The Monsoon wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati is a five-day long festival in Sambalpur, Orissa and is known as Shital Shashthi (Sital Sasthi). An actual marriage of the two deities is conducted during the festival, which takes place in May-end or June. Preparations for the marriage begin with the selection of two couples from the area, who act as the parents of the groom and bride (Lord Shiva and Parvati).
The bride’s parents adopt Goddess Parvati and this initiation is observed as Patrapendi. On this day a lavish dinner is arranged at the bride’s house. Two days later Goddess Parvati arrives at the home of her adopted parents. From her adopted home, the bride is taken in a grand procession for the marriage ceremony, which takes place during the night. Similarly, Lord Shiva, the bridegroom, arrives for the marriage ceremony. All the rituals that are part of normal marriage ceremony are followed for the divine wedding.
The marriage takes place at the auspicious time and large number of people especially Shiva and Shakti devotees pay their respect and devotion during the marriage. After the marriage, there is a ceremonial departure of the newly wedded divine couple. The next evening the divine couple undertakes a journey to the town known as Nagar Parikrama. This journey is known as ‘Shital Shashthi Yatra.’
The festival is deeply rooted in agriculture. Legend has it that Lord Shiva symbolizes the scorching heat and Parvati the first showers of monsoon. The arrival of Goddess Parvati calms Lord Shiva. The farmers are happy and they welcome the ensuing rainy season with a lavish divine wedding.
The Sital Sashthi festival is also noted for the participation of large number of eunuchs. Eunuchs in large number arrive at Sambalpur during the festival season to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva. There is no legend associated with the participation of eunuchs. Some eunuchs say they arrive here to worship Shiva as he is ardhanarishwara – half man half woman.