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Monday, 7 July 2014

Sacred India Tarot: Shiva and Parvati

The Sacred India Tarot by Rohit Arya (illustrated by Jane Adams) is based on Indian mythology and epics and was published 2011 by Yogi Impressions. In this deck, the minor suits tell a complete story. Discs (Pentacles) tells the story of the life of Buddha. Lotuses (Cups) tells the story of the courtship of Shiva and Parvati. Staves (Wands) is the legend of Rama. And Arrows (Swords) is the story of the battle of Mahabharata. I'd like to take a look at each of these over the course of the week. Because the story of Buddha is so familiar to me, I'm going to start with the courtship of Shiva and Parvati (the suit of Cups or Lotuses).

Lord Shiva was married to Sati, but Sati's father insulted Shiva  (even gods have silly domestic squabbles) and so Sati decided the honorable thing to do would be to kill herself (gods and goddesses tend to do extravagant things like that). So she does. Shiva takes this hard and retreats to a cave and immerses himself in intense meditation. This probably wouldn't have been a problem to the other gods, except a pesky demon called Tarakasura is causing them a lot of trouble and they need Shiva to get off his butt and help. As that wasn't happening, they asked Brahma what to do. Brahma passes on the helpful information that only a son of Shiva can defeat Tarakasura. The gods are distressed because Shiva is a widower and might not ever get over it! They go to Mahadevi and ask her for advice. She confirms that only a child of Shiva can defeat Tarakasura, but takes pity on them and promises to incarnate herself as a wife for Shiva. (This is handy, because it turns out Sati had been an emanation  of Mahadevi anyway. So this incarnation will be a reincarnation of Sati.)

So Parvati is born to the Lord of the Mountains. She has tremendous devotion to Shiva from a young age and knows in her heart she can marry only him. (Kind of like I was about John Taylor of Duran Duran, I guess). Her parents aren't sure what to make of this and try to convince her to marry someone more accessible, but then a devarishi, Narada, confirms that Parvati is destined to marry Shiva and give birth to his son.

Parvati's father offers Parvati to the deeply meditating Shiva as an attendant to take care of him as he meditates. Shiva is so deep in meditation he can't tell male from female anymore and doesn't mind one way or another, so agrees.

Well, the gods are running out of patience and know this subtle courtship could take eternity, so they send Kamadeva (sort of like the Hindu Cupid) to shoot his arrow into Shiva, which he does. Shiva is startled, notices Parvati and is kinda turned on by her. But he feels bad about being unfaithful to the memory of Sati and turns his attention to Kamadeva, opens his third eye and burns Kama up for disturbing him. Oops. Kama's wife is distressed and faints, Parvati is upset and humiliated and she retreats from Shiva's presence.

Parvati realises she must become worthy of Shiva and win his love herself, so she goes off and becomes an ascetic. She meditates night and day, stops requiring food, then water, and eventually air. The other devas like to come round to have a look at her. She's acquiring great heights of enlightenment and such. She becomes known as The Lady of the Unbroken Fast and eventually even the gods come round for a blessing from her. But Parvati is also Mother of the World and a lover of trees, and she would break her meditation every day to go and care for the trees and feed the deer. She understands that meditation and enlightenment are no good without continuing involvement in real life.

Eventually even uber-meditator Shiva hears about Parvati and knows that she is doing all this because of her amazing love and desire for him, so he goes to her -- in disguise of course, because she needs to be tested! He asks her what she's doing this for, and she replies that she wants to marry Shiva. Shiva,in disguise,mocks her and insults Shiva (himself), which causes Parvati to become angry and she upbraids him. Shiva is besotten. (Rolls eyes).

And so at last, Shiva and Parvati are married. (They have been married many times before in many lifetimes -- these two are always together.) Shiva and Parvati merge into a new aspect of divinity that is simultaneously male, female and deity. In due time, Skanda is born to them, and he defeats Tarakasura, as he was meant to. (And Shiva allows Kamadeva to come back to life.)

Here are few of the cards -- can you figure out which parts of the story are being depicted?

(Left to right: Shiva incinerates Kama; Parvati bows at feet of Narada when he announces she will marry Shiva; Parvati tends to the trees; Shiva - in disguise - tests the ascetic Parvati)

I will draw from this suit tomorrow. :)


  1. When you explain which is which, it makes sense, but I wouldn't necessarily have guessed right for all of them. I thought the Two was her tending Shiva as an attendant... :)

    1. Shiva is continuously in meditation, lotus pose with all three of his eyes closed. :)