The Story of the First Sati

While discussing the practice of sati (where a widow will fling herself in grief over her husband’s funeral pyre) we learned the real story of the Great Goddess Sati (who was a powerful Goddess in her own right – but with the rise of patriarchy, she became the wife and eternal consort of Shiva). What many don’t realize is that India is so vast and culturally diverse that many areas have never even heard of the practice of sati.

Chapter 1: Sati’s Family
The Goddess, took human birth at the bidding of the god Brahma. Sati was born as a daughter of Daksha Prajapati and his wife Prasuti. Daksha was a son of Brahma and a great king and magnate in his own right. The girl was named Gauri, “the turmeric-hued one,” since she was fair-skinned, with a golden turmeric-colored hue, was a blonde and had blue eyes. As the daughter of Daksha, she is also known as Dakshayani.

The Great Goddess before patriarchy turned her into the story of Sati.

Chapter 2: Her Marriage with Shiva
By asking the Goddess to take human birth, Brahma’s plan was that she should please Shiva with humble devotions and wed him. It was natural that Gauri, even as a child, adored the tales and legends associated with Shiva and grew up an ardent devotee. As Gauri grew to womanhood, the idea of marrying anyone else, as intended by her father, became anathema to her. Every proposal from valiant and rich kings made her crave evermore the ascetic of Kailasa, the mountain where Shiva, who bestowed all on this world and himself foreswore all, lives.

To win the notice of Rudra (a reincarnation of Shiva), Gauri forsook the luxuries of her father’s palace and retired to a forest, there to devote herself to austerities and the worship of Shiva. So rigorous were her penances that she gradually renounced food itself, at one stage subsisting on one bilva (Lord Shiva’s tree) leaf a day, and then giving up even that nourishment; this particular abstinence earned her the nickname Aparna. Her prayers finally bore fruit when, after testing her resolve, Rudra finally acceded to her wishes and consented to make her his bride. He fell madly in love with her, and sought to protect her.

An ecstatic Gauri returned to her father’s home to await her bridegroom, but found her father less than elated by the turn of events. The wedding was however held in due course, and Gauri made her home with Rudra (Shiva) in Kailasa. Daksha, as an arrogant king, did not get along with his son-in-law and basically cut his daughter away from her natal family.

Gauri/Sati waits in the forest to marry Rudra/Shiva

Chapter 3: A Father’s Arrogance
Daksha organized a grand horse yajna (ritual sacrifice) to which all the gods were invited, with the exception of Gauri and Rudra (Shiva). Wanting to visit her parents, relatives and childhood friends, Gauri sought to rationalize this omission. She reasoned within herself that her parents had neglected to make a formal invitation to them only because, as family, such formality was unnecessary; certainly, she needed no invitation to visit her own mother and would go anyway. Rudra (Shiva) sought to dissuade her, but she was stubborn and refused to listen to him – her mind was set. He then provided her with an escort and bid her to provoke no incident.

Chapter 4: A Heated Argument
Upon reaching home, Gauri was received coldly by her father. They were soon in the midst of a heated argument about the virtues (and alleged lack thereof) of Rudra (Shiva). Every passing moment made it clearer to Gauri that her father was entirely incapable of appreciating the many excellent qualities of her husband. The realization then came to Gauri that this abuse was being heaped on Shiva only because he had wed her; she was the cause of this dishonor to her husband. She was consumed by rage against her father and loathing for his mentality. Calling up a prayer that she may, in a future birth, be born the daughter of a father whom she could respect, Sati invoked her yogic powers and burned herself.

Gauri burning herself, ashamed of her father’s arrogance

Chapter 5: Shiva’s Rage
Shiva sensed this catastrophe, and his rage was incomparable. He loved Sati/Gauri more than any and would never love after her. So, out of his rage was born Virabhadra (said to be an incarnation of Shiva) and his counterpart Bhadrakali (an incarnation of the Great Goddess – who is also referred to as Sati) , two ferocious creatures who wreaked havoc and mayhem on all who attended the horse sacrifice. Daksha himself was decapitated.

Shiva placed Gauri’s body on his shoulder and ran about the world, crazed with grief. The Gods called upon the god Vishnu to restore Shiva to normalcy and calm. Vishnu dismembered Gauri’s lifeless body, following which Shiva regained his sanity. Both versions state that Gauri’s body was thus dismembered into 51 pieces which fell on earth at various places. Several different listings of these 51 holy places, known as Shakti Peethas, are available; some of these places are now major centers of pilgrimage, as they are considered particularly holy.

Shiva carrying the body of Sati with him

After the night of horror, Shiva, the all-forgiving, restored all those who were slain to life and granted them his blessings. Even the abusive and culpable Daksha was restored both his life and his kingship. His decapitated head was substituted for that of a goat. Having learned his lesson, Daksha spent his remaining years as a devotee of Shiva.

King Daksa restored life, but with the head of a goat.

Sati – Gauri, was reborn as Parvati, daughter of Himavat, king of the mountains, and his wife, the Devi Mena. This time, she was born the daughter of a father whom she could respect, a father who appreciated Shiva ardently. The story of Parvati is one for another day.

3 Responses to “The Story of the First Sati”
  1. sonia says:

    when godess parvati become widow?

  2. vajradharmurthy says:

    Nice article. Its quite amazing to know that there are so many stories of Shiva that many are not aware of. These stories are a perfect example. Adding one more story of God Shiva and Consort. The story of GOddess Sati’s immolation and her rebirth as Goddess Parvati.

  3. Sujeet kumar says:

    It was awesome to read this story.

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