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

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