Sheetala Astami Puja is celebrated just a week after Holi and dedicated to Goddess Sheetala mata. Sheetala Ashtami is also known as Basoda. It is observed in the chaitra month to worship the Goddess of child and heat. It falls twice in a year, on the 8th day of dark fortnight of Chaitra(March – April) and Shravan (August – September) months.
Legend of Goddess Shitala Devi
She is known to be the Goddess who cleans all the viruses. It is believed that worshipping her cures small pox and other such contagious diseases. Her mythological stories have been mentioned in Skanda Purana.
She is said to arise from a sacrificial fire and had got the boon that she will be worshiped by all till she carries the lentil – Urad daal with her. Along with her companion, Shitala Devi traveled with Jvarasura who was created from the sweat of Lord Shiva – the demon of fever to visit all the other Gods. Believe goes that while she was traveling the lentils turned into small pox virus and spread among the Gods. Hence, she was requested to depart to earth. From then on people started worshipping her.
Shitala Devi rides on a donkey, and she has four arms. In her hands, she carries a silver broom, a fan, a small bowl, and a pot of water. She uses these items to rid a house of disease–she sweeps up the germs with her broom, uses the fan to collect them, and dumps them into the bowl. She then sprinkles water from the pot (which is water from the river Ganges) to purify the house. Shitala’s name means “the cooling one”. With the change of seasons and coming of the hot period, it is essential to emphasize the importance of hygiene for human health and the worship of Shitala Mata provides the motivation to keep the surroundings clean and hygienic.
Rituals on Shitala Saptami Vrat
- The devotees take bath in cold water in the morning.
- After the bath, people decorate the idol of Shitala Mata and place it on a red cloth.
- Sheetala Ashtakam is read on this day by groups of people.
- The offerings given while the puja are of sixteen types and hence are known as Shadasopachar.
- Since Shitala Devi represents coolness; no fire is burnt at home on that day. Instead, the food is prepared a day before.
- The cooking is done on the 6th day of the lunar month’s fading phase and hence is known as Randhan Chhath.
- People offer cooked rice with ghee or at some places raw flour mixed with gur.
- At the end the Vrat katha is read and listened to by all.
- No fasting is observed on this day but people eat only the Prasad of the puja and no fresh food is prepared.