Santosi Ma is one of the newest goddesses to be worshipped extensively within the Hindu religion. Santosi Ma gained the majority of her followers after the 1975 release of “Jai Santoshi Ma” which can be loosely translated into “Hail to the Mother of Satisfaction” (Lutgendorf 10). Although the worship of Santosi Ma is seen as widespread in India, the majority of her followers are women who reside primarily in the region of Northern India and Nepal.
The mythological background of Santosi Ma starts with her creation by her father, Ganesa, the powerful elephant god. Although hesitant at first, Ganesa creates a daughter at the request of his sons. As Santosi Ma grows older, she learns that she has a following of worshippers on earth. The story focuses on one worshipper in particular named Satyawati. Satyawati is the daughter of a Brahmin priest that falls in love with a poor man named Birju. Because Birju is from a lower caste, their relationship is frowned upon and not permitted. Satyawati prays to Santosi Ma and promises to continue to worship her and visit all of the goddess’s shrines if she is allowed to marry Birju (Vas 26). Although Birju is a peasant, a marriage is arranged between Satyawati and Birju and Satyawati begins her journey to fulfil the vows made to Santosi Ma. As Santosi Ma gains more followers, Visnu, Siva and Brahma come to earth in ascetic disguises and come forth to accept one of Satyawati’s offerings that she left for Santosi Ma. This action taken by the gods makes their wives Brahmani, Laksmi, and Parvati furious and the goddesses appear in one of Satyawati’s dreams and threaten that if she continues in her devotion to Santosi Ma the goddesses will punish her. Satyawati disregards the threat and continues in her devotion to Santosi Ma. The three goddesses deliver on their threat and separate Satyawati and Birju to punish her for her continued devotion to Santosi Ma. Birju departs on a sea voyage and Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati cause a horrible storm, but unbeknownst to them Santosi Ma saves him (Vas 26). Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati transcend in disguise to the village where Satyawati and Birju lived and report that he has been killed. Later when the goddesses come to find out that Santosi Ma has saved Birju they cause him to forget about Satyawati and he falls in love with a rich merchant’s daughter named Geeta. Satyawati’s misfortunes continue and she is so devastated that she decides she is going to take her own life. A sage learns of this and urges Satyawati to continue to worship Santosi Ma and for twelve consecutive Fridays perform a vrata, or a ritutal observance, in Santosi Ma’s name. The vrata includes providing offerings of jaggery, or sugar cane, and roasted chick peas to Santosi Ma’s temples along with fasting and ritual worship of the goddess. Satyawati does so, but on the twelfth Friday she cannot gather the appropriate offering. She prays extensively to Santosi Ma and the goddess comes to earth disguised as an old village lady and gives Satyawati the twelfth offering needed (Vas 26).
The three goddesses are persistent in their punishment and they start a fire in the forest where Satyawati is performing her offerings. But because of her continued love and devotion for Santosi Ma, Satyawati is unable to be burned. When she completes her twelve consecutive offerings to Santosi Ma, she pleads with the goddess to have her husband returned to her. Birju hears a voice encouraging him to return to his village with his new riches and he finds Satyawati. Satyawati is so enthralled with Santosi Ma’s blessing that she installs a shrine in her household and invites Birju’s family members to come perform a puja, or a religious ceremony in Santosi Ma’s name. Birju’s family is upset by his newfound wealth and slips lemon juice into the milk offering to Santosi Ma (Vas 27). Sour tastes, such as lemon juice, are considered a taboo offering to any deity, so Santosi Ma curses the puja and kills all children in attendance. Because the puja was held in Satyawati’s household, she is accused of poisoning all of the children. Even in these dire circumstances Satyawati continues her devotion to Santosi Ma and prays to her that being accused of such a horrible act will not only ruin her reputation, but also the loving relationship between a devotee and deity. Due to Satyawati’s continued devotion, even in the most horrible of conditions, Santosi Ma appears in person and restores the children’s lives in honour of Satyawati. After Santosi Ma descends to earth, Brahmani, Laksmi and Parvati admit that they were testing Satyawati and were actually pleased to learn that she continued her devotion to Santosi Ma and that they not only bless Santosi Ma, but pray that she will be worshipped throughout the world (Vas 27).
