smallpox. Mother Shitala loves cold and coolness and this is reflected in her name. She likes cold food offerings. One derivation of Shitala Devi means the Cold Goddess. It is believed that pox and measles are caused by the anger of this goddess but this is to be understood in strictly religious terms. Commonly, She is the Hindu Goddess of smallpox, sores, ghouls and pustules. She assigns and blesses the cure.
She is also a village goddess and the recipient of large-scale community worship where she dwells as guardian goddess. Community worships are carried out with much splendor and celebration according to rural means and circumstances. Her role in the villages are highlighted in several Tantric and Puranic literature. The Bengali vernacular text ‘Sitala mangal-kavya’ speaks of her role as a village Mother. Although Mother Shitala looks out for children and mothers, one is not to be mistaken that she is playing nurse, for Mother is simultaneously destructive and protective. While rewarding those who are cool to her, she burns those who are burning. Shitala is said to be the consort of Jvarasura, the fever demon.
Rural folks believe that Goddess Shitala and her seven sisters have their abodes in neem trees. By ancient tradition, neem trees are deemed sacred. They also have ayurvedic value. Neem leaves and barks are used in tradition curing of several diseases. Neem trees are revered as sacred. The leaves are not only cooling but
they are used as talisman to ward off the ‘heat’ and ‘dirt’ in a body affected by measles and pox. Other talismans against evil spirits and fear include spreading neem leaves and rose petals across an affected child’s bed. They are also placed in the entry way. Bunches of neem leaves hung before a house indicates that measles or pox has visited a member of that house. In most places Shitala shrines are found near neem trees. Goddess Shitala also has other ‘medical’ company such as. Gheṇṭukarṇa, the God of Skin Diseases, Jvarasura, the fever demon, the Cauṣaṭti Rogas, Goddess for the sixty-four epidemics, Olai Chandi , Goddess of cholera, and Raktavati, Goddess of Blood Infections. In the South Raktavati is called Rattavati, the root word for blood being ‘rattam.’
When Shitala first arose from a sacrificial fire, Brahma told her that humans would always worship her, as long as she carried the seeds of a particular lentil. Along with her companion, Jvarasura, the demon of fever, she traveled to visit the other Gods. Somewhere along the way, her lentils turned into smallpox germs, and anyone who they visited came down with a fever and smallpox.
The Gods asked Shitala for mercy, and asked her to take her load of germs and go to the earth. She agreed, and she and Jvarasura went down to the earth. Their first stop was to the court of King Birat, who worshipped Shiva. King Birat would not give Shitala supremacy over Shiva, so she threatened to infect his people. He was not swayed, and Shitala called down 75 different kinds of pox on his people. The disease spread far and wide, and there were many deaths. Finally, King Birat relented, and Shitala healed him and his people.
DEPICTION: Shitala is depicted as a young lady. In her hands she carries a silver broom, a winnowing fan, a small bowl, and a pot of water. These items are indicative of cure. The broom is indicative of sweeping away
germs. In Tamil ‘kuttumar’ means sweep and collect rubbish. The fan is used to collect them and dumps in the bowl she carries. She then sprinkles water from the pot, which is water from the river Ganges, to purify the house. In some depictions she is shown to hold neem leaves.
Bhagavan Siva said, “I make obeisance to Sri Sitala Devi who is naked and graciously sitting upon an ass. Upon attaining her refuge the fear of the disease of sitala, the disease of poxes is removed. By repeating ‘O Sitala, O Sitala, the fever of sitala and the possibility of a dreadful calamity arising from it are removed…..O Bhagavati Sitala, for him whose body is burning with fever, from whose body a foul smelling is coming and whose eyes even have been ruined for his life you alone are remedy…”
SITALA MANGAL KAVYA: The worship of Mother Shitala is not based on a fixed thithi. Eventhough Krshnastami is the proper day for Shitala worship, only a few households do puja on this day.
Mangal-gan is held according to seasonal and community capacity to celebrate Shitala. It also depends on the availability of singers and stuff.
