By Swami Harshananda
Origin of Śītalā Goddess
Almost every village has a folk-goddess, generally at the entrance to it. This goddess will be a protectress if appeased and a scourge if displeased. One such goddess commonly worshiped in the country is Śītalā. who is common in North India, especially in Bengal. She is the deity of smallpox. She is generally worshiped in a crude stone with a painted human face. She can cure smallpox if pleased or bring it on if displeased.
Tāntrik works describe her as black-complexioned, two-armed and riding on a donkey naked. She wears a winnowing basket on her head and holds a broom and a pot of water in her two hands. A variant form of hers is described as red-complexioned, three-eyed and four armed. In these four arms, she carries a skull-cup, hand-drum, spear and sword. Her hair resembles a blazing fire and she is seated on a lotus.
In South India, she is worshiped as Māriyamma. Other forms are Ā-i of Assam and Thākurānī in Orissa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore