Puranas present universal truths in interesting ways, often as a drama between different types of beings – humans, Asuras, Devas, Yakshas, Rakshasas. The story of Daksha Prajapati is a continuation of the drama associated with the creation of the universe. The Sanskrit word Daksha means one who has skill. He is a mind born son of Brahma. Brahma sometimes delegated his responsibility of creating to his mind born Sons. Daksha became heady with his ability to create and was enamored of his talent. He exercised total control over his creation and had the ultimate say in how his society should function He was the quintessential conservative. He strove to protect his creation and had a specific views on how to maintain discipline in society. He represented the “establishment”. Anyone with a differing view was his enemy.
Daksha worshiped Vishnu, the face of the universal trinity in charge of sustaining the universe. The third face of this universal principle, Shiva the transformer, was beyond Daksha’s comprehension. Transformations mean a disruption of an existing order. Daksha therefore prohibited the worship of Shiva and his kingdom.
Sati was the youngest of Daksha’s daughter and was his darling child. In her youth she heard about Shiva as the one who accepted everyone without a hesitation. Shiva had allowed the fiercest looking Bhuta ganas to live around him. He was constantly in meditation and had cultivated equanimity to be comfortable in the cremation grounds and as well in a garden filled with fragrant flowers. People could please him and gain his blessings by offering plain water and leaves. This stranger was a stark contrast to her father. This snake ornamented, tiger skin clad, matted hair, ash smeared, simpleton captured Sati’s heart as the quintessential liberal. It was a case of fatal attraction.
The story winds through and ends with Sati immolating herself, being torn by the fact that Daksha would not accept Shiva her spouse. In punishment Shiva cuts off the head of Daksha but allows him to live with a replacement head, that of a Goat. This act captures the truth that a conservative has a role to play in a society but must never let the head suppress the compassion in the heart.