“The purpose of Sitala Mangal is not primarily the avoidance of disease, whether small pox. Malaria or any other. The mangal, the ‘well being’, the ‘auspiciousness’ ot ‘beneficence’ of the text lies in its capacity to enlighten and instruct. Stated in oversimplified terms, bhakti, an attitude of religious love, places the worshipper in a wholly dependent and child-like attitude toward the deity. The composition or publishing of a mangal text is an act of bhakti and also a means of enlightening and instructing others by explaining the divine
to people so that they too can have proper bhakti.”
This is again a Bengal culture. On the eighth day of month of Vhitirai, the puja of Bhagavati Shitala is held. It is not constrained by any rules except it is cold food offering to be served. The food is cooked the previous day. Those observing vrat eat stale food on this day. Usually after the puja, the katha or story is told. Regionally there are many but the common ones are linked to Shitala astami.
Once a prince was affected by ‘chechak’ or pox. At the same it it also affected a farmer’s son. The farmer, a Shitala bhakta, was poor. He observed all Bhagavati Shitala puja rules and strictness of cooking and eating
which called for purity. Within his means he bought clay pot and served cold offering and ate stale prasada. The King on the other hand, sat at Bhagavati shrine chanting the hundred names of Chandi. He performed yagna everyday. But the food offering was prepared with the usual royal kitchen paraphernalia. Therefore Mother’s anger began to burn up with fever. The prince developed more itchy sores. The King and queen schemed to obtain Mother’s peace but it all went futile.
The King gets wind of the farmer’s son being cured of pox. He became extremely jelous. He started questioning why Mother had been unjust when he had spent so much on her prayers. The farmer got away with food cooked in some mud-pots. Harboring in such thoughts, he fell asleep.
Mother Shitala appeared in his dreams.“I am pleased with your service and for that reason your son is still alive. But, really, you did not maintain the necessary nourishing rules for the time of Sitala and gave me much trouble. In such times the use of cold things cannot be ignored. From eating salt, the illness of lumps and itchiness beings: therefore salt is banned. Likewise, to season foods in the house entices the mind of the sick one with its odor and he demands it. Because people go here and there and meet with others, there is a rule that the sick one
should not be with others. Therefore if you want happiness for yourself and your son, from today do not eat from the pot. For the sanity of Shitala, give only cold things to me for offerings and also to the prince.”
The King realizes his mistakes. The day he had this vision in his dream was the seventh of the dark half of Chithirai. He proclaimed that on the eighth day, everyone should do Bhagavati puja with stale grain and cold food offerings. This astam or eight was called Shitala astami. Henceforth it became customary to perform
Shitala astami puja.
AYURVEDA: Small-pox was not an ordinary disease but caused epidemic calamity. In ancient days humans placed their trust on god when they were faced with alarming health impediments. These gods and goddesses
were also suitable for community worship and community confidence. Mother Shitala, as Goddess of Small-pox, in the North, especially Bengal and Goddess Muthu Mariamman in the South played a prominent role as tutelary deity of villages. Ayurvedic texts recognized smallpox as a disease after the 7th century. While her worship is not seen as a replacement for ayurvedic or other forms of treatment, the Mother is still the spiritual and religious compliment at a different level of belief.
SHITHALA – MUTHU MARIAMMAN: Mother Shitala has her name to her credit in that unlike other deities of affliction, She is known by a single name except for a small number in South India. In the Bengal area Shitala is associated with small-pox. Little in the north, she seems to have a parallel in Goddess Sasthi, the Goddess Protecting Children, good fortune and household welfare.
Mother Shitala is said to have her counterpart in Goddess Muthu Mariamman of the Tamils. Indeed they are described as sisters. They seem to be connected in being ‘coolness’ Goddesses. Goddess Mariamman is a Shaivite Goddess. ‘Muthu’ means pearls indicating pox-marks. Her Muthu Mariamman is specific to smallpox as Shitala is in the North. In is also claimed by Shaivites that Goddess Shitala is an aspect of Mother Parvathi, the consort of Shiva. In Shaktam, Muthu Mariamman and Parvathi are all manifestations of the great Mother Devi.
Jai Maa Shitala Devi.
Yogi Ananda Saraswathi