatar of Shakti, married to Shiva and bring him into worldly affairs.
Sati is believed to be very beautiful but the legends mention her penance and devotion, which won the heart of the ascetic Shiva. According to the legend, Sati left the luxuries of her father's palace and retired to a forest to devote herself to austerities of a hermetic life and the worship of Shiva. She was often tested by Shiva or his attendants. Finally, Shiva acceded to her wishes and consented to make her his bride. Despite Daksha's unwillingness, the wedding was held in due course with Brahma serving as the priest. Sati made her home with Shiva in Kailash. Tension between Shiva and Daksha further arises when, Daksha starts to dislike Shiva because of his odd appearance and behaviour.
Some texts diverge, however. According to the version found in Mahabhagvata Purana, Daksha arranged Sati's Swayamvar (self-choice ceremony), where all except Shiva were invited. When Sati couldn't find Shiva, she threw a garland in the air to choose her husband. Shiva manifested there and it fell on him, thus they were married. In the 18th century Svathani Katha, when Shiva asked Sati's hand in marriage, Daksha refused, claiming him unsuitable. Vishnu aided Shiva by disguising him as a sanyasi and had him marry her.[note 3] While many versions mention Daksha's objections to the marriage, the Shiva Purana doesn't mention any harsh opposition, though he starts to develop a deep hatred after the wedding.
Daksha yajna and self-immolation
The most prominent legend associated with Sati is her self-immolation to protest against her father. The first text to mention this event is the Taittariya Samhita, later it appears in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. However details appear in Tantra literature, in Kalidasa's lyrical Kumarasambhava, the Harivamsa and the Puranas.
According to the most popular narration of this event, Daksha organized a yajna (fire sacrifice) to which all the deities, except Sati and Shiva, were invited. Wanting to visit her relatives, Sati sought to rationalize this omission and reasoned that as family, such formality was unnecessary. Shiva tried to stop her as he knew that Daksha will humiliate her, but when she was not convinced, he provided her with an escort of his gana attendants. Sati was received by her mother and her sisters, but Daksha was furious by her uninvited arrival and humiliated her and mocked Shiva. Wanting to break all ties with her father and uphold the honour of her husband, Sati self-immolated.
Deeply hurt by the loss of his beloved wife, Shiva performed the destructive Tandava dance. He created two ferocious creatures — Virabhadra and Bhadrakali, who wreaked mayhem at the sacrificial place. Nearly all those present were felled overnight; Daksha was decapitated by Veerbhadra. After that night, Shiva, who is considered the all-forgiving, restored all those who were slain to life and granted them his blessings. Daksha was restored both to life and to kingship. His severed head was substituted for that of a goat.
There are varying accounts of this event. Some texts suggest that before Sati's death, Shakti promised that she will be reborn to a father who merits her respect and remarry Shiva. The Devi Bhagavata Purana adds that after Sati's marriage, Daksha polluted a sacred flower garland. As a result, he was cursed to hate his beloved daughter. At the sacrificial place, Daksha discarded Sati's gifts and humiliated her, she used her cosmic powers and burnt her body. The Mahabhagavata Purana presents Sati as a fierce warrior. When Shiva prevented Sati from visiting the event, she transformed into the ten fearsome Mahavidya goddesses led by Kali, and surrounded him from the ten cardinal directions. Seeing his wife's powers, Shiva allowed her. Sati, transformed as Kali, went to the sacrifice and split herself into two entities — one real but invisible and another just Chhaya (shadow or clone). Chhaya Sati destroyed the sacred event by jumping into the sacrificial fire, while the "real" Sati is reborn as Parvati. The Brihaddharma Purana (c. 13th century) narrates the creation of the Mahavidyas but there is no mention of Sati splitting into two. She retains her calming nature after Shiva allowed her. The most drastic change in this text is the absence of the self-immolation of Sati. Instead, the text mentions that she cursed her father and quit her body in a Himalayan cave. The Kalika Purana does not mention Sati going to the event, instead it is found that Sati left her body using a yogic process, after her niece, Vijaya informed her about the yajna.
Formation of the Shakti Peethas
Another important legend associated with Sati is the formation of the Shakti Peetha. Shakti Peethas are shrines or divine places of the Mother Goddess, believed to have enshrined with the presence of Shakti due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati. It is believed that an enraged Shiva performed the Tandava dance with Sati's charred body, which led her body to come apart and the pieces fell at different places on earth. In a more detailed narration found in some texts, Shiva, crazed with grief, roamed with Sati's corpse throughout the universe, causing universal imbalance. The divinities called upon the god Vishnu to restore Shiva to normalcy and calm. Vishnu used his Sudarshana Chakra (discus weapon) to dismember Sati's cadaver, following which Shiva regained his equanimity.
The legend ends with Sati's body being dismembered into many pieces which fell on earth at various places. Several different listings of these holy places, known as Shakti Peethas, are available; some of these places have become major centres of pilgrimage as they are held by the Goddess-oriented Shakta sect to be particularly holy. Besides main Shakti Peethas, some small peethas like Bindudham came into existence which are due to Sati's fallen blood drops.
A depressed Shiva returned to his ascetic world while Sati was reborn as Parvati, daughter of Himavat, king of the mountains and personification of the Himalayas, and his wife, Mena. Himavat appreciated Shiva ardently. Consequently, Parvati like Sati, won Shiva over by her penance and married him.
Legacy and worship
The mythology of Daksha Yajna and Sati's self-immolation had immense significance in shaping the ancient Sanskrit literature and even had impact on the culture of India. It led to the development of the concept of Shakti Peethas and there by strengthening Shaktism. Enormous mythological stories in Puranas took the Daksha yajna as the reason for its origin. It is an important incident in Shaivism resulting in the emergence of goddess Parvati in the place of Sati and making Shiva a grihastashrami (house holder) leading to the origin of Ganesha and Kartikeya.
Kottiyoor Vysakha Mahotsavam, a 27‑day yagnja ceremony, conducted in the serene hilly jungle location in North Kerala yearly commemorating the Daksha Yaga. It is believed that Sati Devi self immolated in this location and apparently this is the location of Daksha Yaga. The pooja and rituals were classified by Shri Sankaracharya.
- Rudrani is described as Rudra's wife. Ambika, on the other hand, is described as his sister in the earlier verses, but later verses suggest that she was his wife.
- Both Winkins and Kinsley note that later commentaries on Kena Upanishad confirm that Uma was Parvati, leaving no doubt about her relationship with Shiva.
- Further details: Vishnu advised Shiva to disguise as a sanyasi and ask for alms from Daksha. When Daksha promised to give anything, Shiva asked for Sati. During the marriage, Vishnu used his maya (illusion) to deceive Sati's parents.
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- Media related to Sati (goddess) at Wikimedia Commons