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Tales of Shitala Satam: Celebrating the Goddess of Health and Protection

Shitala Satam, also known as Sheetala Saptami, is a significant Hindu festival celebrated in various parts of India. This festival is dedicated to Goddess Shitala, the deity associated with health, protection, and the prevention of diseases. It falls on the seventh day of the bright half of the Hindu month of Bhadrapada, which usually occurs in August or September. This blog post delves into the origins, rituals, and significance of Shitala Satam, shedding light on the rich cultural and spiritual aspects of this festive occasion. The Story of Shitala Mata: The origins of Shitala Mata can be traced back to Hindu mythology. Legend has it that Goddess Shitala emerged from the cosmic ocean during the churning of the milk ocean (Samudra Manthan). She is often depicted as a graceful deity, riding a donkey and carrying a broom, winnowing fan, neem and a pot of cooling water. Her distinctive appearance symbolizes her role as the protector against various diseases, particularly those caused by unsanitary conditions. Celebration and Rituals: Shitala Satam is primarily celebrated by women, especially mothers, who seek the blessings of the goddess for the well-being and health of their families. The festival involves a variety of rituals and customs: 1. Cleaning and Purification: Prior to the festival, households are thoroughly cleaned to create a sense of purity and sanctity. This practice aligns with the goddess's role in warding off diseases and promoting cleanliness. 2. Devotional Offerings: Devotees prepare special offerings for Shitala Mata, including but not limited to dhebra, mal pua, kheer, rice, lentils, fruits, and sweets. These offerings are placed before the deity's image or idol, often depicted as a red stone or clay representation. 3. Cooling Water Ritual: One of the central rituals of Shitala Satam involves offering cool, clean water to the goddess. Devotees believe that this water carries the power to prevent illnesses and purify the body and mind. It is believed that the night after Randhan Chhath, Shitala Mata visits every home to shower her blessings! She especially visits the kitchen and stove so devotees do a Pooja of the stove and ensure it is cool and safe for Shitala Mata to visit. 4. Vrat (Fasting): Many individuals observe a fast on Shitala Satam. The fasting can range from a simple diet of cold food like fruits and milk to a complete abstention from food and water. 5. Blessing of Children: Mothers visit the temple or shrine of Shitala Mata along with their children to seek her blessings for the well-being of their offspring. This ritual underscores the goddess's maternal aspect and her role in protecting children from diseases. Story About Sitala Satam (Sheetala Saptami) translated from Gujarati book “Sitada Satam Vrat Katha”

A lady lived in a house with her two daughters-in-law. Each of them had a son. The younger daughter-in-law was gentle, kind, and pure-hearted. On the evening of Randhan Chhath, a festive occasion, the youngest daughter-in-law began preparing a meal for the family. While her son was peacefully sleeping in his crib, he suddenly woke up crying. She hadn't finished cooking yet and went to soothe her child.

Because it was late at night and she was tired, she unintentionally fell asleep. Regrettably, she forgot to extinguish the fire in the stove. According to tradition, on Randhan Chhath, the goddess Shitala Ma visits households, blessing the women and their stoves. That evening, when Shitala Ma came to the house, she was furious to find the embers still burning. As the goddess of coolness, she was harmed by the lingering embers. Infuriated, she cursed the young daughter-in-law, saying that just as she was burned, her sons would also face a similar fate. The next morning, the daughter-in-law awoke to a tragic sight – her son had been fatally burnt.

Upon hearing the youngest daughter-in-law's cries, the mother-in-law and the eldest daughter-in-law rushed to her side and discovered the lifeless baby. The mother-in-law explained that the tragedy was a result of not putting out the embers and the curse of Shitala Ma. She advised the daughter-in-law to take her child and seek Shitala Ma's forgiveness and blessings to save him. With her baby in a basket, she set out to find the goddess.

During her journey, the daughter-in-law encountered two lakes. Feeling thirsty, she was about to drink from them, but voices from the lakes warned her not to, as the water was cursed and deadly. The lakes inquired about her destination and her sorrow. She explained her quest to find Shitala Ma and seek help for her son. The lakes asked her to inquire why their water was poisoned and to ask for the goddess's aid.

Continuing on her path, she came across two bulls wearing heavy collars with grinding stones attached, engaged in constant conflict. Curious about her distress, they asked about her journey. Sharing her story through tears, she told them about her mission to save her son through Shitala Ma's intervention. The bulls implored her to inquire why they were trapped in endless strife. They believed their suffering was a consequence of past misdeeds and requested her to ask Shitala Ma to help release them from their burden.

Further along, she encountered an unkempt, elderly woman scratching her head under a tree. The woman asked for help in relieving her irritation, to which the daughter-in-law kindly agreed. Removing nits from the woman's hair, she brought comfort to the old lady. In gratitude, the woman blessed the daughter-in-law and hoped for her wishes to come true.

Suddenly, a flash of lightning blinded the daughter-in-law, and when her vision returned, she saw Shitala Ma holding her living, laughing baby boy. Filled with remorse, the daughter-in-law apologized to Shitala Ma and received her blessings. Shitala Ma handed the child back to her with a smile.

The daughter-in-law then conveyed the troubles of the two lakes to Shitala Ma. The goddess explained that their suffering was due to their deceitful actions in their past lives. She instructed the daughter-in-law to sprinkle water from the lakes in four directions while invoking Shitala Ma's name and then drink a little water herself. This act would cleanse the lakes and free them from their curse.

Regarding the bickering bulls, Shitala Ma revealed that their constant quarreling was rooted in their selfish behavior in a previous life. She advised the daughter-in-law to remove the grinding stones from their necks, which would put an end to their strife.

With her baby once again safe in the basket, the daughter-in-law returned home. She liberated the bulls from their heavy collars, restoring their peace. She followed Shitala Ma's instructions with the lakes, purifying their water and making it safe for all living beings.

Back home, she placed her joyful child in her mother-in-law's arms, bringing happiness to the family. However, the eldest daughter-in-law, consumed by jealousy, desired the same attention and praise. The following year, she deliberately left the embers burning on the stove on Randhan Chhath, hoping to receive Shitala Ma's blessings and gain favor. Mirroring the events of the previous year, tragedy struck her as well, leading to an unhappy life.

In contrast, the youngest daughter-in-law, guided by Shitala Ma's blessings and her own kind nature, lived a content and fulfilling life.

In conclusion, Shitala Satam is a festival that holds deep cultural, spiritual, and social significance. It honors Goddess Shitala's role in safeguarding health and wellbeing, while also emphasizing the importance of cleanliness and maternal protection. As devotees come together to celebrate this occasion, they reaffirm their faith in the divine power that guides and nurtures them. Through rituals, prayers, and offerings, Shitala Satam reminds us of the inseparable link between physical and spiritual well-being.

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