As a child I have always been just as inquisitive as my boys are now. One thing I am so passionate about with my journey with The Jai Jais is the stories from thousands of years ago being kept alive to our next generation. These ancient tales from generations back have so much symbolism and teachings, which I love to share the morals and tales with my boys. They love listening to them and sometimes ask more questions which I do not always have the answers too!
One of the tales I never knew about growing up as a child is the story of Shitala Ma. So who is Shitala Ma? Shitala’s name means “the cooling one”. Shitala Mata is mentioned in many scriptures, especially in Skanda Purana as the goddess of smallpox. She is an incarnation of Goddess Parvati. She is both the cause of the disease and the cure. When Shitala Devi first arose from a sacrificial fire, Lord Brahma told her that humans would always worship her, as long as she carried the seeds of a particular lentil called urad daal. Along with her companion, Jvarasura, the demon of fever created from the sweat of god Shiva, she travelled to visit other gods.
Along the way, her lentils turned into smallpox germs, and anyone whom they visited came down with a fever and smallpox. The gods asked Shitala Mata for mercy, and requested her to take her load of germs and go to Earth. She agreed and together with Jvarasura went down to Earth. Their first stop was at the court of King Birat, who was a devotee of lord Shiva. King Birat agreed to worship Shitala and give her a place in his kingdom, but would not give her supremacy over Shiva, so she threatened to infect his people. He was not swayed, and Shitala Devi released 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 Mata healed him and his people.
Here is the tale told to me by my mother when I was growing up, she read it to me in Gujarati and we translated it for you to share with your children.
A woman lived in a house together with her two daughter-in-laws. Each were blessed with a son. The youngest daughter-in-law was very simple, kind and innocent. In the evening of Randhan Chhath the youngest daughter-in-law started to prepare food for the family. Her son was sleeping soundly in the cot and woke up crying. She had not finished cooking and went to feed her son. She fell asleep as it was late at night and she was tired. She forgot to put the embers out on the stove. Traditionally on Randhan Chhath Shitala Ma visits everyone’s home and goes to the stoves to give blessings to the women. That evening when Shitala Ma visited the home of the women, she became very angry to see the embers on the stove, as she is the “cooling” goddess, she got badly burnt by the embers that were not put out by the youngest daughter-in-law. Shitala Ma became angry, and cursed the daughter-in-law, saying as my body is burnt so will your sons. In the morning when the daughter-in-law woke, she found her son he was burnt to death.
The mother-in-law and her eldest daughter-in-law came running once they heard the youngest daughter-in-law screaming and crying, and saw the dead baby. The mother-in-law said you forgot to put the embers out at night and now you have been cursed by Shitala Ma. Her mother-in-law suggested that she take the baby and go and look for Shitala Ma immediately, and apologise, and ask for her blessing to help her son. She took her baby in a basket to find the goddess.
On her journey the daughter-in-law saw two lakes, she was very thirsty. When she went to drink the water, voices came from the lake. The voices told her not to drink the water as it had been cursed, any animal, bird or person that drunk the water will die. It was poisoned. The lakes asked the daughter-in-law where are you going? And why are you crying? The daughter-in-law told the lakes that she was going to find Shitala Ma to apologise and ask her to save son. The lakes requested her to ask Shitala Ma why the water of these lakes is poisoned, and asked for Shitala Ma’s help.
The daughter-in-law continued walking and saw two bulls they wore very heavy collars with flour grinding stones (ghanti) attached to their neck and they were fighting all the time. They asked her where are you going? As she looked so sad and was still crying. She told them her story of her search for Shitala Ma to save her son. The bulls asked her to ask Shitala Ma why are we fighting all the time. They told her they may have done something wrong in their previous life, as the flour grinding stones were painful and very very heavy. They asked her to tell Shitala Ma to help solve their problem.
As she continued her journey the daughter-in-law found an old lady; whose clothes were dirty sitting under a tree. Her hair was messy and she was scratching her head. The lady asked the daughter-in-law to come and look in her hair. The daughter-in-law put the basket with the baby inside on the floor. The lady told the daughter-in-law that it was really bothering her the itching, and she was feeling restless as it was so irritating. The daughter-in-law had a big heart and was very caring. She then started looking at the old ladies’ head. She removed lots of nits. The lady was so thankful and relived. She blessed the daughter-in-law and hoped her wishes came true. Suddenly there was a flash of lightening and the daughter-in-law was blinded by the light. She then saw Shitala Ma standing holding her laughing smiling baby boy alive in her lap. The daughter-in-law apologised to Shitala Ma for her mistake and Shitala Ma blessed her. Shitala Ma raised her hand and blessed the daughter-in-law and gave the smiling child back into her arms.
