Janet Chawla

Janet Chawla gratefully acknowledges her partners in the Jeeva Project (Mira Sadgopal, Lindsay Barnes, Imrana Qadir and Leila Caleb-Varkey) as well as Jan Chetna Manch and the support from Inseime, an Italian filmmakers group, for providing the opportunity to collect and share this information. For more information about the Jeeva Project please send e-mail to [email protected].

Shasti Ma

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 94, Summer 2010. Subscribe to Midwifery Today Magazine When we were interviewing dais (traditional Indian midwives) about their experiences at births, their techniques, skills and rituals, everyone we interviewed, including one Muslim dai, mentioned Shasti Ma, the goddess of childbirth. The dais talked about how they remembered or invoked her at the time of birth and the postpartum rituals. I was working on the Jeeva Project in an area called Jharkhand, one of the poorest and most medically underserved parts of India. But this is precisely where dais continue to meet the needs, as best they can, of birthing women—and where younger women continue to learn traditional birth work from the elders in their community. During one interview, a village woman named Himani Nandi, who was listening to this conversation about birth, told a story about Shasti Ma, which described her link to the more familiar Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, and explained the custom of eating bhassi khanna (or day-old food) on the day after Saraswati Puja. This is not a renowned story, which you would find in fancy books on goddesses and Indian religion, but that’s the beauty of India—each region, each area, has its own mythic narratives. This is what Himani Nandi told us: There was one old man. He had 60 sons and that’s why he was known as Sattha (which stands for the number 60 in Hindi). One night he had a dream; and in his dream an old lady asked him to look for brides for his sons and he would find them. The condition is that they should be married into a family that has 60 daughters. He asked the old lady where he would find such a family. The old… Read more…. Shasti Ma

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