Goddess Sheetala, also called as Shitala or Sitala, is believed to be an incarnation of Supreme Goddess Durga, who cures poxes, sores, and pustules. In Sanskrit, ‘Sheetala’ means’ one who cools. Shitala is worshiped under different names in different regions. In India, the goddess is popularly worshipped in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. While outside India, she is worshipped in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
Sheetala Ashtami or Basoda is celebrated on Krishna Paksha Ashtami in Hindu month of Chaitra, which coincides with February or March in Gregorian calendar. Sheetala Ashtami comes eight days after Holi festival. While some celebrate the festival on the first Monday or Friday after Holi. In Rajasthan, the festival is celebrated with great devotion and huge fairs with musical programs are organised. There is a tradition to not lit fire for cooking hence people consume stale food on Sheetala Ashtami. Sheetala Saptami is observed a day before Sheetala Ashtami. In 2019, Sheetala Ashtami falls on March 28.
- Devotees take bath before sunrise and worship Goddess Shitala.
- The picture or idol of the goddess is adorned with sandalwood paste, vermillion, and flowers.
- Rice (cooked a day before) mixed with ghee is offered to the goddess as bhog.
- Devotees read Basoda Vrat Katha.
- Devotees do not light fire for cooking and hence consume food cooked a day earlier.
It is believed that worshipping Goddess Sheetala helps to ward off diseases like smallpox, chickenpox, and measles. According to the legend, Goddess Durga incarnated as Katyayani is the daughter of Sage Katyayan. She fought with the demon named Jwarasur – the demon of chicken pox, smallpox, and measles – and saved the lives of the people. But the damage was already done and the spread of illnesses intensified and this is when Katyayani took the form of Shitala Devi. She was seen mounted on a donkey and carried a silver broom on one hand and a cup of soup and jar of Ganga water on the other. While her friend Batuk took the form of Bhairav. Goddess Shitala and Batuk killed the demon.
Tithi (March 28)
Sheetala Ashtami Puja Muhurat: 6:40 am to 6:48 pm
Ashtami tithi begins: 8:55 pm on March 27
Ashtami tithi ends: 11:34 pm on March 28