While returning from my morning stroll, I saw a group of women huddled together at an intersection of a road. I tarried to know what was happening there. I was told they were performing pooja to propitiate the small pox goddess Sitala Mata. I asked them if they knew why Sitala Devi, in her human manifestation, was shown as riding a donkey with a broom in one hand, and a clean-water filled pot in another. They looked askance at me as they did not know.
The manifested form of this goddess is emblematic of creating awareness among the common populace about the clean and pollution-free environment, preservation of water and love for fauna.
In India, from time immemorial, the people have followed a tradition of worshipping goddess Sitala Devi. The worship of the goddess starts soon after the Holi on “Krishna Ashtami” (March-April), and continues for almost four months. That is why it is also called “Sitala-ashtami.” Goddess Sitala is known to be the goddess of small pox. Worshipping the goddess is believed to provide protection against small pox.
Since small pox and other contagion diseases, by and large, break out during the spring and summer months, the Vedic Rishis propounded the worship of goddess Sitala during these months. The very concept of the festivals is not merely spiritual outlook. The basic aim is to purify our mind and bodies of all dross, and clean the environment of all pollution.
Sitala Mata. has a broom in one hand and a pure-water filled pot in the other, and is shown riding a donkey. The “marjani”, that is broom, is a symbol of cleanliness, of sanitation. Through this manifestation, the goddess exhorts the common people to keep their surroundings clean of all filth and garbage.
The water-filled pot in the other hand suggests pure wholesome drinking water. The pot as container indicates the preservation of water. The implied message is that we should keep our rivers and water bodies free of any contamination. And by riding donkey, the most neglected and spurned animal, she propounds love for and protection of all animals.