Looking At The Unconventional Feminist Avatar Of Lord Shiva

Preparations for Shivaratri reminded me of a painting that popped up in social media last year. Without even an iota of doubt, the art was done in a light-hearted mood, showing Lord Shiva adjusting the pleats of Parvati’s saree. But it is not surprising that the artist came up with such an idea. After all, Hindu mythology has described Shiva as a God who so intensely loves his wife and believes in the equality of men and women.

That paves the road for the question as to whether Lord Shiva is a feminist. Funny as it may sound, yes he is, if we are to go into the logistics of what feminism means.  

The extraordinary avatar of Lord Shiva, a believer in gender equality

To symbolize the equal power of men and women, Shiva took on the form of Ardhanarishwar. Derived from Sanskrit, “Ardha” means half, “Nari” means female, and “Iswara” means God. 

Equally split down the middle, the deity has a body that is half man and half woman. Lord Shiva in this form represents the extraordinary union of masculine and feminine energies. While Shiva is the supreme cosmic being known as Purusha, his energy prevails in Prakriti, the form taken by Parvati. They are believed to be inseparable. 

From the sacred Hindu texts comes the story of Goddess Kali. To put an end to the evil spread by demons, the benign Parvati took the form of Kali. In a fit of uncontrollable anger, she went about on a mission of destruction. All other gods and goddesses were unable to keep her anger under control. Finally it was Shiva who deliberately lay down on the ground to come under her feet. Kali accidentally stepped on her husband, regretted having done so, and finally calmed down. This anecdote points out how closely Shiva and Parvati were bonded.

Lord Shiva is one of the most unique gods of the Hindu pantheon.

A God who combines contradictory elements, Lord Shiva never ceases to amaze. He destroys the universe, but this power is deemed as positive. The purpose of this annihilation is to dispel illusions and imperfections and to recreate a more perfect form.

Smeared in ash with a serpent around his neck, Lord Shiva is truly an outlier, different from other Hindu gods dressed in a royal way. Dressed in animal skins with matted hair and holding a drum and a trident, he looks like a pure ascetic. He is believed to dance in the light of funeral pyres in order to remind the world that material belongings are transient. 

Lord Shiva believes in the equality and oneness of all beings. His wedding with Parvati was graced not just by the gods but by animals, birds, insects, those shunned by others, devils, and ghosts. For him, no one is high or low, privileged or unprivileged.

Feminism, gender equality, unconventionality, breaking stereotypes: these are the buzzwords in today’s society. But is it not interesting that Hindu mythology, which is more than 4,000 years old, talks about a God who endorses each and every one of these concepts to the fullest?

For all of those who celebrate, a very happy Shivaratri to all of you!

(This article was featured in Women’s Web )


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