Shitala or Sheetala Ashtami which is also known as Basoda Puja falls on March 9 this year. The festival is celebrated on the eighth day (Ashtami) of Krishna Paksha of Chaitra month (April-May) and it is celebrated eight days after Holi festival. On this auspicious day, worshippers pray to Goddess Shitala, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. On this day, special Basoda Puja is done to appease the Goddess. The festival is popular in the states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
It is also believed that Goddess Shitala cures and controls smallpox, measles and chicken pox etc and devotees worship Her to ward off an outbreak of such illnesses. In Gujarat, a similar ritual is observed a day before Krishna Janmashtami and is known as Shitala Satam. In the Skanda purana, the benefit of worshipping Her is explained and the same includes Shitala Mata Strotra which is also known as Sheetalaashtak which was written by Lord Shiva.
As per Basoda rituals, worshipers do not light the fire for cooking. So generally people prepare food a day earlier and consume the stale food the next day. On this pious day, people take bath before sunrise in lake or river and install idol or picture of Goddess Shitala . Devotees decorate the same with sandalwood paste, turmeric, vermillion, offer fruits and other sixteen types of offerings. At the end of the puja, rice mixed with ghee is offered as Prasad (which is cooked a day before). Devotees also visit Shitala Devi temple and worship the Goddess with Haldi and Bajra. After the puja, people read and listen to Basoda Vrat Katha. In Rajasthan, this festival is celebrated with great devotion. Also, a huge fair is organized, and many musical programs are also conducted on this day.
As per Drikpanchang.com, the Ashtami tithi starts at 3:44 am and ends on next day at 6.00 am. Devotees can perform the Basoda puja from 6.55 am to 6.42 pm on March 9.
As per legend, Goddess Durga incarnated as Katyayani, daughter of Sage Katyayan and saved the people by destroying all the demonic forces and fought with a demon called Jwarasur, the demon of fever, chicken pox, smallpox and measles. But the spread of illnesses intensified and she assumed the form of Shitala Devi and she was mounted on a donkey and carried a silver broom, a winnowing fan, cup of soup and jar of Ganga water and Her friend Batuk (Shiva) turned as Bhairav and killed the demon.
King Indralumna’s daughter named Shubhkari was married to married to prince Gunvan. Once the king invited them to observe the festival. The couple performed the vrat with great devotion and they pleased the Goddess Shitala. She appeared before them and granted them a boon. On their way home, Shubhkari saw a family of priest grieving over the death of priest due to a snake bite. Shubhkari revived him death with the help of boon. Locals realised the power of Shitala Ashtami vrat and they all started to observed the same with great faith and devotion.