It’s that time of the year when Gurugram celebrates the goddess who ‘heals’
We are in the Hindu month of Chaitra (March 21- April 19, 2019) when Gurugram observes an influx of lakhs of pilgrims who come to pay their homage to Goddess Sheetala Mata, also known as Mata Masani. An incarnation of Durga, Goddess Sheetla derived her name from ‘shital’ meaning ‘gentle/cool’ and is associated with curing heat eruptions borne from skin diseases such as measles, poxes, sores etc.
March 28 marked Sheetla Ashtami, a festival celebrated across India on the 8th day after Holi when cold home-made food offerings are made to the goddess to appease her and ensure relief and freedom from such diseases. In Gurugram, for centuries, Sheetla Mata ka Mela (fair) is held for the entire month of Chaitra at a most historic temple of the city— Sheetla Mata Mandir.
According to the legend recorded in the Gurgaon Gazetteer, while the goddess is said to have been born as Lalitha or Kriplai, wife of Guru Dronacharya, and worshipped since centuries, the present idol was relocated here from Keshopur village in Delhi in the 15th century when a local Jat, Chaudhari Singh Ram, bought it to Gurugram after the goddess appeared in his dream and gave such instructions. More archival evidence of relocating this idol is available in a land revenue settlement report of 1882.
The idol of the goddess— who carries a water pot in her left hand indicating recovery with cool water from river Ganga—is made of alloy and is gold-plated. But the building that houses the idol is fairly modest. The dominant stylistic entrance structure to the complex and temple building is said to be reconstructed by Jat ruler Jawahar Singh of Bharatpur in early 18th century as a tribute to the goddess, whose blessings he had sought before winning over Delhi and the Mughals in 1764.
The temple structure now clearly shows new additions and several renovations from current times. It is much larger than what it was, housing additional smaller temples of gods Bhairon, Shani and even a Sitaram temple, for mundan ritual and for newlyweds to seek blessings.
As one walks into the Sheetla Mata Temple complex today, it is easy to understand that though the temple structures may have been added to the complex at a later stage to cater to the increasing pilgrim demands, the existing matured trees in the complex retain their centuries old ambiance of the original ‘vana’ while the millions of chirping birds on the trees add to this experience.
It is believed that Sheetla Mata lives in the Neem tree as is evident from the old Neem tree that stands in the complex. The leaves of this tree are used in the treatment of a person who is suffering from smallpox. The patient is fanned with the leafy twigs of Neem and it is even recommended for the patient to sleep on Neem leaves. Furthermore, the leaves being antibacterial and antifungal are used in various ways to lessen and relieve this disease.
The Gazetteer relates another interesting incident that after installation of the idol in Gurugram in the 15th century, the residents of Keshopur continued to vie for the Goddess to be reinstated to her original place. This controversy was finally resolved during the time of Begum Samru, who ruled the Gurgaon region as the official Governor of Jharsa in the 18th century.
Begum Samru’s own child was taken to the temple when he contracted smallpox and was cured, which lead to acceptance by all locals that the goddess has accepted her place in Gurugram and is showering her blessings.
So, the tradition continues till date. Devotees pour in to pay their homage throughout the year, but the temple complex is most visited during the one-month festival in the month of Chaitra as per Hindu Calendar. They pray to the Goddess Sheetla Mata, tying redgold scarves for wish-fulfillment around the barks and branches of the age-old trees.
(Shikha Jain is state convenor, INTACH, Haryana Chapter, and member of the Heritage Committees under the ministries of culture and HRD. She is the co-editor of the book ‘Haryana: Cultural Heritage Guide’; director, DRONAH Development and Research Organisation)