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g o d s - o f - i n d i a

GODS OF INDIA ---- Shitala, Goddess of Smallpox and Pestilence.
SHITALA IS A POPULAR INDIA DEITY, WIDELY WORSHIPPED IN RURAL AREAS OF BENGAL AS THE GODDESS OF SMALLPOX AND PESTILENCE. Folk people believed that worship of Shitala could stave off diseases like pox; and her worship during an outbreak could reduce the severity of the disease. It has been said by some that Shitala has lost ground to Western Medicine in recent times, due to the development of modern cures to the diseases. Nonetheless, she remains a feared deity, and receives regular gifts of blood sacrifices, usually chickens and goats. She is known as Mariamman in South India. Many more localized forms of goddesses, known by different names in different regions, are the focus for prayers and vows that lead worshipers to undertake acts of austerity and pilgrimages in return for favors. Here is a goddess to turn to when you are sick, and as any visitor to India knows, it is very easy to sick in this country, so you need all the help you can get!

Like other deities, Shitala has her own special days. In some parts of India she is worshipped done on the sixth lunar day, known as Shitala Sasthi, the day after the Shripanchami, of the Bangla month Magh. Near the Maa Shitala Temple at Babadham there is a special Shitala Temple, situated in the main market near Tower Chowk. Devotees come here and sit for hours in its premises. It is believed that incurable diseases are cured if one worships here with heart. Every year in the month of Chaita, Shitala Puja celebration takes place with great pomp and show.

Shitala is described in the Pichchhilatantra of the Skandapurana as fair-complexioned, riding on an ass, with a water-filled pitcher in one hand and a broom on the other. Her name literally means "the cool one." Her followers believe that she sprinkles the nectar-mixed water with the broom and dispels disease and sufferings.
Some commentators consider Shitala an ugly goddess -- not everyone agrees with this verdict, however! Fearful Durga.com claims: "Sitala (sic) is a beautiful goddess. She is usually presented as such, very beautiful, although often in odd context. Beauty in the context of eating and regurgitating an elephant, for instance. She is the goddess of sores, of ghouls, of pustules and disease. A strange place to find beauty. And sometimes, like the ferocious Kali, she is presented as a frightening goddess, showing the fears of disease. Yet disease is seen as favor of the goddess (as is the lack of disease in some cases). The goddess loves you. She wants you to be a part of her. But disease is also her way of punishment.
"What is the difference between disease as a blessing, and disease as a curse? Disease is this goddess's lila, the way in which she interacts with the universe and humanity. Perhaps the best thing you can hope for is to be ignored by this particular goddess, neither her favor nor her disfavor look terribly enticing for mortals.
"But this is not the only goddess who shows her favor through things we would consider bad. The Ganga steals away people for her own if they please her. And being struck down by a goddess in her favor is a most auspicious way to die. And in India aspicious ways to die are more important, more important often than even continuing to live.
"Sitala is a strange goddess. She appears odd to western eyes, which are not accustomed to seeing disease as a goddess, or as a good thing. But disease makes us stronger. If we can pass through Sitala's rite of passage, we often come out the other side stronger and more able to deal with the rest life can throw at us. But there are some who never fully escape her hold, who stay sickly, and eventually, like all of us, die, perhaps a little sooner than they should have. Sitala is a harsh mother, she prepares us for the world. And some of us aren't quite ready.
"Sitala desires worship, and those who do not worship her should dearly fear her wrath. She is a harsh mistress, she will do with you as she wishes. But eventually she will come through for you. Usually. Just don't cross her. For disease is a nasty thing, and Sitala has a temper, and has the muscle with which to back it up. So remember to do as she asks.
"Worshipping disease is a way to try to appease it. Plagues appear as if they have a will of their own. They will take one person and not another, wipe out entire towns, or only take some. They may skip over that house, and only take one in that house, but take everyone in the next house. Disease is fickle. And seems to have its own agenda. It can rise from its own ashes years later, cholera lingering in the weave of fabrics spreading its death to others long after the original "donor" is long gone. So perhaps it makes sense to have a goddess of disease. She gives order to an otherwise orderless process, disease gives and takes, and if there is some mind behind that...
That is both comforting and frightening."
Which explains Shitala in a nutshell -- comforting and frightening. And beautiful and -- ugly.

Contact the author Rob Sullivan at bunyarra@hotmail.com. Anticopyright September 2009.

Have Your Say


f e e d b a c k

purushottam (purshu@gmail.com) says: "What a comprehensive view of the gods of india..really enjoyed it. I thank u for the clarity this article has given me in my seeking.
"I used to be a die hard atheist since childhood-praying to Shiva, vishnu, krishna, ganesha, saraswati, hanuman etc. I beleived in ONE omnipotent,omniscient, omnipresent God.
"But my recent experience with a spiritual master and organization took me towards Advaita philosophy-which makes possible the existence of many gods and the god inherent in every one of us. With the possibility of man becoming GOD one day, it has obviated my belief in 'one GOD for all'.
"So my allegiance shifted from Dvaita(dualistic) to the Advaita(non dualistic) shcheme of things, where there is no radical difference between man and god as man is god's low frequency existence,capable of reaching godhood by various means(bhakti,gyan,karma,meditation,etc).
"All this was fine till i realized that this advaita concept of GOD is effectively atheism in the eyes of a monotheist.
"Nevermind, 'reailty is relative'-I said to myself and continued my journey inwards.("One should have the courage of following truth to wherever it takes").
"WIth my beleif in God shaken, I decided to test my second most prized belief-the concept of Atman through the Advaitic Lens...."


What are your thoughts on Hindu gods? Who is your favourite god (the One you worship?) Or are you losing your religion, as the old REM song went?
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