Sati, Shiva’s first wife, is the first incarnation of Parvati. The youngest of Daksha’s sixteen daughters, Sati fell in love with Shiva, although he was not her father’s idea of the perfect husband (or son-in-law). Hidden within her myth is a description of tensions between the new Vedic religion and the older indigenous traditions of Shiva.
Sati and Shiva married and were very happy. They have an intensely erotic relationship. She lured him away from ascetism and encouraged him to use his powers creatively. Sati was infuriated when her father insulted Shiva (and by extension, her) by snubbing him and not inviting him to a major sacrifice. She attended alone, arguing that a daughter doesn’t require an invitation to her father’s house. At the ceremony, Daksha’s insults toward the missing Shiva continued. Sati killed herself in protest via an act of spontaneous combustion.
Sati, the essence of the ideal wife and mother, is petitioned by women seeking longevity, good health, and good fortune for their husbands (and by extension, themselves).
Shiva, fearing the worst, came anyway, leading a small army of ghosts and spirits but arrived too late to save her. Mad with grief, Shiva flew into the air with her corpse, caressing her, making love to her. The deities tried to stop him but were powerless. Shiva’s dance of destruction had been activated; the other deities feared for the survival of Earth. Finally Vishnu threw his discus at Sati’s corpse repeatedly, slicing her to fifty-one pieces, which fell to Earth, many at locations Shiva and Sati had visited together or where they had made love.
Sati is associated with fire—the avenue of her death. The practice of ritual suicide by a widow either on her husband’s funeral pyre or later on a pyre lit from embers taken from his pyre is named sati, anglicized as suttee, in honor of the goddess, although this is not why she chose to immolate herself. Shiva was very much alive. Rather than burning herself to join him, Sati’s actions led to separation: she left him to his complete devastation. Sati was avenging an insult. The practice of suttee has always been controversial: some Tantric scholars condemned it as sinful. Whether “suicide” is voluntary or physically or psychologically forced is questionable. Suttee was outlawed in 1829 but still sometimes occurs.
Sati is the epitome of Shakti, divine feminine power. She is associated with fire-walking rituals.
Sacred sites: Temples were erected where Sati’s body parts fell. Called Shakti Pithas, these shrines, scattered throughout Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are important Hindu pilgrimage sites. Sati is also associated with Satisar, the lake of the goddess Sati in Kashmir
See also: Bagalamukhi; Kamakhya; Kunti; Parvati; Savitri; Shiva; Uma; Vishnu
From the Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.