Season 1, CHATROOM 9

Disease Goddesses and Scapegoats

In India, a rich tradition of Disease Goddesses assigned a female deity to each illness. From Hariti and Shitala for smallpox to Ola bibi and Ola devi for cholera — and Corona devi for our current pandemic — the goddess was believed both to cause the disease and to protect those who prayed to her. Sometimes the rituals went beyond prayers and pujas to a practice called scapegoating — symbolically capturing the disease in an object, animal or person and removing them to another location. David Arnold, professor emeritus at the University of Warwick in the U.K., has been studying the history of disease and medicine in South Asia for many years, and explains the phenomenon of the Disease Goddess.

Time Markers (mins:sec)

0:19  coronavirus devotional music video
1:01  coronavirus puja
1:38  David Arnold intro
2:32  disease in India
3:42  smallpox treatment
4:40  invoking Goddess Shitala
5:20  worship of the goddess
5:47  goddess of cholera
6:15  Goddesses Mariamman and Hariti
6:36  power of Shakti
7:13  women as carers during flu pandemic
8:03  scapegoating
9:24  options when faced with disease

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Reading List

Arnold, David. The Tropics and the Traveling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856. University of Washington Press, 2006.

Arnold, David. Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India (The New Cambridge History of India). Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Arnold, David. Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India. University of California Press, 1993.



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