If you’re an Indian, then you would know the hassles and illness that comes with chicken pox. It is generally believed that every person gets chicken pox at least once in their lifetime and there are many myths attached to this now nearly extinct disease.
Chicken pox is also called Sheetla Mata in India. According to legend, the term “measles” means gift from goddess. It also says that good health follows after measles. In India, since the ancient times, diseases have been associated with divine powers. It is believed that they come as a result of divine anger, punishment, retribution etc.
According to a legend, Sheetla Mataji is the Hindu pox goddess who is feared and worshiped in the Indian sub continent. Sheetla Mataji loves cool things and coldness, hence her name is a derivation from the word “sheetal” which means cool. Hence, when one falls sick with pox or measles, he/she is made to eat cold food or the food prepared a day ago.
Sheetla Mataji supposedly has a furious personality. She rides on a donkey wearing a red saree and a garland made of neem leaves and carries a silver broom in one hand and a pot of water in the other. Since, she isn’t famous like other Gods, she is believed to visit everybody once in their lives. Although, there is no medical backing but it is widely believed that once you have pox, you may not have them again.
When encountered with this disease, apart from medicines, people also keep neem leaves near the patient for its anti-bacterial properties. Also, when the person recovers, he/she is supposed to visit the Mataji’s temple and offer prayers and thank her for making him fit once again.
If one is to interpret the character sketch of Sheetla Mataji, you will be shocked to find out how knowledgeable ancient Indian doctors were. In India, myths and traditions have been weaved with hygiene and medical sciences so that people follow them. The silver broom in Her hand symbolizes cleanliness, the pot of water represents cooling effect, neem garland is for its medicinal properties and the donkey is a symbol of stubbornness and determination.
Isn’t it amazing how our culture has written about everything in a story and mythical form?