The Life and Death of Sati

The Birth and Marriage of Sati

Then, on a certain time, the Goddess Bhagavatî, the Fiery Nature of the Supreme Power, took her birth in the house of the Prajâpati Daksa. Everywhere in the three worlds, great festivities were held. All the gods became glad and showered flowers. The drums of the gods were sounded by the hands and made very grave sounds. The pure-minded saints were gladdened; the Sun’s rays looked purer and cleaner; the rivers were elated with joy and began to flow in their channels. When the World-auspicious Goddess, the Destroyer of the birth and death of the souls took her birth, everything looked propitious. The wise Munis named her “Satî” as she was of the nature of Supreme Godhead and Truth herself. The Prajâpati Daksa handed over the Goddess, who was before the S’akti of Mahâdeva [S’iva], to that Deva of the Devas, Mahâdeva.

DEVI BHAGAVATA, 7.30

Daksha curses Siva

Once in the past at a sacrifice held by the Prajâpati (Daksha), the immortal ones of creation, the great sages along with  the philosophers, the demigods and the gods of the sacrificial fire together with all their followers had assembled. When he arrived at that great assembly the sages could see him as someone who, free from the darkness of ignorance, shone like the sun. They, the members of the assembly along with the ones taking care of the fire, impressed by his luster all with the exception of Brahmâ and S’iva, stood up from their seats. Daksha, the one of all opulence who was properly welcomed by the leaders of the assembly, made his obeisances towards the one unborn, the master of the world, and sat down upon his order. Before he took his seat though he felt insulted by S’iva who showed no sign of respect, and losing his temper he with an angry look in his eyes said the following.

‘Listen to me, o wise among the brahmins, o godly ones, o fire gods, how I speak to you about the manners of the gentle ones, and this I do not out of ignorance or jealousy. He [S’iva] lacking in manners, has shamelessly spoilt the fame of the rulers of the universe and polluted the path followed by the gentle ones. He, acting like an honest man, [as a son of mine] has accepted to be of a lower position in taking the hand of my daughter in the presence of fire and brahmins. He with accepting the hand of her who has eyes like that of a deer cub, himself having the eyes of a monkey, has not as it should with a word of welcome honored me by standing up from his seat. Contrary to what I want I have given my daughter to him who with no respect for the rules and regulations,  impure and proud has broken with the code of civility; it is as if I gave the message of the Vedas to a s’ûdra! Accompanied by ghosts and demons he wanders around at the burial places where corpses are burnt, and laughs and cries there like a madman, with scattered hair smearing himself with the ashes of the funeral pyre. He has a garland of skulls and is ornamented with dead man’s bones; only in name he is S’iva (auspicious). He is in fact inauspicious, crazy and dear to the crazy, he is their leader and Lord engrossed in the mode of ignorance. To him, the Lord of Ghosts void of all cleanliness and with a heart full of nasty matters, I alas, upon the request of the supreme teacher [Brahmâ], have given away Satî.’

After thus having abused S’iva who remained without hostility, Daksha next rinsed his hands and mouth with water and began to curse him angrily: ‘The portion of the sacrifice for God that the demigods along with Indra, Upendra [Vishnu] and others are entitled to, is there not for the lowest of the demigods.’ Even though the members of the assembly urged him not to, Daksha, having cursed S’iva, left the place and went home, for he had gotten very angry. Understanding that S’iva had been cursed, one of his principal associates Nandis’vara, turned red and blind with anger he harshly cursed Daksha and the brahmins who had allowed that the cursing happened.

‘May he who in the physical presence of him, the non-envious Lord S’iva, bears envy and thus is stupefied by a dual vision, lose all his grip on reality. He who is attracted to a householder’s life of pretentious religiosity and in a desire for material happiness performs fruitive activities, will see his intelligence concerning the Vedic word fail. Let him who, with the intelligence of taking the body for one’s self, has forgotten the knowledge of Vishnu and as an animal is attached to his sex life, that excessive Daksha, soon have the head of a goat! May those who follow Daksha in his insults and dulled in the ignorance of their fruitive activities have lost their intelligence and knowledge, time and again end up here in the ocean of material suffering. Let those who are so envious with S’iva and whose minds have grown slow because of the enchanting flowery words of the Vedas that are so pervaded with the scent of honey, for ever be stupefied. Let those brahmins, who have taken to education, austerity and vows for the purpose of acquiring money and satisfying their physical senses, as beggars wander from door to door, eating whatever!’

