Sunday, April 11, 2010


Oladevi or Olabibi is the goddess of cholera and the wife of the Asura Maya and is worshipped by people in the region of Bengal (consisting of the country Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal). The Goddess is also known as Olaichandi, Olabibi and Bibima. Oladevi is an important part of folk tradition in Bengal, and is honoured by communities of different religions and cultures.
Oladevi is believed to be the wife of Mayasura, the legendary king and architect of Asuras, Danavas , Rakshasas and Daityas in Hindu mythology.Devotees consider her to be the guardian deity against the cholera disease, protecting those who worship her against the disease, which plagued communities across Bengal. Indeed, the Bengali term for cholera is ola-otha or ola-utha, a reference to the name Ola (one meaning of the word otha in Bengali is appearance).
To Hindus, Oladevi resembles the Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati, portrayed as a lady with deep yellow skin wearing a blue sari and adorned with ornaments. She is portrayed with extended arms and seated with a child in her lap. The Muslims of Bengal call her Olabibi or Bibima from Olabibi Gan (Song of Olabibi), which recounts the story of the child of a virgin Muslim princess that disappeared mystically and reappeared as the Goddess, curing the sons of the minister of the kingdom and the badshah, the father of her mother. She is portrayed wearing a cap, scarf and ornaments. On her feet she wore nagra shoes and sometimes also socks. In one hand she held a magical staff that destroyed the ailments of her devotees.
Oladevi was worshipped alone or in association with six other deities: Jholabibi, Ajgaibibi, Chandbibi, Bahadabibi, Jhetunebibi and Asanbibi. It is believed by some people that these seven deities are transmogrifications of Vedic deities, namely Brahmi, Maheshvari, Vaisnavi, Varahi, Indrani and others. Their collective worship is evidenced in prehistoric times by a terracotta relic found at Mohenjodaro, a major city of the Indus Valley Civilisation located in Sindh shows the image of seven women standing together.
Oladevi's puja would be performed under a tree among the huts. Among Hindus, her worship is conducted on Saturdays or Tuesdays with offerings of vegetarian food. Any one from any community, including women, could conduct this worship.
There were three forms of worship for Oladevi: Regular puja, vrata puja, and special pujas during cholera epidemics. Unlike the regular puja which was held on Saturdays and Tuesdays, a vrata puja could be held on any day, without much ceremony. In the event of a cholera epidemic, the villagers would collectively worship her under the leadership of the village head.
Common offerings to the deity include sweets, betel leaves and areca nuts, unboiled rice and cane sugar. Many Hindu priests invoke her by calling, Eso Ma Oladevi, Behul Radhir jhi (Come, Mother Oladevi, daughter of Behul Radhi).
Oladevi is an important figure in the folk traditions of Bengal and is considered by experts as a superimposition of the Hindu concept of the Mother Divine with the stern monotheistic Islamic deity, Allah. The worship of Oladevi as the Goddess of Cholera is believed to have emerged in the 19th century CE with the spreading of the disease in the Indian subcontinent. The importance of Oladevi extends across communal lines and caste barriers. However, the significance of her worship has diminished in modern times as outbreaks of cholera have been reduced considerably by advancements in medicine and sanitation.
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