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Shahsti Devi

SHASHTI Devi   Maternity wards and gynecologists are a recent invention. In the olden days it was always the village grandmothers who doubled up as maternity wisdom seers, healers and midwives. They represented part of the cycle of life. They were deemed ‘agents’ of Goddess of Married Woman, Fertility and Childbirth. Just as grandmothers were everywhere so were the Goddesses of Married Women!

The Hindu Goddess of Married Woman is Goddess Shahsti or Sasti. Although a minor deity predominantly worshiped in Bengal, Shashti is a manifestation of the Great Mother Goddess representing pregnancy and childbirth. She represents the fertility of both people and the land upon which they lived.

DEPICTION: She is depicted holding a sword and shield in her lower hands while the upper holds kalasas. Her vahana is a black cat. She is shown seated on a large lotus. In her golden look, has a child seated on her lap symbolizing her powers to protect new born from evil powers and disease. She wears a prominent crown that associates her with Mother Goddess.

PUJA: Goddess Shahsti is associated with Skanda, God of War. Indeed she is also known as Skandamata and as an extension of Mother Durga. Although having rural origins or a folk-goddess, Sasti is worshipped on the sixth – shashti day following a child’s birth. This is when the father pays respects followed by the mother on the 21st day. On this day, partial fast is observed. Pujas are conducted to a figureless deity planted under a Kadamba tree. Usually this is a stone in the size of a human head decorated with flowers. Traditional offering is that of a hand-fan. Food offerings are fruits only. A black cat is also revered on that day. Otherwise it is symbolized in the deity stone. Women who have lost their children, those suffering miscarriage, quick with child and sickly children pray to Goddess Shahsti.

BRAHMA VAIVARTA PURANA: This is one of the major eighteen Puranas. It describes the creation of the universe – Brahma Khanda, Prakriti Khanda - description and histories of goddesses, Ganesha Khanda - life and deeds of Lord Ganesha and the final part to Lord Krishna. This Purana was written in Bengal and recited by the sage Suta in the Naimisharanya forests. In Krsna Janma Khanda, the final part, it declares Krishna to be the supreme God. It also develops the life of Radha-Krishna, thus deviating from the Bhagavata Purana. In Prakriti Khanda, Goddess Shahshti is depicted as the sixth aspect of Parama Prakriti – universal female energy.

MYTHOLOGY: Apparently a prosperous farmer had married all his seven sons to pretty girls. The youngest daughter in law was a greedy person. She steals food and blames it on a black cat. It was Puranic times and animal had anthropomorphic attributes. This cat takes revenge by hiding this woman’s new born babies and places them in a Shahsti temple. She finally prays to Shahsti. As repentance, she was asked to make an image of a cat to be worshipped along with Goddess Shahsti.