According to Hindu view of life, Shiva, the principle male power, unites with his female counterpart in order to acquire the ability to create and destroy. The story of Sati and Shiva, described in the Purana, presents in simple language, the truth and beauty of such a lofty vedic concept.
In the days of ancient mythology, Brahma, the Prajapati, mentally created ten sons (manasa putra) to carry out his task of creation and destruction. Both Shiva and Daksha were the outcome of such a creation but Shiva had superior powers. Daksha, however, never liked the supremacy of Shiva. So, he took Shiva as his rival.
One of the daughters of Daksha, named Sati, was a great devotee of Shiva. She was beautiful and virtuous. Most of the time Sati immersed in the thoughts of Shiva and dreamed of being his wife.
Sati, through her sincere and devotional prayers, acquired the blessings of all gods and goddesses. Shiva finally yielded and appeared before Sati. She paid her reverence and kneeling down to Shiva chanted in praise of him.
Shiva asked her to choose a boon. Shiva knew what she would ask but wanted her to speak for herself.
Sati was hesitant, “How can I say that I want nothing else but Him!”
After a while Sati gathered her courage and started to say, “Lord will you —-“
Shiva did not let Sati complete her question, and he blessed her, “Be my consort Sati.”
Soon Sati was married to Shiva amidst numerous gods and goddesses.
After the wedding, Shiva took Sati to Kailas where they spent many a happy days.
Then one day, Shiva requested Sati to accompany him to Prayag, today’s Allahabad, to attend a fire- worship ceremony or Yagna.
When Shiva entered the Yagna hall, every one stood up to pay respect.
After some time Daksha entered the Yagna hall. Everyone stood up to pay respect except Shiva. Daksha felt insulted.
“How dare my son-in-law, Shiva, did not stand up! This is a deliberate insult to me,” Daksha said to himself.
Shiva, on the other hand, thought to himself, “Being a superior power, it will not be nice if I stand up, and harm may befall on Daksha.” Shiva did not mean to insult Daksha.
Taking this instance as an exception, Daksha promised to insult Shiva in public. He hurriedly returned home and declared that he will hold a grand sacrificial ceremony. He invited all gods and goddesses, but deliberately excluded Shiva.
When Sati, Shiva’s beautiful wife and Daksha’s daughter, noticed a large procession of gods and goddesses passing by, she curiously asked Shiva, “Where are they going?”
Shiva replied, “To the grand sacrificial ceremony to be held by Daksha, your father.”
Sati was amazed.
“Then why have you not been invited?” she demanded angrily. “You should have been the first to be asked.”
Shiva smiled gently at his wife’s loyalty and fervor.
“Daksha has always been hostile to me,” Shiva tried to explain.
But Sati’s disbelief increased, “Does my father not realize that you are the supreme power and no one can equal you?”
“You are a good and true wife Sati,” Shiva replied gently, “but Daksha thinks differently, he takes me as his rival.”
“Invited or not,” Sati said furiously, “I think we should go. It is after all my own father’s house and I atleast need no invitation.”
“Then go with my blessings Sati,” replied Shiva. “but do not forget that Daksha will shower insults upon me. You must be strong enough to bear it silently and not allow your rage to show in your father’s presence. If you are unable to tolerate his insults, I fear you may come to harm.”
Taking Nandi, the gentle white bull who was Shiva’s companion and mount, Sati arrived at her father’s grand sacrificial ceremony.
Daksha reluctantly received her and publicly condemned Shiva – calling him the demon of death and an impious haunter of cremation grounds.
“What place has the goblin lord of witches and foul spirits in a sacred ceremony such as mine?” Daksha boomed.
Sati was hurt by his insults to her husband and begged her father to stop, but Daksha could not contain himself.
“It is disgraceful for a so-called god to wear filthy rags, cover himself with snakes and dance like a madman at ceremonies —” continued Daksha on and on until Sati could not stand any longer. She remembered her husband’s caution, “Do not allow your rage to get over you.”
Sati painfully said, “I am ashamed to be known as your daughter. As I have promised my husband not to take any revenge, much less upon you, I merely denounce you before this assembly. I shall consume myself in a fire and return to mother Earth until I am born again to a father whom I can respect.”
Daksha ignored the disappearance of Sati and ordered to continue with the sacrifice.
When news reached Shiva, through Nandi, that his beloved wife was dead, he let out a mighty roar that shook Heaven and Earth. He soon created a powerful demon, named Virabhadra, from his matted hair. Shiva also created a huge army of demons to accompany Virabhadra. They descended like a hurricane on Daksha’s feast, destroying the sacrificial offering and killing all those who dared defend Daksha. Finally every one walked over to Shiva’s side to seek refuge with him.
Shiva was about to destroy the universe, when Brahma came with other gods to calm him down. Shiva was still quivering and shook with wrath and grief at the loss of Sati. All the gods soothed the furious Shiva and pleaded with him to forgive Daksha and allow him to complete the sacrificial ceremony, which he had started, otherwise he would go to hell.
Relenting, Shiva brought back to life all the people who had been killed in the battle and cured all those who had been injured. Finally he looked up, suppressing the power of his destructive third eye, and stated, “I will return Daksha to life, but he must bear the mark of his foolishness forever.”
The gods agreed to Shiva’s condition and Daksha was revived. The mark of his foolishness was clear for all to see for instead of his own head, he wore the head of a goat. Daksha fell at Shiva’s feet weeping with gratitude, and finally acknowledged Shiva’s supremacy.
With a mighty effort Shiva contained his grief for the loss of Sati, and he fell into profound meditation, waiting for the time when she would be reincarnated as Parvati and be his wife once again.