Hindu deities drafted as ‘celestial epidemiologists’ in war against COVID-19

COVID-19 has “increased the goddesses’ workload,” as deities are being repurposed from other causes by Hindus to help fight the virus, reports The Conversation (June 15, 2020). Anthropologist Tulasi Srinivas writes that there have historically been several goddesses that have been delayed during many deadly pandemics in India from ancient to modern times. Collectively known as “Amman,” or the Divine Mother, the goddesses of contagion, Srinivas finds in her research that “small shrines all over India dedicated to these goddesses of contagion, often in rural, forested areas outside village and town limits…The goddesses act as “celestial epidemiologists” curing illness. But if angered they can also inflict disease such as poxes, plagues, sores, fevers, tuberculosis and malaria. They are both poison and cure.”

With the greater use of traditional medicine in India over the decades, contagion goddesses were waning in influence, but COVID-19 has revived a handful of them, as they have “developed rich post-pox lives, reinventing themselves for modern afflictions.” With the shutdown of temples and other sites of public rituals, many of the healing rites have become home bound. Priests offer special home decorations, “including garlands of acidic lemons believed to placate the goddesses,” and they have also been portrayed in posters by Indian artists on Facebook. On such artwork features a hygienically masked Mother India attacking the coronavirus with a trident. “The goddesses’ many gloved hands grasp sanitizer, masks, vaccination needles and other medical equipment.” Meanwhile, a new deity called “Corona Devi” has been installed in a temple dedicated to the pox goddess. The priest plans to offer worship for “Corona Warriors” – health care workers, firefighters, and other frontline personnel. Srinivas concludes, “Here science and faith are not seen as inimical to one another, but as working together, hand-in-glove.”

(The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/indias-goddesses-of-contagion-provide-protection-in-the-pandemic-just-dont-make-them-angry-139745?)