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Encyclopedia > Sitala

Sitala, Sītala Devi or Māri is the Goddess of Smallpox or the Goddess of Disease in popular or non-Vedic Hinduism. She is also generically referred to as the Village Goddess (Skt. Gramadevata). Smallpox (also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera) is a highly contagious disease unique to humans. ... Hinduism (known as in some modern Indian languages[1]) is a religion that originated in the Indian subcontinent. ...

The worship of this Goddess is very extended among the lower castes in India. The name Sītala (Skt. "the cold one") is used in Northern India, while the same goddess is known as Māri (probably from the Tamil word meaning "rain") in the Dravidian areas of the Southern Subcontinent. Dravidian may refer to: Dravidian languages, including the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada languages spoken especially in southern India and Sri Lanka. ...

Although she is commonly referred to as the Goddess of Smallpox, this generic goddess is actually related to other epidemic diseases as well, like cholera. Her protection is invoked when a village is attacked by any epidemic. Cholera (frequently called Asiatic cholera or epidemic cholera) is a severe diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. ... In epidemiology, an epidemic (from [[Latin language] epi- upon + demos people) is a disease that appears as new cases in a given human population, during a given period, at a rate that substantially exceeds what is expected, based on recent experience (the number of new cases in the population during...

Village Goddesses are local. They are always connected with a specific locality or place. Therefore their name is always preceded by the name of their location, like for example: Karumari Amman (Tamil Nadu) or Attukal Amma (Kerala).

Villagers in South India ususally erect humble little shrines to this Goddess. During worship she is referred to as "Amma" or mother. Certain trees, like the Neem, the Bo tree, the Palmyra palm, the Ashoka tree and the Papaya are related to this deity, therefore some of the Village Goddess' shrines are under a certain tree. Binomial name Azadirachta indica A.Juss. ... Binomial name Ficus religiosa Linnaeus The Bodhi or Bo or Peepul tree (Ficus religiosa), is a species of fig (Family Moraceae) and a sacred tree for Buddhists. ... Species See text. ... Binomial name Saraca asoca (Roxb. ... Binomial name Carica papaya L. The papaya (from Carib via Spanish), is the fruit of the tree Carica papaya, in the genus Carica. ...

Most caste Hindus and members of modern Hindu politico-religious movements claim that all these village goddesses are but a version of goddess Kali, incorporating thus these non-Vedic deities into the mainstream Hindu pantheon. However, this view is challenged by certain militant Dalit intellectuals, like Kancha Ilaiah, who claim that village-deity worship in India is a separate religion. This article is about the Hindu goddess Kali. ... In the Indian caste system, a Dalit, often called an untouchable,or an outcaste, is a person who does not have any varnas. ...


Blood Sacrifices

There are a number of festivals connected with the village goddesses, but they lack the regularity and steadfastness of Vedic rituals. Traditionally villagers were prompted to worship the Goddess when in trouble, but modern-day goddess shrines have increasingly introduced scheduled regular festivals.

In case of epidemics, villagers try to propitiate this goddess by means of blood sacrifices, usually sacrificing a cock or a goat at her shrine. The often deadly disease is interpreted by villagers as having incurred the wrath of their divine Mother because of having neglected her.


Unlike the Vedic goddesses, there is not much in the way of established iconography for the Indic village goddesses. They are usually portrayed wearing a red dress, red being the colour of the goddess. The iconography of the village goddesses is mostly derived from the stories related to them. Vedic may refer to: Ancient India the Vedic civilization the Vedas, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan texts Vedic Sanskrit, their language (see also Vedic meter, Vedic accent, Vedic chant and Shrauta) the historical Vedic religion traditional Hindu culture: Vedic astrology the Ayurveda (Vedic medicine) Ancient Vedic weights and measures modern...

Sitala Devi, the Northern version of the village Goddess is usually portrayed as a woman sitting on a donkey holding a broom in one hand and a winnowing fan in the other. She might be naked or wearing a red dress.

Māri is portrayed in the sitting or standing position mostly holding a trident (trisula) in one hand and a bowl (kapala) in the other. She might have more than two arms and might be represented in two optional ways, one displaying her pleasant nature, and the other her terrifying aspect, with fangs and a wild mane of hair.

See Also

This article is about the Hindu goddess Kali. ... Isakki or Isakkai is a non-Vedic goddess of South India. ...


  • David Kinsley; Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition
  • Kancha Ilaiah; Why I am not a Hindu.
  • Theodore Elmore; Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism
  • H. Whitehead; The Village Gods of South India



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