Then daughter-in-law then told Shitala Ma about the two lakes. They have asked to me for your help to solve their problem. Shitala Ma told the daughter-in-law in their previous lives they were both very cunning women, and when people asked for a butter milk drink they would dilute with water, they did other mean things. They are suffering for their misdeeds. She told the daughter-in-law to take the water from the lakes and sprinkle it in four directions saying Shitala Ma’s name, and then drink a little water. They will be freed or their sins, after this the lake will be safe for animals, birds and people to drink.
The daughter-in-law then asked about the two balls why did they continue to fight and had to be worn down by these heavy grinding stones. Shitala Ma said in their past life they were two sister-in-laws if people came for their help they would be mean and unhelpful. So, in this present life they had the burden of the heavy stones and kept quarrelling. Shitala Ma told the daughter-in-law to go to the bulls remove the grinding stones and then they will live happily. Shitala Ma then vanished in thin air.
On her journey back home with her laughing smiling son in the basket. The daughter-in-law then went to the bulls. She put the baby down and removed the heavy stones from the bulls neck. The bulls bowed as they were very grateful, they stopped arguing and were at peaceful without the weight of the grinding stones.
She then continued her journey back to the two lakes, she followed Shitala Ma’s instructions and sprinkled water in four directions and drunk a little. She was not harmed by the water and life return to the lakes, animal and birds enjoyed the pure water, and people began to use it.
The daughter-in-law then went home and put the smiling, laughing baby in her mother-in-law’s lap. They were all so happy. The eldest daughter-in-law became very jealous and did not like the praise and attention the youngest daughter-in-law was receiving.
The next year the eldest daughter-in-law was still extremely jealous and wanted to meet Shitala Ma and receive her blessings, as well as praise and attention from her mother-in-law. She started to cook on Randhan Chhath and purposely left the embers burning on the stove and went to play with her child and then fell asleep.
As the year before Shitala Ma had come and was annoyed by the hot embers as she got burnt. She cursed the eldest daughter-in-law whose son was burnt to death. The next morning the eldest daughter-in-law woke screaming and was shocked to see her son dead. Her mother-in-law advised her that she must go and find Shitala Ma and receive her blessings and apologise, as she had been cursed by Shitala Ma for leaving the embers burning on the stove.
On her journey the eldest daughter-in-law took her baby in the basket. She came across the two lakes, she was thirsty. The voice from the lakes told the lady not to drink the water as it was poisoned, and she would die. They asked the lady why are you crying and where are you going? She responded very rudely she was going to see Shitala Ma to remove a curse, and told them its none of their business where she is going and what she is doing. They asked for her help to ask Shitala Ma to remove the poison. The eldest daughter-in-law dismissed this request saying I am going to sort my own problems not yours. She was very rude and continued her journey.
The eldest daughter-in-law then saw two bulls arguing. The bulls were worn down by heavy flour grinding stones, the eldest daughter-in-law looked at them. They summoned her and asked her why she was crying and for her help. The eldest daughter-in-law responded rudely I have no time I have my own issues to solve and continued her journey.
The eldest daughter-in-law continued her journey, and saw a dirty lady with messy hair scratching her head under a tree. The lady called the eldest daughter-in-law and asked her for her help to check her head, why it was itching so much. The eldest daughter-in-law responded angrily you look yourself I am not like you. She then carried the baby in the basket and continued her journey to search for Shitala Ma.
The eldest daughter-in-law could not find Shitala Ma, and then returned home, with her son still dead in the basket. They family preformed the cremation ceremony. The eldest daughter-in-law lived a very unhappy and unfulfilled life, but the youngest daughter-in-law with the blessing of Shitala Ma and her kind heart lived a fruitful and happy life.
The moral of the story is: Always try and help others in need and be kind.
JAI SHITALA MA
Tale told in Gujarati by Neela Mistry (my amazing mum), and translated retold by Sunita Shah
Shitala Devi rides on a donkey, and she has four arms. In her hands she carries a silver broom, a fan, a small bowl, and a pot of water. She uses these items to rid a house of disease–she sweeps up the germs with her broom, uses the fan to collect them, and dumps them into the bowl. She then sprinkles water from the pot (which is water from the river Ganges) to purify the house. Shitala’s name means “the cooling one”. With the change of seasons and coming of the hot period, it is essential to emphasize the importance of hygiene for human health and the worship of Shitala Mata provides the motivation to keep the surroundings clean and hygienic.