Author Aditi Banerjee’s The Vow of Parvati, published by Bloomsbury India in April 2022 is a story of Devi Sati/Parvati and how she transformed from a beautiful, gentle, powerful yet shy Devi unaware of her own strength into the Devi we revere and worship today through her relationship with and love for Shiva and her family. Speaking to OpIndia, Banerjee said, “Devi encompasses all aspects of the female form, from the child to the crone, from the gentle to the fierce, from the scholar to the warrior. And in a sense we can see them all emanating from Sati / Parvati.”
She further said, “In her resides the one who gave up her life for Shiva, who fasted and underwent all kinds of austerities to win his favour, as well as the one who sits on the jewelled throne, supported by Shiva and all of the Devas, who carries a weapon forged from the strength of all of the other Devas combined. She is Shakti, the energy that pervades the cosmos and all of existence, and she is also the one who delights Shiva, the eternal renunciate. She and Shiva form the ideal couple, because in their union, they retain their independent roles and existence while also merging into a seamless oneness and wholeness, which represents the completeness of Brahman.”
On whether she considers her story on Devi Parvati a fiction or mythological fiction, Banerjee said, “It is unfortunate that we are trapped by English categorizations that do not map onto Indic / Hindu classifications or frameworks. Mythology / fiction vs. nonfiction in the West is basically distinguishing what is or may be historical fact from that which is ‘made up’. ‘Mythology’ is used to characterize non-Western traditions and faiths as false.”
“That said, there is a thirst for literature inspired by the Itihaasa and Puranas and also from ancient Greek, Norse, and other pagan epics. As the modern world has become divorced from its ancient civilizational heritage, there is now an emerging desire to reconnect with our roots and to delve into the ancient epics. The epics do not exist just for storytelling or to transmit religious beliefs. They encode lessons about human nature, the nature of the world, the meaning and purpose of life, and all throughout history, people studied the Classics to develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the mystery of life. So, it is natural to want to reengage with tales that have stood the test of time and place, that have become part of our cultural DNA. At the same time, many of us find the original texts to be inaccessible or daunting. So, this kind of literature serves as a gateway by retelling those stories in a syntax and format that is more familiar and easier to digest for a modern audience. In time, hopefully people will be inspired to read the original texts, whether in Sanskrit or in translation,” she said.
On the shift to strong leading female protagonists in books from traditionally male heroes, Banerjee said, “All of the female protagonists being written about today were there, fully fleshed out with incredible nuance and richness, in the original texts: Draupadi, Gandhari, Sita, Kunti, etc. It is just that over time most of the attention was paid to the heroes who dominated the actions of the stories. Since their stories have always been told, the interest is in discovering lesser well-known characters and incidents so that those stories can be brought out, too. Also, we have been fed so many distortions and lies through colonialist discourse about how passive and meek our female personalities were that there is a great need to excavate the real characters from the original literature and showcase them to the world, to show how much strength, complexity and depth these female protagonists had.”
“I think there is a lot of interest right now in reading about female characters. Not only for entertainment value but also because it is inspiring and empowering for girls and women to read about strong female characters who can serve as role models to aspire towards or serve as cautionary tales on how we may go astray,” Banerjee added.
Banerjee’s previous book, The Curse of Gandhari, talked about the Queen who cursed Shri Krishna. Speaking about how the two leading ladies are different in characters, strength and stories, she said, “Gandhari was very human while Sati/Parvati is Devi. So, while The Curse of Gandhari could trace the life story of Gandhari from the perspective of a flawed woman, who made mistakes and had regrets, this was a more challenging story to write since Sati / Parvati was always Devi and therefore in certain respects already perfect. The interesting thing for me to write about was how both Shiva and Sati, complete and self-sufficient and self-satisfied in their own rights, still evolved through their connection with each other — that, they became something greater together than they are just on their own. So, the idea that even the devas could grow, learn, and evolve through love was the impetus behind this story.”
Speaking about the inspiration behind her book, Banerjee said that it was her own marriage that inspired the story of Devi Parvati. “For over a year before my wedding, I had observed the Somvar vrata in honor of Shiva and Parvati and we also had our wedding rites performed by 11 purohitas from Ujjain at Triyuginarayana, an ancient mandir a few hours away from Kedarnath in the Himalayas, where it is said that Shiva and Parvati were married. The fire from their rites still burns there today and we took our saptapadi around that sacred flame. We have been so blessed by that experience, and this book is a small offering of gratitude and reverence for everything that Shiva and Devi have bestowed upon us,” she said.
Here is an excerpt of Aditi Banerjee’s book The Vow of Parvati:
And then she heard the light patter of his bare feet in the assembly hall. Her eyes jerked open, and she stared at Shiva. All anxiety and fear left her. Time slowed and stopped. One of his names was Kaal Bhairava, the Lord of Time. He walked toward her until he stood before her. Never had anyone looked as beautiful to Sati as he did. He was majestic and calm, radiant and overflowing with power. At that moment, she lost her heart to him.
He took her in with soft affection, the same way he had looked at the white flower after it had fallen to the ground from her hands. His glance was so warm that she began to feel dizzy.
Shiva slanted his head in a request for permission. She nodded. She remembered how she had named him Shiva that night. In some way, she had completed him, and now it was his turn to do the same for her. He knelt at her feet. He reached out his hand to hold her right foot. His touch sent a jolt of pure sensation through her, and she would have jumped out of her seat had he not gripped her foot. He let her left foot remain crossed but pulled her right foot down to touch the ground. As soon as the tender bottom of her foot made contact with the cold ground, a rush of energy coursed downward from the tip of head to the sole of her right foot, pouring into the ground, blessing all the worlds.
She closed her eyes and felt power, shakti—the life force that sustained the entire universe—flowing through her like a river in spate. She opened her eyes again to see that the pink of her sari had deepened into crimson red, the red of blood and fire and life itself. The red of womanhood. Her braids had loosened into waves that cascaded down her back, black as night.
Shiva’s eyes darkened as he looked at her. She could not know how enchanting, how captivating she was at that moment. Any deva whose eyes had opened would have fallen in love with her in a heartbeat, but Shiva did not let anyone else awaken.
He lifted the crown of flowers from her head. He held it until it grew into a circlet of gold. The roses transformed into rubies that retained their shape and colour but were now brighter than the sun. This crown would last forever, unlike the simple one she had designed. He carefully placed it on her head.
He leaned back and studied her, inch by inch. She watched him wide-eyed. It was as if he were not completely satisfied. Not that he was not satisfied with her, but that the dress, the decorations, did not do her justice. Even the golden crown he had fashioned did not appear to placate him.
Then, with a sudden movement, he plucked out the crescent moon that adorned his own hair and tucked it carefully into Sati’s, behind the golden crown. The moon, cold as it was, still bore the warmth of his body, the inner fire of his tapasya, and she felt the accumulated powers of thousands of years of meditation flow from Shiva to her. It was more intimate than an embrace. His fingers sifted through her hair, sliding across her scalp in a way that made her flesh tingle. As brightly as the moon shone, it paled in comparison to the radiance emanating from her now that she was in her full power.
For a moment, his hand lingered in her hair. She wished that the wheel of time would never again continue its rotations, that time would remain frozen in this moment forever.
Then, in the space of a moment, everything changed.
You can buy a copy of her book here.