|Goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases|
|Tamil script||ஷீதலா தேவி|
|Mantra||Jaya jaya Mātā Śītalā tumahī dharē jō dhyāna. Hōya bimala Śītala hr̥daya, vikasē buddhī bala jñāna. Ghaţa ghaţa vāsī Śītalā, Śītala prabhā tumhāra. Śītala chaiṃyyā Śītala maiṃyyā pala nā dāra.|
Shitala (Sheetala), also called Sitala (शीतला śītalā), is a Hindu goddess widely worshipped in North India, West Bengal, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan as the pox-goddess. She is the Goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases, acclaimed by Hindus.
Name and variants
Shitala literally means one who cools in Sanskrit. Shitala is worshipped under different names all through the subcontinent. Shitala is more often called ma (‘mother’) and is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists and tribal communities. The goddess is mentioned in Tantric and Puranic literature and her later appearance in vernacular texts (such as the Bengali 17th century Shitala-mangal-kabyas, ‘auspicious poetry’) has contributed to strengthen her status.
Shitala is primarily popular among the people of North India. In some traditions she is identified with an aspect of Parvati, the consort of Shiva. Shitala is addressed as Mother, as a seasonal goddess (Vasanat, i.e. Spring) and with honorific titles such as Thakurani, Jagrani (Queen of the World), Karunamayi (She who is full of mercy), Mangala (The Auspicious One), Bhagavati (The Blessed One), Dayamayi (She who is Full of Grace and Kindness) (Ferrari (2009: 146-147). The role of Shitala in South India is taken by the Goddess Mariamman, who is worshipped by the Dravidian-speaking people in the Indian Subcontinent and abroad (i.e. in the West but particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Bali)
The worship of Shitala is conducted by both Brahmins and low caste pujaris. She is primarily worshipped in the dry seasons of winter and spring. There are many arti sangrah and stuties for the puja of maa shitala. Some of them are shri shitla mata chalisa, Shri Shitala maa ki arti, shri shitala mata ashtak, etc.
Iconography and symbolism
Shitala is accompanied by Jvarasura, the fever demon, Oladevi, the cholera goddess, Ghentu-debata, the god of skin diseases, Raktabati, the goddess of blood infections and the sixty-four epidemics. Shitala is represented as a young maiden crowned with a winnowing-fan, riding an ass, holding a short broom (either to spread or dust off germs) and a pot full of pulses (the viruses) or cold water (a healing tool). Among low-caste Hindus and tribal communities, she is represented with slab-stones or carved heads. Sometimes, she is said to be carrying a bunch of neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves, an ancient Ayurvedic medicinal herb that is believed by some to be an effective remedy to most skin diseases to this day.
Shitala is form of goddess katyayani (adi shakti) . She gives coolness to the patients of fever. According to Devi Mahatyam when a demon named Jwarasura gave bacteria of fever to all the children, goddess katyayani took herself in the form of Shitala to purify children`s blood and to destroy the bacteria of fever in blood. In Sanskrit fever means Jwar and Shital means coolness. Shitala is also sometimes depicted with a shady woman called Raktavati (Possessor of Blood). She is often worshiped with Oladevi, another disease goddess.
In Buddhist culture, Jvarasura and Shitala are depicted sometimes as companions of Paranasabari, the Budhhist goddess of diseases. Jvarasura and Shitala are shown escorting her to her right and left side, respectively. In some images these deities are shown as flying away to escape from wrath of the Buddhist goddess Vajrayogini, destroyer of diseases.
Some of the notable temples:
- Shitala Devi temple, Rani Bag Hills, Kathgodam, Nainital, Uttrakhand
- Sri Sitala Mata and Chatwai Mata Temple, Purana Pul, Hyderabad.
- Shitala Devi temple, Mumbai
- Jara Shitala Temple, Bowbazar, Kolkata
- Shitala Devi temple, Gurgaon
- Shitala Maa temple, Samta
- Shitala Maa Temple Mand, Mandla, Madhya Pradesh.
- Sheetla mandir, Jalandhar
- Maa Sheetla Mandir, Maghra (Maa Ghar), Biharsharif, Nalanda, Bihar
- Shitala Mata Mandir, New Colony, Mangalwari Bazaar, Nagpur, Maharashtra.
- Shitala Mata Mandir, Hingna T - Point, Ambazari Road, Nagpur, Maharashtra.
- Shitala Mata Mandir, Vill: Ghirdhar Pur Nawada, Post: Gulaothi (Saidpur Road), Distt: Bulandshahr, Uttar Pardesh.
- Arnold, D. (1993) Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India, Berkeley, University of California Press.
- Auboyer, J. and M.T. de Mallmann (1950). ‘Śītalā-la-froide: déesse indienne de la petite vérole’, Artibus Asiae, 13(3): 207-227.
- Bang, B.G. (1973). ‘Current concepts of the smallpox goddess Śītalā in West Bengal’, Man in India, 53(1):79-104.
- Kinsley, D. Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition
- Dimock, E.C. Jr. (1982) ‘A Theology of the Repulsive: The Myth of the Goddess Śītalā’, in J.S. Hawley and D.M. Wulff (eds), The Divine Consort: Rādhā and the Goddesses of India, Berkeley, University of California Press, 184-203
- Ferrari, Fabrizio M. (2009). “Old rituals for new threats. The post-smallpox career of Sitala, the cold mother of Bengal”. In Brosius, C. & U. Hüsken (eds.), Ritual Matters, London & New York, Routledge, pp. 144–171.
- Inhorn, M.C. and P.J. Brown (eds) (2005). The Anthropology of Infectious Disease. International Health Perspectives, Amsterdam, Routledge.
- Junghare, I.Y. (1975) ‘Songs of the Goddess Shitala: Religio-cultural and Linguistic Features’, Man in India, 55(4): 298-316.
- Katyal, A. and N. Kishore (2001) ‘Performing the goddess: sacred ritual into professional performance’, The Drama Review, 45(1), 96-117.
- Kolenda, P. (1982) ‘Pox and the Terror of Childlessness: Images and Ideas of the Smallpox Goddess in a North Indian Village’, in J.J. Preston (ed.), Mother Worship, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 227-250
- Mukhopadhyay, S.K. (1994) Cult of Goddess Śītalā in Bengal: An Enquiry into Folk Culture, Calcutta, Firma KLM.
- Nicholas, R. (2003). Fruits of Worship. Practical Religion in Bengal, Chronicle Books, New Delhi.
- Stewart, T.K. (1995) ‘Encountering the Smallpox Goddess: The Auspicious Song of Śītalā’, in D.S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Religious of India in Practice, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 389-397.
- Wadley, S.S. (1980) ‘Śītalā: The Cool One’, Asian Folklore Studies, 39: 33-62.
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