Because Santosi Ma is now worshipped extensively throughout parts of India there are certain festivals and ritual practices associated with her name. The festival commonly associated with Santosi Ma is Raksha Bandhan, the festival of siblings. This festival celebrates the close tie between siblings, primarily a brother and a sister (Freed & Freed 587). This festival is particularly important to the worship of Santosi Ma as it was her two brothers that urged their father, Ganesa, to provide them with a sister after they had attended a Raksha Bandhan festival. This auspicious festival starts by gathering for worship and to encourage the blessings of the gods. The sister then provides her brother (or other male relatives if a brother is not available) with a sacred thread known as a rakhi while chanting different mantras. The sister is to provide her brother with gifts, typically sweets, clothing, etc. along with the rakhi and genuinely pray for his well being. In return for this deed, the brother provides his sister with gifts and promises of protection. After these rituals are performed the day is to be enjoyed with other family members singing, dancing and eating (Hawley & Wulff 4).
Another important aspect of Santosi Ma is the performing of a vrata in her name. A vrata is a disciplined religious vow or observance to a certain deity that lasts a certain time frame. The observance typically includes some form of fasting, ritual worship and recitation of the hearing of a katha or story (Lutgendorf 24). Vratas are extremely regarded as a very crucial component in the art of the devotion and worship (Keyes & Daniel 147). It should be noted that vratas are performed to numerous deities and may be performed by anyone in Hindu society regardless of caste, gender, etc. (Brown 252). The vrata performed in Santosi Ma’s name is addressed in the text titled “Sukravar vrat katha”. This text provides a manual with rules and guidelines on how to perform a vrata in honour of Santosi Ma. The text is to be read by the worshipper, or any literate female in the family, and not by a priest. With regards to worship of Santosi Ma, priests are not used as the worshippers are primarily female (Keyes & Daniel 151). The vrata is to be performed on a series of consecutive Fridays (as Fridays are viewed as an auspicious day of the week) doing a puja, or ceremonial worship, to images of Santosi Ma while burning incense and providing offerings of roasted chick peas and sugar cane. The worshipper is then to recite (or listen if they are illiterate) the katha and can feed the remainder of the offering to animals such as a cow. They are also not to eat more than one meal on this day and should not serve any foods that are bitter or sour in nature. The time frame of the vrata varies for different worshippers. Some worshippers do a fixed time period, such as sixteen weeks, and others perform the vrata until a certain wish of the worshipper is fulfilled. At the time the wish is fulfilled the worshipper should prepare a large, celebratory meal which again should not contain any sour or bitter items. This meal is viewed as the conclusion of the vrata (Lutgendorf 25).
Before the release of “Jai Santosi Ma” in 1975 the worship of the goddess was relatively small. There was one known temple in Rajasthan, specifically in the city of Jodhpur, which had been dedicated to the worship of Santosi Ma since 1967. Most current worshippers did not know of Santosi Ma, or her history, before the release of the feature film. After the film premiered was when she gained popularity and an almost cult like following. Her images were being added to temples and in some cases, such as in Jodhpur, temples were being converted or built solely in her honour.
To conclude Santosi Ma has become one of the most worshipped goddess within the Hindu religion. She was brought to fame by the release of a Bollywood film which featured her mythological background. There are numerous festivals and religious practices associated with the goddess. These include the festival of siblings, Raksha Bandhan, and a vrata performed in Santosi Ma’s name. This vrata also includes the recitation of a puja. Currently Santosi Ma has millions of followers, and temples dedicated to her worship, and is seen to her followers as the ultimate or supreme uniting deity (Hawley & Wulff 7).
Brown, C. Mackenzie (1998) “The Devī Gītā: The Song of the Goddess; a Translation, Annotation, and Commentary”. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Das, Veena (1981) “The Mythological Film and its Framework of Meaning: An Analysis of Jai Santoshi Ma” India International Center Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 1, 43-56 (March)
Erndl, Kathleen M. (1996) “Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol” History of Religions, Vol. 35, No. 3 (February), 281-282
Freed, Stanley A.; Freed Ruth S. (2000) “Hindu Festivals in a North Indian Village” Anthropos, Bd. 95, H. 2, 592-593
Hawley, John Stratton; Wulff, Donna Marie (1997) “Devī: Goddesses of India” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 8, No. 2 (October)
Lutgendorf, Philip (2002) “A Superhit Goddess: Jai Santoshi Maa and Caste Hierachy in Indian Films” Manushi Vol. 131, 24-37
Wadley, Susan S. (1983) “Vrats: transformers of destiny” Karma: an anthropological inquiry 146-162
Performance of Vratas
Bollywood film industry
Sukravar vrat katha
Article written by: Jazzmind Hicken (February 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.