Scarlett and Rhett. Rick and Ilsa. Elizabeth and Darcy. All great stories remind us that when we look beyond the maya (illusion) of daily existence, we can glimpse the profound. And every timeless romance of fiction and film mirrors the grand cosmic union of Shiva, the Lord of Yoga, and his consort, Shakti.
According to legend, Shakti (who appears in many guises, as befits the creative feminine principle) incarnated as Parvati and tried to woo Shiva away from his austerities (tapas) on Mount Kailasha. Even aided by Kama (the god of desire) and his golden arrow, Parvati was unable to distract Shiva from meditation. Only when she too practiced tapas and proved herself unattached to worldly things was Shiva convinced of her devotion.
Their wedding day is celebrated on Mahashivaratri, which falls on March 10, 2013—less than a month after we celebrate love and romance with Valentine’s Day. The marriage of Shiva and Shakti/Parvati is a love story with an O. Henry twist: The ascetic re-engages in the material world to marry a princess who has denounced all things worldly.
According to Sankhya philosophy (the foundation of yoga, ayurveda, and jyotish), this divine marriage is the basis underlying all existence. In Sankhya, Shiva represents purusha, pure spirit or consciousness. Shakti is prakriti, the creative matter. Shiva is potential; Shakti is power. Their grand romance signifies the aspirant’s path, which is to travel beyond dualism toward wholeness.
In Kundalini Yoga, the divine feminine lies sleeping at the base of the spine, represented by a coiled serpent. Though pranayama, meditation, and other practices, she awakens and rises to meet Shiva consciousness. At their union, the practitioner achieves realization or liberation.
Similarly, in Hatha Yoga, Ha refers to the sun or solar energies of Shiva. Tha refers to the moon, the lunar and earthly energies of Shakti. Yoga is often translated as yoke or union. Thus, Hatha Yoga is the joining of sun and moon, hot and cold, light and dark, masculine and feminine, formless and form. What is true for the macrocosm of the universe is mirrored in the microcosm of the individual physical body, and reconciling these pairs of opposites is the great romance we experience in Hatha Yoga.
When we practice asana, for example, the spine is a dynamic continuum between the creative energies at the base of the spine (Shakti) and the pure consciousness represented by the crown (Shiva). During the dance between these energies, we seek to balance the inner feminine and masculine qualities within ourselves. Consider Balasana or Child’s Pose, for example: When we bow the head (Shiva) to the earth (Shakti), we unite the opposing energies and experience one of the most profound aspects of asana.
Often we look for completion outside ourselves, forgetting that the greatest romance of all time is within. The sacred marriage between Shiva and Shakti reminds us that we are never separate from our beloved. See yourself in your sweetheart’s eyes. Recognize your beloved within you. Even if you are unattached, the greatest love story—the creative, generative dance of the universe—is always yours.