When Bhrigu heard the words of this curse against the class of the twice-born, he in response pronounced an insurmountable curse in accord with the brahminical way of chastising:  ‘May anyone who takes a vow to please S’iva and follows such principles, become an atheist straying away from the scriptural injunctions. Let those who took initiation to worship S’iva and abandoned cleanliness, foolishly have their hairs long, wear bones and are covered by ashes, find their destiny in intoxication. Because you blaspheme the Vedas and the brahmins in support of the established rules of society, you have therefore sought your refuge in atheism. In the Vedas, which in the past have always been rigidly followed for being the auspicious, eternal path for all people, one finds the evidence of Janârdana [the Lord as the well-wisher of all]. Blaspheming that supreme and pure spirit which is the eternal path of the truthful, you are doomed to end up in atheism wherein the Lord of matter and death [S’iva as Bhûtapati] is your deity!’

After S’iva thus was mentioned in the curse of Bhrigu, the Supreme One, somewhat downcast, left the place together with his followers. And so the fathers of mankind for a thousand years settled for the sacrifice in which the chief of all gods is Hari. After purifying their hearts by taking their ceremonial, concluding bath where the Ganges meets the Yamunâ, they all left from there to return to their own places.’

The Argument between Siva and Sati

Thus the heartily enmity that existed between the son-in-law and father-in-law, continued for a very long time. When Daksha was appointed the chief of all the progenitors of mankind by Brahmâ, the supreme teacher, he became very puffed up with pride. Neglecting S’iva and his followers he, after first performing a Vâjapeya sacrifice [‘the drink of strength or battle’], began the best of all sacrifices called the Brihaspati-sava sacrifice [the initiatory sacrifice to the honor of the chief offerer of prayers and sacrifice]. To that occasion all the God-conscious and learned ones of wisdom, the ancestors and the demigods including the nicely decorated wives who accompanied their husbands, assembled. Satî, the daughter of Daksha and wife of S’iva, heard the denizens of heaven talk in the sky about the great festival to be performed by her father, and when she saw near her residence the beautiful wives of the godly ones with glittering eyes from all directions, in nice dresses with golden earrings and ornaments around their necks, in their heavenly vehicles move about along with their husbands to go there, she highly anxious addressed her husband, the Lord and master of the Bhûtas [the ones of matter and the dead].

Satî said: ‘Your father-in-law, Daksha, has started a great sacrifice where all the God-conscious ones are going and where we surely thus also may go to my dearest, if you like to. Surely my sisters together with their husbands will also be going there, eager to see their relatives. I would like to attend that gathering together with you and all the ornaments given to me. Do you consent? I will surely meet my sisters there with their husbands as well as my sweet aunts and my mother. I’ve been waiting for a long time to see them as also the sacrificial flags raised by the great sages, o merciful one. Unto you o unborn one, this manifestation of His external energy that was created as an interaction of the three modes, appears so wonderful. But I am but your poor woman not conversant with the truth who would like to see her place of birth o Bhava [S’iva as the Lord of existence]. O immaterial, blue-throated one, the other women, ornamented and with their husbands and friends, are flocking in large numbers going there standing beautifully out against the sky with their white swans carrying them high. How can I be emotionally unaffected o best of the demigods, when I as a daughter hear about the festival that takes place in the house of my father? Even when one is not invited one can go to the house of a friend, one’s husband, one’s father or one’s spiritual master, isn’t it? Be therefore so kind unto me o immortal one, and fulfill my desire O you honorable, compassionate Lord with your unlimited vision. See me as the [full] other half of your body, please be so gracious to answer my request.’

