Shitala is an ancient folk deity widely worshipped by many faiths in North India, West Bengal, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan as the pox-goddess. She is the Goddess of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases.
One story says Goddess Durga has incarnated as little Katyayani, the daughter of sage Katyayan to destroy all arrogant evil demonic forces of the world, in her real form as Durga, she killed many demons that were sent by Kaalkeya.
A demon named Jwarasur, the demon of fever, started spreading incurable diseases to Katyayani's childhood friends, such as cholera, dysentery, measles, smallpox etc. Katyayani cured the diseases of some of her friends. To relieve the world from all fevers and diseases, Katyayani assumed the form of Shitala Devi. Each of her four hands held a short broom, winnowing fan, jar of cooling water and a drinking cup. With her power, she cured all the children's diseases. Katyayani then requests her friend, Batuk to go out and confront the demon Jwarasur.
A battle ensued between the young Batuk and demon Jwarasur. Jwarasur succeeds in defeating Batuk. Then, Batuk, lying dead, magically faded into dust. Jwarasur was shocked that Batuk disappeared and wondered where he went. Then, what he doesn't know that Batuk has assumed the form of an awful male figure. This person was three-eyed and had four arms. He held a battle-axe, sword, trident and demon head. He was pitch-black in color. His hair was flowing. Eyes blazed with fury. This figure wore a tiger-skin and a garland of skulls. Batuk assumed the form of Lord Shiva's ferocious form, the terrible Bhairav. Bhairav reprimands Jwarasur and tells him that he is the servant of Goddess Durga (Katyayani). A long discussion ensued but then converted into battle. Jwarasur created many demons from his powers but Bhairav managed to destroy all of them. Finally, Bhairav wrestled with Jwarasur and killed him with his trident.
How to Celebrate
The auspicious day of Sheetalashtami, or Sheetala Ashtami, is dedicated to Goddess Sheetla in the month of Chaitra (March – April) as per the traditional Hindu calendar followed in North India. Devotees keep fast on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (waning phase of moon) in Chaitra month to cure from measles, chicken pox and small pox.
Devotees prepare food on the day before Sheetla Asthami and visit the to perform the puja of the goddess on the festival along with the food. People gorge on this food which is called Baseda in local lingo as a prasad of Sheetla mata. Some consider Bajra, Rabri and curd as an essential offering on this ocassion.