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Sheetala Saptami: How to observe

Sheetala is depicted as a young maiden wearing a winnowing fan on her head, riding a donkey and carrying a short broom to scatter the contents of her pot

Sheetala Saptami is a sacred occasion dedicated to venerating Goddess Sheetala. It falls on the seventh day of the waning phase of the moon in the month of Chaitra. Followers pay homage to the goddess on this significant day in hopes of receiving her blessings. The festival of Sheetala Saptami is predominantly observed in North India. In the year 2024, Sheetala Saptami will be commemorated on 1 April.

Sheetala Saptami is a day of great religious importance for Hindus. Devotees offer prayers to Goddess Shitala (alternative spelling) to seek her blessings on this auspicious day. The name “Sheetala” is derived from the Sanskrit word “shitala“, meaning “coolness” or “coldness”.

Mata Shitala is highly revered among Hindus as the goddess associated with health and wellness. She is considered a manifestation of Goddess Parvati. She has the power to cure various ailments such as poxes, sores, ghouls, pustules, and diseases, including smallpox.

Sheetala theology

Sheetala, the deity, is often portrayed as a protective mother figure who safeguards children from various pediatric illnesses, including smallpox and exanthemata. Additionally, she is revered as a fertility goddess who aids women in finding suitable husbands and in conceiving healthy sons. Her divine presence is believed to ensure the well-being of the family and safeguard the devotee’s means of livelihood. She is also invoked to bring about beneficial rainfall and prevent famines, droughts, and diseases among cattle.

In some 16th-century versions of the Skanda Purana’s Kāśī Khaṇḍa section on Varanasi, Sheetala is described as having the ability to heal ailments like smallpox pustules:

To alleviate the suffering caused by smallpox pustules and to protect children, a devotee grinds Masūra lentils in a specific quantity. Through the divine power of Śītalā, children are relieved from the disease.

Skanda Purana, Chapter 12

The earliest Bengali poems dedicated to Sheetala date back to 1690 in Saptagram. By the 18th century, compositions from Midnapore, West Bengal, further elevated the goddess’s importance in religious practices. During this period, conflicts between the Maratha Empire and the British East India Company resulted in famines that exacerbated the mortality rates of smallpox cases.

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A Sheetala puja ritual in progress in Kolkata, West Bengal, in 2022

Iconography

Sheetala is commonly depicted as a youthful maiden wearing a winnowing fan on her head, riding a donkey, and carrying a short broom to scatter the contents of her pot filled with viral pustules or the cold water of immortality. In rural shrines constructed by Adivasi and Bahujan communities, She may be symbolised by smooth stone slabs adorned with painted facial features and decorative embellishments contributed by worshippers. Notably, neem leaves are frequently mentioned in Her rituals and are also present in her imagery, indicating an early recognition of Azadirachta indica as a medicinal plant. Additionally, neem leaves are extensively cited in the Sushruta Samhita as an effective antipyretic and a remedy for specific inflammatory skin conditions.

She is portrayed seated in an eight-armed form, holding a trident, broom, discus (chakra), pot of healing water and viral pustules, neem branches, scimitar, conch, and a hand showing varadamudra (blessing gesture). Additionally, she is accompanied by two donkeys. This representation solidifies her status as a deity associated with protection, prosperity, well-being, and strength.

Sheetala Saptami 2024: Date and Time

Worshippers pay obeisance to Sheetala on Tuesday, Saptami, and Ashtami, particularly after Holi in the month of Chaitra. The observance of the occasion on the seventh and eighth day of the Hindu month is known as Sheetala Saptami and Sheetala Asthami respectively.

Saptami Tithi begins on 31 March 2024 at 09:30 PM

Saptami Tithi ends on 1 April 2024 at 09:09 PM.

Sheetala Saptami auspicious time to begin puja: 1 April 2024 between 05:40 AM and 06:01 PM

Rituals and variations

The mother goddess Devi, known as ‘Sheetala’ in Hinduism, is an epithet that represents the divine blessing of providing relief from the suffering of fever. She is worshipped under different names across the Indian subcontinent and is often referred to with honorific suffixes such as Sheetala Ma, Sheetala Mata, or Sheetala Amma, which are reserved for respected motherly figures.

Sheetala is revered by Buddhists too. In the tales of Buddhism, Jvarasura and Shitala are occasionally portrayed as companions of Paranasabari, the Buddhist deity associated with illnesses. Jvarasura accompanies her on the right side, while Sheetala accompanies her on the left side.

