Axis mundi

Some Notes on Shiva, Parvati, and Mountains

2 May 2024

Shiva, Parvati, and Ginesh in the Mountains Dall-E
Dall-E's Interpretation of Shiva and Parvati

With a quarter of a billion devotees, the worship of Shiva as the supreme being in Hinduism is second only to the worship of Vishnu. A number of people this large would constitute the world’s sixth most populous country if gathered within a border.

One of the major Hindu texts that deals with the story of Shiva is found in the Puranas. The Puranas are a collection of ancient Hindu texts, written in Sanskrit, that deal with a variety of topics — from cosmology to customs. The term purana literally means “old” or “ancient.” One historian refers to the Puranas as “a compendia of legends and religious instruction which, in their present form, are not very ancient — none preceding the fourth or fifth centuries AD — even though they incorporate material that is very much older.”1 There are 18 major books in the Puranas, one of which is called the Shiva Purana, a text that centers around the Hindu god Shiva and his consort Parvati.

Mount Kailash is known as the “abode of Shiva,” which is described in an episode in the Shiva Purana where Brahma, Vishnu, and other gods visit Shiva to ask for forgiveness for an earlier transgression:2

After commanding thus, me, Brahmā and the gods, Viṣṇu desired to go to his mountain along with the devas. Accompanied by the gods, sages, Brahmā and others Viṣṇu went to Kailāsa, the auspicious excellent mountainous abode of Śiva. It was a favourite abode of the lord here Kinnaras, Apsaras, Siddhas and other divine beings stayed. It was very high. It was brilliant with many peaks full of precious gems all round. It was of variegated colour due to diverse minerals. It contained different trees and creepers. Many kinds of deer roamed and many kinds of birds hovered there. The celestial and Siddha damsels sported about in different springs and pools along with their husbands and lovers. It contained many caves and ridges. It shone with various kinds of trees and had a silver lustre. It was infested with big animals, tigers and others who were free from cruelty. It was of divine nature endowed with shining brilliance. It inspired great surprise and wonder. The river Gaṅgā originating from the holy abode of Satī, sanctifying everything flowed there and so the place was very clean. On seeing this mountain named Kailāsa, a great favourite of Śiva, Viṣṇu and other devas were surprised along with the excellent sages.

Kailash is described as a place of abundance, with gems, minerals, flora, and fauna.

It is also a place associated with Sati, who is a manifestation of Parvati. Parvati is the daughter of Himavat — the “lord of the mountains” — who, as his name suggests, hails from the mountainous region where Kailash is located: the Himalayas. From this mountainous region, the Ganges River flows. In traditional Hindu accounts, the Ganges originates near the town Gangotri in the Himalayas.

Many modern Hindus recognize Mount Kailash in present-day Tibet to be the Kailash mentioned in the sacred Hindu texts. As a result, it is venerated as a holy site and receives pilgrims.

Shiva’s essential quality or characteristic is creation and destruction. The phallus, the linga, is the form in which devotees worship Shiva. In other words, fertility and creation. But often accompanying the linga in Shaivite temples is the yoni, the womb, which symbolizes the consort of Shiva: Parvati. Parvati, whose name comes from Sanskrit and literally means “mountain,” is a goddess often associated with nourishment.

  1. George Michell, The Hindu Temple: An Introduction to Its Meaning and Forms (Chicago UP, 1977), 17. ↩︎

  2. Shiva Purana 2.2.40 (verses 21-29). ↩︎