The legend of Annapurna, Hindu goddess of nourishment - Antara Raychaudhuri and Iseult Gillespie
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Goddess Parvati is the primordial feminine power, the Adi-Shakti or fundamentally the Supreme Goddess in Hinduism. She takes various incarnations to fulfill the diverse purpose of life or to solve the crucial problems of the mortals on earth. According to Hindu Mythology, there are 108 incarnations of Adi-Shakti. Parvati is the Mother Goddess, nominally the second consort of Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction. However, she is not different from Sati, being the reincarnation of Shiva's first wife.
Parvati’s purpose to humanity was to bring life back to universe. After Sati died, Shiva withdrew himself, absorbing all the heat from the universe. This led to cosmic imbalance, so the other minor gods turned to Adi Shakti for respite. Adi Shakti took the form of Parvati to make Shiva a family man from a detached mendicant. It is due to her presence and her union with Lord Shiva that the earth remains productive. She is the goddess of fertility and love who ensures material comforts. Shiva-Parvati in complete conjugal union reaches an utmost level where they becomes one body. This union is known as “ardhenareswara” or half-woman. Devotees regard this union perfect for conjugation, fertility and even parenting, so most Indian Hindu wedding rituals include Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati’s wedding tales.
Goddess Parvati nurtured the material world, protecting life and ensuring food for sustenance. Lord Shiva on the other hand, rejected this world as he knew Lord Brahma had created the universe for his own fancy. According to him, the world was a cosmic illusion known as māyā and food was part of the same illusion. Maya connotes a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem.” Although Parvati gently smiled and remained confident about her generous work, she was determined to prove him wrong so she disappeared from the world. At her disappearance, the earth became barren and there was scarcity of food all over. Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu were worried that all living beings would starve to death. At the same time, Lord Shiva too suffered the same pangs of hunger and went wandering over the dry earth. He understood that the material world including food could not be so easily disregarded.
When Mother Goddess Parvati saw such consequences, she was filled with compassion and wanted to reappear. Her reappearance brought the world back into bloom with abundant food. She took the avatar of Goddess Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of food. Hearing about the goddess’ return, Lord Shiva ran to her with an empty bowl and begged for food and forgiveness. Despite being the Supreme Masculine Consciousness, he too was not immune to the need for food at Mother Nature’s mercy. This powerful Hindu deity is thus portrayed as a poor beggar at the mercy of Goddess Annapurna in Hindu art and culture. Goddess Annapurna is always seen serving food from a golden bowl with a jewel-encrusted ladle in her left hand. She assures worldwide sustenance by portraying an “Abhayamudra” with her right hand. Goddess Annapurna is a youthful goddess having a red complexion with a round face. She wears gold jewelry and is seated on a throne with a crest of moon adorning her head.
Goddess Annapurna is said to have first appeared in the city of Kasi, on the banks of river Ganga, where she established a kitchen. It is believed that Kasi is the Mukti Sthal, or a place of freedom, where people attain ultimate renunciation or Moksha if they die. It is the abode of Goddess Annapurna as she feeds her devotees till their last meal.
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