The annual Sital Sasthi Yatra festival held at Sambalpur in Orissa celebrates the divine wedding of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. Sambalpur in Orissa is a well known place associated with Shiva and Shakti worship. The five-day long festival begins with the ‘Patra pendi’ ritual. In 2015, the Sital Sasthi Yatra festival begins on May 24.
Lord Shiva after the death of Goddess Sati was practicing intense austerity and was no longer interested in family life. Taking this as an opportunity, demon Tarakasura prayed to Lord Brahma and obtained the boon that he will only be killed by a son of Lord Shiva. After obtaining the boon Tarakasura created havoc on earth, heaven and hell and he drove out the ‘devas’ from heaven.
Devas approached Vishnu but he told them about the boon and asked to approach Mother Shakti to find a way out. Shakti agreed to take rebirth as Parvathi and marry Shiva.
But Shiva continued with his intense austerities. Pravathi who was born as the daughter of
Himalaya only had Shiva in her mind and wanted to marry him. But Shiva was not willing to take her as his wife. Devas tried several methods but could not change the mind of Shiva.
Finally, Parvati started intense meditation and Shiva had to finally oblige. (This intense fast undertaken by Parvati is annually observed as Hartalika Teej Vrat in North India and Swarn Gouri Vratam in
South India by women to get good husbands.)
On Jyeshta Shukla Panchami, the divine couple got married and Kartikeya was born who annihilated demon Tarakasura.
Sital Sasthi Yatra festival celebrates this divine wedding. During the festival, a family in the region adorns the role of the father and mother of Parvati and offers her in marriage to Shiva.
On Patra Pendi day, the first day of the festival, the family adopts Parvati as their daughter. Two days later Goddess Parvati (idol from the temple) 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 along with other gods and goddesses in Hindu pantheon. Lord Hanuman and Narasimha lead the divine procession. All the rituals that are part of normal marriage ceremony in Orissa are followed for the divine wedding.
Next evening the divine couple undertakes a journey to the town known as Nagar Parikrama and this journey is known as ‘Shital Sasthi Yatra.’
Another feature of the festival is the arrival of large number of Eunuchs or Hijadas for the wedding. They claim that they are her to celebrate the wedding of Shiva who is ardhanarishwara – half man half woman.
The festival is also referred as monsoon wedding of Shiva and Parvathi as the wedding takes place at the beginning of monsoon season. The intense austerity performed by Shiva is symbolically represented as the intense heat during summer season. Parvathi is the monsoon showers which calm Shiva. Farmers thus celebrate the arrival of monsoon with this divine wedding.