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Śītalā


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A name for both ‘smallpox’ and its goddess, perhaps derived from the shivering fits of the victims. A pan-Indian village deity (grāma-devatā) with many localized forms, such as Māriyammaṉ and Jyeṣṭhā, Śītalā is thought to control the disease by possessing the afflicted; at the same time she protects those who believe in her and propitiate her from infection. In some instances she is treated as a form of Devī and worshipped accordingly. Unmarried, powerful, and fierce, she demands blood, or other impure sacrifices. Personified, Śītalā is depicted as a scarlet, naked woman sitting on an ass, holding a broom, or winnowing fan, and a pot. Since the eradication of smallpox in the 1970s, she has been worshipped by many as an AIDS goddess.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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