Yours Faithfully: When Goddess Parvati defeated Lord Shiva at dice on Mount Kailash

Does the game of dice between the divine couple of Shiva and Parvati subtly refer to the continuation of the universe in the cycle of creation (winning) and destruction (losing)?

Written by Dhritiman Biswas | New Delhi | Updated: October 18, 2017 8:38 pm
Yours Faithfully, Diwali, diwali 2017, diwali and gambling, lord shiva and goddess parvati, indian express, indian express news Beyond the visible vice of gambling, does there lie a deeper meaning – one which has been totally lost behind the brilliant lights, the intoxicating alcohol and the bang of the firecrackers? (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wikimedia Commons)

Gambling often ruins families. More so during Diwali, when Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped specifically to gain the blessings for prosperity. Ruination is not limited to financial, but also destroys relationships and reputations. One of the earliest descriptions of ruination has been outlined in the Kedara Khanda of Mahesvara Khanda of the Skanda Purana – which is the largest of the puranas. The story beautifully describes how on the mischievous insinuation of Sage Narada, Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Parvati play a game of dice.

Up until that game, the marriage of this divine couple was full of happiness. However, during the game, arguments broke out between them, which ultimately ended with Goddess Parvati taking from Shiva all his divine possessions – like the Vasuki snake (from around his neck), the crescent moon (from his head), his damru (from his hand), his meditation cloth and even his loincloth. This made Shiva extremely angry and upon further insults hurled by Parvati at Shiva, he walked off to a forest.

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Another playful yet uncanny dispute is shown in a sculpture in Ellora cave number 29, where Shiva and Parvati again play Saripat (it’s a four-arm board game played with a dice). The stone sculpture shows Shiva holding Parvati’s hand after discovering that she was trying to cheat him at the game to win.

A relief showing Shiva and Parvati playing dice at one of the Ellora caves. (Source: G41rn8/Wikimedia Commons)

We have all grown up on the story of the famous dice game in the Mahabharata, where the Pandavas lost everything, including their wife Draupadi, to Kauravas, which ultimately triggered the epic war, which lead to the destruction of the society as we knew it at that time.

There are many other examples of gambling gone wrong among the divine entities like King Nal and his wife Daymanti, Balram’s defeat at hands of Rukmi, among others. Dice has also been found in excavations in the sites of the ancient civilisation of Harappa.

Diwali and Gambling

A proper time-period cannot be fixed when gambling got associated with Diwali. It is perhaps that farmers in the ancient times had some leisure time right after the harvest season and flush with funds from selling off farm produce, they would use money during playing dice. Endorsement of a divine nature was probably brought in later and theories were floated to wean away the guilt and the fear of sinning from few days of society-approved gambling.

An interesting religious insert has been made to tackle the fallout of the losses during gambling. The popular excuse goes that Goddess Lakshmi representing lady luck is extremely fickle and hence gambling is done during Diwali, to understand that losses may incur in the path of financial success.

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Although over hundreds of years, gambling during Diwali has been whitewashed with a coat of happiness and approval under the purview of religion, yet the same religious texts state unequivocally about the harm of gambling. The Garuda Puranas clearly states that souls would go to hell and issues stern warning that “Gamble not and make no pecuniary transactions with a man, nor see his wife in his absence; these three being the essentials of a permanent amity.”. The same text also state “The merit of a fast is destroyed by gambling” among other things.

Beyond the visible vice of gambling, does there lie a deeper meaning – one which has been totally lost behind the brilliant lights, the intoxicating alcohol and the bang of the firecrackers? Does the game of dice between the divine couple of Shiva and Parvati subtly refer to the continuation of the universe in the cycle of creation (winning) and destruction (losing)? Is this the cosmic dance between Shiva (purusha) and Shakti (prakriti) – the concept too esoteric for human minds and hence was transmuted into a game of dice between the divine couple? Does winning or losing in a gambling match lead to destruction of massive human ego or the creation of one (made ripe for destruction)?

Whatever the cryptic significances of the gambling may be, in modern life it surely represents maya (illusion) itself and shows us that life is unpredictable like the game. Instead of remaining aware of life, mankind wraps maya over their eyes and makes ushers in divaliya (bankruptcy) on the beautiful and happy festival of Diwali.

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