Sheetala, the smallpox goddess, is simultaneously benevolent and dangerous: she can both protect and infect, bless and curse devotees with smallpox and other diseases. Persons scarred by smallpox are believed to have been graced by her. She is appeased so that she does not infect her worshippers. Her name, Sheetala, “Cool One,” refers to her birth out of a cooled sacrificial fire. The rippled curtains above her are suggestive of theatrical tableau and Sheetalapala (The Drama of Sheetala) that was performed in Bengal. She sits astride her vehicle (vahana), the donkey, regarded as an inauspicious animal.
Sheetaladevi: The Smallpox Goddess (recto), from a Kalighat album
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