The deliverer from mount Kailâsa [S’iva] thus addressed by his dearest, amiable to his relatives as he was, replied with a smile, meanwhile remembering the heart-piercing, malicious words that Daksha had spoken in the presence of the guardians of creation. The great Lord said: ‘What you said my dear beauty, is perfectly true; one may, even uninvited, visit friends, provided they are not finding fault with you or, more important, when they are not of any anger in being proud of their material achievements. Those who are arrogant are blinded in their pride over the six qualities of pious education, austerity, wealth, beauty, youth and heritage. Not of respect for the glories of the great souls they to the contrary get entangled in untruth and lose their sense of reality. One should not go to the house of relatives and friends who in their suppositions don’t see matters as they are and thus offer their guests a cold reception in regarding them with raised eyebrows and anger in their eyes. One is not hurt as much by the arrows of an enemy as one is grieved in the core of one’s heart by the deceitful, harsh words of relatives, for such grief makes the one hurt suffer day and night. It is clear that you with your pretty face and good behavior are the darling of the daughters of the Prajâpati [Daksha], yet you will because of being connected to me, meet with pain because your father doesn’t honor me. Someone upset with a burning heart is not directly able to rise to merely the standard of the exemplary pious behavior of those whose minds are always turned to the Original Person, as much as demons envious of the Lord cannot act piously. My dear young wife, the intent to rise to our feet and welcome one another with obeisances is proper, but the wise, being intelligent unto the Supreme, direct themselves to the Original Person who resides within the body and certainly not to the one who identifies himself with the body. The pure consciousness known as Vasudeva [God’s goodness] is revealed there [within the heart] because the person is in goodness in that position and not covered [by darkness]. The Supreme Lord as such I always respect by the name of Vâsudeva [the ‘God of the Soul’] because He is the transcendence. Therefore we should not go and see your father Daksha and his Vis’vasrik followers present at the sacrifice. Even though he gave you your body O Satî, [remember that] he with cruel words enviously has insulted me who was innocent. And if you decide to go there in neglect of my words, things will not turn out good for you. When you being so most respectable are insulted by your relative, that insult will be equal to dying on the spot.’

Sati Quits Her Body

After saying this much about the [possible] end of his wife’s physical existence, S’iva fell silent. Since she from S’iva understood that she had the choice between being anxious to see her relatives and being afraid to meet her relatives, she was in doubt whether she should go or not. Denied in her desire to see her relatives she felt very sorry and shed tears in her affliction. Trembling she angrily looked at her Bhava, the unequaled one, as if she wanted to burn him. Breathing heavily she walked away from him, the saintly one so dear to her to whom she had given half of her body. Being upset because of her grief and anger and with her intelligence clouded by her female nature, she out of love for her father’s embodiment then headed for his house.

Rapidly leaving all alone Satî was quickly followed by the thousands of associates and Yaksha’s of the three eyed one [S’iva] who were headed by Manimân and Mada. Not afraid [to leave S’iva alone] they had put the bull Nandî in front. Having placed her on the decorated bull, her pet bird, ball, mirror, lotus flower, white umbrella, mosquito net, garlands and other stuff were taken along, accompanied by the music of drums, conch shells and flutes. She [thus] entered the sacrificial arena where with the help of sacrificial animals, pots, clay, wood, iron, gold and grass and skins to sit upon, the sacrifice, brightened by the sounds of Vedic hymns, was held that on all sides was attended by the great sages and authorities. But arriving there she out of fear for the performer of the sacrifice [Daksha] was not respected by anyone with a welcome, save of course for her own sisters and mother who embraced her with reverence, gladdened faces and throats choked by tears of affection.

But Satî, not being welcomed by her father, did not respond to the reverence shown with the greetings of her sisters, mother and aunts who with due respect properly informed her and offered her gifts and a seat. Realizing that her father with no oblations for S’iva out of contempt for the godhead had not invited the mighty one for the assembly of the sacrifice, Satî got very angry and looked incensed as if she wanted to burn the fourteen worlds with her eyes. The goddess [next] for everyone present to hear began to condemn with words filled with anger the opponents of S’iva who were so proud of their troublesome sacrifices, meanwhile ordering his Bhûtas who stood prepared to attack, to hold back.

The blessed one said: ‘He [S’iva] has no one in this world as his rival, no one is his enemy nor is anyone embodied dear to him. Who in the world but you would be envious with him, the most beloved being in the universe free from all enmity? Unlike you, O twice born one, he doesn’t find fault in the qualities of the seekers of truth, he rather greatly magnifies any little good he finds in others. And now you are with him, the greatest of all persons, finding fault!  It is not so surprising, this deriding of glorious persons by those who take the transient body for the true self. It is an ugly evil to be envious with great personalities, an evil that perfectly serves the purpose of bringing themselves down by the dust of the holy feet. Persons who only once from their heart pronounce the two syllables of his name, see their sinful activities immediately defeated; that S’iva, whose order is never neglected and who is of an impeccable renown, you now strangely envy. Engaged at his lotus feet the higher personalities exercise their bee-like minds aspiring the nectar of transcendental bliss and for the common man he is the one sought who fulfills all desires. That you of all people now have to be against him, the friend of all living entities in all the three worlds! Do you really think that others than you, like Brahmâ and his brahmins, are not familiar with the inauspicious call of him who is associated with the demons and who with his scattered, matted hair is garlanded with skulls and is smeared with the ashes of the crematorium? They still take on their heads the flowers that fell from the feet of him who is called S’iva or auspicious! When one is confronted with people who irresponsibly blaspheme the controller of the religion, one should block one’s ears and walk away, if nothing else can be done. But if one can do something, one should by force cut out the tongue of the vilifying blasphemer and next give up one’s own life. That’s the way to deal with such matters! Therefore I shall no longer bear this body I received from you who blasphemed God. To purify oneself from mistakenly having eaten poisonous food it is best to vomit, so one says. Elevated transcendentalists who enjoy their lives do not always follow the rules and regulations of the Vedas, the ways of the gods differ from those of man. Therefore a man  should not criticize another man [like S’va] by the standard of his own unique sense of duty. In truth the Vedas distinguish between activities performed in attachment and activities performed in detachment [pravritti and nivritti dharma], and thus one has on the basis of these two characteristics of dharma two choices. To be of both at the same time is contradictory and  thus it can be so that none of these activities are to the satisfaction of the one of transcendence. O father, the ways we follow are not your ways, they are not recommended by those who satisfied by the food of the sacrifice follow the ritual path and thus get their fill. They are of those complete forsakers who follow the non-manifest form of sacrificing. With your offenses against S’iva and denial of this body that was produced from your body, I say enough is enough! I am ashamed to have taken this contemptible birth. O what a shame it is to be related by birth to a bad person, to someone who is an offender of great personalities. Because of the family tie I have with you it makes me very sad when my great Lord S’iva calls me ‘daughter of Daksha’. All my joy and smiles vanish immediately when he does so. Therefore I will give up this bag of bones that was produced from your body.’

Speaking thus to Daksha in the arena of sacrifice, she sat down in silence on the ground with her face to the north. After touching water she, dressed in saffron garments, then closed her eyes to find absorption in the process of yoga. Balancing the inward and outward going breath she, the blameless one, in the control of her yogic posture with intelligence directed her life air upward. She raised it gradually up from the navel cakra to the heart, from the heart to the windpipe and from the throat to the place between her eyebrows. In her desire to give it up because of her anger towards Daksha, she who time and again full of respect sat on the lap of the most worshipful one of all saints, thus by the exercise of her own will focussed on the air and fire within her body. When she right there within her mind saw nothing but the nectarean lotus feet of her husband, the supreme spiritual teacher of the universe and was freed from all impurities, soon the body of Satî was ablaze because of the fire that originated from her absorption.

From the side of those who witnessed it a loudly in the sky and on the earth reverberating, wondrous tumult originated: ‘Ohhh…, alas Satî the beloved goddess of the most respectable demigod, has given up her life in her anger about Daksha. Oh, just see the great soullessness of him, the Prajâpati from whom all the generations sprang. Because of his disrespect she voluntarily gave up her body, she, his own daughter Satî worthy of our repeated respect. He so hard-hearted and not worthy the brahminical status, will gain extensive ill fame in the world because he in his offenses as an enemy of S’iva couldn’t keep his own daughter from preparing herself for death!’

While the people were thus talking among themselves after having witnessed the wondrous death of Satî, the attendants of S’iva stood up with their weapons lifted in order to kill Daksha. But as soon as he saw them approaching Bhrigu quickly offered oblations in the southern fire and recited hymns from the Yajur Veda to ward off the destroyers of a sacrifice. From the oblations being offered by Bhrigu, by the thousands the demigods manifested named the Ribhus who by dint of the moon [Soma] and by penance had achieved great strength. And all the ghosts and Guhyakas [guardians of S’iva] being attacked by them with pieces of firewood from the fire, thus, [haunted] by the glow of sheer brahminical power, fled in all directions.

BHAGAVATA, 4.2-4

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