The birth of the Shakti Peethas is actually marked by the death of Shakti herself in the form of Sati. The story of Shiva and Sati has great significance in the Hindu festival Mahashivaratri. Let’s look into the story of Sati and Shiva.
Daksha Yearning for Daughters is Fulfilled
Daksha, the emperor and son of Brahma, was yearning to have daughters. So he and his wife Prasuti went to a Devi temple and prayed to Ma Devi – the Cosmic mother – that they should be blessed with a daughter. After some penance, Ma Devi appeared, in response to their sincerity, and said that she herself will take birth for them.
Daksha and his wife were blessed with many daughters. One of them was by the name of Sati. She is incarnation of Ma Devi in embodiment. As the years went by, many of Daksha’s daughters were married off to many reputable suitors. But not Sati. She became devoted to Shiva. She was captivated by his ideals, his form, his grace. She became engrossed in Him through her daily worshipping rituals. She was determined, if she were to marry anyone it could only be Mahadeva. Prasuti, also a Shiva devotee, believed Mahadeva to be the only suitable choice for Sati (Mahadeva is regarded by many as the ideal husband). However, after seeing the beauty of his daughter, Daksha was not convinced about Sati’s choice of suitor. He wondered how an ascetic wearing a tiger skin robe can be worthy of his prized daughter.
Sati only Wants Mahadeva
Mahadeva woke up from his deep, restful meditative state after being petitioned by the other devas to respond to the prayers of young Sati. Brahma and Vishnu explained that Sati was none other than Goddess Devi herself and she was totally in love with Shiva. Brahma advised him that he too should have a bride. Shiva agreed to wed Sati after hearing that she is in alignment with his ideals so he comes down to earth to find Sati.
Sati, after years of spiritual penance, was rewarded by the presence of Shiva. Shiva came to her and announced that he will wed her. Ecstatic in joy, Sati marries him at once. However, Daksha was not at all happy with this turn of events.
Meanwhile, Sati lived a blissful life with Shiva and time passed by.
Daksha Insults Shiva
Sati was made aware of a yajna, a sacred fire ritual, being held by Daksha back at his palace. However Sati and Shiva were not invited! Shiva explained to Sati that at a previous yagna, while being totally engrossed in his meditation, he did not notice Daksha passing by him. Daksha took it as a sign of disrespect and held a certain level of hostility towards him. Sati was perplexed as Shiva was the Supreme Lord in her eyes. Shiva just explained “Daksha saw it differently; I appear to be more of a rival to him”. Sati suggested that they still go to the yagna uninvited since Daksha was her father and she didn’t need an invitation. Shiva gave his blessings for her to go on her own but he warned her that Daksha would insult her husband and marriage and that she should not fall prey to such insults. Shiva allowed her to borrow Nandi, his bull. With some of Shiva’s ganas, Sati left for Daksha’s palace.
When Sati arrived at the palace, Daksha took no time to display his disapproval and rained insults on her husband. He compared Sati to his other daughters who all married off into wealthy and reputable families. Daksha approved of leaving Shiva behind, calling him the lord of death and ghouls.
Sati Takes a Drastic Step
After hearing a few more insults to Shiva, Sati couldn’t take it anymore. She saw how everyone at the yagna were flabbergasted of how openly Daksha was insulting her Lord. She trembled in fury and shouted “I am ashamed to be your daughter! I will enter this fire and be born again to a father that I can respect!” She threw herself in the fire. Daksha told the priests to carry on with the ceremony but Nandi and the ganas returned to Shiva and informed him of what has happened.
The Wrath of Virabhadra
After hearing of what has befallen his wife, Shiva let out a roar that shook all lokas. He pulled a lock of his matted hair. With it he summoned the powerful Virabadhra. Virabadhra and a band of demons dealt the wrath of Shiva at the yagna. All who defended Daksha were dealt with. Finally Daksha was beheaded.
Shiva appeared and picked up the burnt body of what was Sati. He wandered the Earth mourning the death of his wife, causing destruction everywhere doing the Cosmic Dance, the Rudra Tandava.
Birth of the 51 Shakti Peethas
In an attempt to calm down the raging Virabhadra, Lord Vishnu sliced up Sati’s body with his Sudarshana Chakra. From this, 51 body parts and ornaments fell onto the Earth which became the 51 Shakti Peethas, dedicated to the worship of the Cosmic mother Devi. The devotion and dedication Shiva had towards Sati was commemorated as the Bhairava temples located adjacent to these Shakti Peethas.
The 51 Shakti Peethas are spread over the length and breadth of the subcontinent and includes modern day India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tibet and Bhutan.
Brahma and Vishnu with their consorts pleaded that Shiva should return to his former state and forgive all those who had agonized him. Shiva restored the lives of all that have fallen, even of Daksha provided he remembered the foolishness he has done. Daksha was revived with the head of the goat. He paid obeisance to Lord Shiva and declared him to be the Supreme. He became an ardent devotee from that day forward. Shiva, now calm and relaxed, returned to his deep meditation.
Sati Takes Form as Parvati to Reunite with Shiva
Sati was reborn again, this time to Himavat and Minavati as her parents. She was named Parvati (she who is from the mountains). Like in her previous birth, Parvati quickly fell in love with Shiva. She performed great penance to get the attention of Shiva once again, for him to forgive her for not following his advice. After great persuasion and with a little help of the other devas, Shiva returned to her and agreed to marry her. The night Shiva married Parvati marks the night of Mahashivaratri, when He comes down to Earth to bless all beings.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakti_Peetha (for full list and location of the 51 Shakti Peethas)
By – Charuyan Srikumaran