The Vedas, which are over 3,000 years old, refer to a deity called Rudra who is fierce and feared. Is he the Shiva we know today, the hermit who married Parvati, daughter of the Himalayas? We can only speculate in hindsight. The word Shiva is used for the first time only in the Upanishads. And we hear a clear story of Shiva only in the epic Mahabharata, that reached its final written form in Sanskrit only about 2,000 years ago.
In the Shanti Parva, Yudhishtira asks the dying Bhisma, how did fever come into existence? And in response, Yudhishtira tells him the story of Daksha’s yagna, and how he, in keeping with Vedic practice, refuses to offer Shiva a share of the sacrifice. This angers Shiva’s wife, Uma, daughter of the mountains, who argues that he deserves a share. Shiva’s anger then takes the form of fever and attacks Daksha as well as the gods who attend his yagna, even the yagna that tries to escape in the form of a deer. Finally, Shiva is appeased, the yagna is restored, a share offered to Shiva and Shiva distributes his wrath as fever across the universe.
This is the first time we hear the now famous story of Daksha’s yagna being destroyed by Shiva. However, here Sati is conspicuous by her absence. Daksha is not Shiva’s father-in-law. He is simply the archetypal Vedic priest performing a Vedic ritual without offering a share to Shiva, as was the practice, until Shiva’s wife, not Sati but Parvati, protests. Here, there is no reference to Sati’s suicide or Shiva’s outrage and the heartbreak that follows, or any reference to Sati’s body being cut up to give rise to the Shakti Peethas.