This statue of the divine Hindu couple, the great god Shiva and his wife Parvati, would have probably been placed above a door to a temple. Hindu worshippers used sculptures to develop a close relationship with the gods depicted. Gods would only inhabit a perfectly made statue and sculptors had to ritually purify themselves before they commenced carving. Such statues were primarily for beginners. Experienced worshippers were expected to commune with the gods through prayer and meditation without images.
What do Shiva and Parvati symbolise?
This statue comes from Orissa on the East coast of India. The arrival of Islam in North India in the 1200s caused the centre of Hinduism to shift to south and central India. Orissa was associated with the god Shiva and tantric Hinduism focussed on esoteric teaching and hidden rituals. Shiva represents contrasting values ?both lust and purity, peace and destruction. When depicted together with his wife, Parvati, he represents the union of male and female and marital fidelity.
In myth Parvati was daughter of the mountain, child of Himavan, lord of the mountains and personification of the Himalayas
The same person in different forms
I can tell one little story. Shiva and Parvati were sitting on mount Kailash where Shiva lives and he was giving a class – a lecture – to a number of sages who had come to take his darshan. And Parvati was sitting on his lap.
Now these sages were all ascetics – all celibate – and Shiva himself was sitting there, a very detached person, with his wife sitting on his lap – a very attractive wife. And this maharaja Chitraketu was passing by and he saw this scene and he thought it was very funny that all these ascetics and Shiva were sitting together having a class on spiritual life and detachment with this beautiful woman sitting on his lap with his arm around her. And he laughed. And no one took it seriously except Parvati. And Parvati thought this was offensive to her husband so she cursed Chitraketu that he would have to take life as a demon.
So there’s this little kind of vignette of the character of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva very detached, never takes offence, and Parvati takes all his offences on his behalf it seems.
Shiva-Parvati, Lakshmi-Narayan are in one sense the same person manifest in two different forms. So God is male and female. And the thinking behind that is that God cannot be something less than we are. So God cannot be not-female, because there are females here, so God has to have a female aspect.