She is mentioned in Tantric and Puranic literature, and her worship has been popularized through vernacular texts like the Bengali 17th-century Sheetala Mangal Kabyas written by Manikram Gangopadhyay.

The worship of Sheetala Devi is particularly popular in north India, especially among the Jatav community, who traditionally identify her as an aspect of Goddess Parvati, the divine consort of Shiva. While she is said to reside in a neem tree, there are also dedicated shrines and small temples under the charge of a devil priest, usually a Jatav.

This Sheetlaa Devi Temple is located in Kara, a town located near Sirathu, on the banks of river Ganges in Kaushambi district of Uttar Pradesh
This Sheetlaa Devi Temple is located in Kara, a town located near Sirathu, on the banks of river Ganges in Kaushambi district of Uttar Pradesh

In various places like Muzaffarnagar, she is worshipped as Ujali Mata or the Bright Mother. Other shrines can be found in Sikandarpur, Bijnor, Raewala, Dehra Dun, and Jalon. The worship of these goddesses by the Jatav community has been documented for many centuries. Along with being addressed as ‘Mother’, the goddess is also revered with honorific titles such as Thakurani, Jagrani (queen of the world), Karunamayi (full of mercy), Mangala (the auspicious one), Bhagavati (the goddess), and Dayamayi (compassionate and kind).

In Gurugram, Haryana, the goddess is considered to be Kripi, the wife of Dronacharya, and is worshipped in the Sheetala Mata Mandir Gurgaon.

In southern India, Mariamman, the goddess incarnate, is revered by the Dravidian (literally meaning “peninsular”) and fulfils the role of Sheetala in their religious practices.

Sheetala is primarily venerated by women during Sitalastami, which occurs on the eighth day of Phalguna, the eleventh month of the Hindu lunar calendar. This auspicious day usually falls between mid-February and late March, as determined by Raghunandana. The reason behind this worship is the association of long, arid nights with the spread of smallpox and its resulting deaths.

There exist numerous arti sangrahas and stutis dedicated to the puja of the goddess. Among them are the Shri Sheetala Mata Chalisa, Shitala Maa ki arti, and Shri Shitala Mata ashtak.

As per popular belief, many households refrain from using their stoves on Ashtami/Saptami day. Instead, all devotees joyfully consume cold food, which was prepared the previous night, as a form of prasada. This practice stems from the notion that as spring wanes and summer approaches, it is advisable to avoid consuming cold food.

Sheetala puja at home
An example of Sheetala puja at home
  1. Rise early in the morning and partake in a sacred ablution.
  2. They tidy the dwelling and the designated prayer room.
  3. Prepare the nourishment that is to be presented to the revered Goddess Sheetala – Malpua, Halwa,
  4. Typically, women venture to the nearby temple where they engage in worship of Mata Sheetala.
  5. Gather necessary items: procure a mixture of milk and water, the prepared offering of bhog prasad, clarified butter, an earthen lamp, incense sticks, and blossoms.
  6. Commence by bathing the murti of Mata Sheetala, present a garland of yellow or white flowers, ignite a lamp with clarified butter, light an incense stick, and finally offer the bhog prasad that has been prepared for the goddess with the following mantra:
    • Vande Han Sheetalam Devi Rasabhasthan Digambaram/ Marjanikalshopetam shurpalakritamastakam
  7. If there is an individual afflicted with inflammation or a skin ailment, they must visit the Sheetala Mata temple and offer prayers to the goddess.

A superstition Hindus have overcome

Sheetala is commonly known for being responsible for the spread of smallpox among those who do not believe it, giving them a chance to reflect. Due to her religious duty of healing individuals who offer prayers to others recovering from illnesses, the initial distribution of smallpox vaccines by the World Health Organisation encountered opposition as the local population viewed vaccination as an effort by Western science to undermine the Hindu religious hierarchy. To address this perception, the International Smallpox Eradication Program (SEP) created posters featuring the goddess holding a vaccination needle, reimagining immunisation as a manifestation of Her influence. Such superstitions hardly plague the Hindu community these days.

Swadharma
Swadharmahttps://swadharma.in/
Swadharma is a one-stop web destination for everything Hindu. We will cover history, theology, literature and rituals of all sects of Hinduism one by one besides news of the state of the Hindu community worldwide through videos, podcasts, reports and articles.

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