Shitala is the GODDESS of smallpox. Her name in Sanskrit means “cold” and refers to chill that accompanies the fever of smallpox. Though smallpox has been eradicated, Shitala is still wor-shipped in India to prevent or allay any serious disease.
   Shitala is understood both to cause disease and to cure it. Sometimes her worshippers paint marks on their faces to mimic the pox. In a way that is not completely clear, the disease itself is seen as grace of the goddess—and her grace removes the disease as well.
   Shitala is worshipped all over northern India. In South India the same goddess is called MARI-YAMMAN. Shitala’s shrines are mainly found in the countryside. Her iconography is a golden-com-plexioned female sitting on a lotus or riding on an ass. She is dressed in red clothes. When Shitala is worshipped, presents are made to her to gain her favor. If a person is cured, a larger gift is given. Her flower offerings are sometimes put in the hair of children after worship, to protect them against disease. A seriously ill individual might be placed directly in front of the image of Shitala to aid in the cure.
   Further reading: Ruth S. Freed and Stanley A. Freed, The Two Mother Goddess Ceremonies of Delhi State in the Great and Little Traditions (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1962); Donald S. Lopez Jr., ed., Religions of India in Practice (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); Subrata Kumar Mukhopad-hyay, Cult of Goddess Sitala in Bengal: An Enquiry into Folk Culture (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1994).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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