Basoda Pooja, commonly known as Shitala or Sheetala Ashtami will fall on March 28th this year. The festival is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Krishna Paksha i.e eight days after the festival of Holi. Though, in some communities, worshippers perform the pooja on the first Thursday or Monday after Holi. It falls in the Hindu month of Chaitra, which according to the Gregorian calendar falls between March and April. Devotees pray to Goddess Shitala, an incarnation of Goddess Durga.
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The muhurat (auspicious time) for the pooja is on 28th between 6:20 am and 6:32 pm. The pooja time lasts for 12 hours and 12 minutes. However, Ashtami Tithi starts at 8.55 pm on 27th March, and ends at 10.34 pm on 28th March.
The festival is common in the northern parts of India, mainly states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. This festival is celebrated to rejoice the change in weather, and the starting of the summer season.
It is believed that Goddess Sheetala cures and controls diseases like smallpox, measles, chicken pox etc. Her devotees worship the goddess to ward off outbreaks of such diseases. Many pandits even suggest parents to pray to the goddess when their children fall ill to the diseases.
Legend associated with the festival
There was once a king named Indralumna who ruled over Hasthinapur. He had a daughter, Shubhakari, who was married to a prince, Gunvan. One day, the king invited them to observe Sheetal Ashtami pooja. The couple performed the pooja with devotion, and Princess Shubhakari also kept a fast for the goddess. Pleased with their dedication, Goddess Sheetala appeared before them and granted special powers to Princess Shuhbakari. On their way back, the princess saw a family grieving over the death of a priest. Saddened by their grief, the princess used her powers to revive the priest. Seeing this, the locals realised the power of Goddess Sheetala, and they too began to observe the Ashtami vrat every year with great devotion and faith.
Customs and Rituals
The word ‘Basoda’ actually means ‘Basi’ or stale. Thus, there is a tradition that on this day, worshippers do not light fire in their kitchens. This tradition is related to the custom of cooking food on a chula by lighting a fire underneath it, which was the only method of cooking in the earlier days.
The entire food is prepared one day before the festival, so that only Basi (or stale) food is consumed by people on the day. However, this does not seem much of a problem to the devotees, who actually enjoy their cold lunch and dinner.
Some families even have a special menu prepared for the auspicious day. Special traditional sweets like Gulgule or sweet chila are also prepared to celebrate the festival.
People take a bath before sunrise and decorate an idol of the goddess with sandalwood paste, turmeric, vermillion, while offering fruits to the idol. As part of the celebrations, devotees read Mata Sheetala’s story, and recite mantras to please the Goddess. People pray for the well being of their family and to protect their family from harmful diseases. At the end of the pooja, rice mixed with ghee is offered as Prasad (which is also cooked a day before).
Devotees believe that by keeping a vrat (fast) on this day, they might be able to prevent them from contracting several diseases.