Today is Shitla Saptami. It is the day of non cooking. Food is prepared one day before (yesterday) and is savoured today. Yesterday had its own significance too.
Yesterday was Randhan Chaatth (the day of cooking). It is the day of cooking the best delicacies possible and yeah at the same time, the ones which we can savour the next day. The women of the household start the preparations early morning itself. At some villages in Saurashtra, the women get together to cook. They sing and enjoy this whole process. Some households also offer this food as Prasad to the Annapoorna. This festival (It cannot be called a festival as it is more a gathering) of cooking is always awaited during the year.
Some of my readers may feel it unhygenic to eat food cooked a day before. But frankly we all love cold food. Especially many foods like Khichadi and foods made from spices tastes great when eaten, the next day after preparation. But it is unhygenic and unhealthy to eat it. So our Rishis have kept one day in the whole year when we can satisfy our urge to eat food cooked overnight through this festival. People who regularly eat canned foods need to understand the healthy habits inherent in daily cooked food.
In the morning, the lady of the household, wakes up early and worships the stove. She makes a swastik with red vermilion and put a twig of a mango tree over it as an offering. The mango twig signifies sweetness and it is believed that it imparts coolness. The lady prays to the stove to help her cook food which will be sweet to eat and impart coolness to the digestive system of the one who eats it. Many families chant “Annapoornastotram” as a prayer to the Goddess of Food, who provides and feeds us everyday.
Apart from this, it is also a way of expressing our gratitude to the stove / gas burner who burns the whole year for giving us food. This whole day, the stove is not lit. In our way, we would say that’s it’s a holiday for the stove. It is one way of looking at the presence of Chaitanya in non-living too.
Also it is day to worship Goddess Shitla, the Goddess of cleanliness and health. Goddess Shitala is represented as a young maiden crowned with a winnowing-fan, riding a donkey, holding a short broom (either to spread or dust off germs) and a pot full of pulses (the viruses) or cold water (a healing tool). Sometimes, she is said to be carrying a bunch of neem leaves, a herb used throughout India since ancient times that is believed by some to be an effective remedy to most skin diseases to this day. And so even today in India we keep neem leaves around the patient suffering from Chicken pox. And after 5/7 days, parents take their kids for a darshan of Shitla Mata and worship Her and thank Her for curing the child of the disease. (Medicines are administered regularly, but it is a matter of faith and gratitude towards nature). (Also reading reports nowadays that Neem is effective as a precautionary measure of Covid – 19). On this day, we are expected to offer our gratitude to the broom and every other object which helps to keep our food and surroundings clean. Some people do worship the broom and the winnow on this day.
In these days of Covid-19, hope we Indians atleast understand the importance of cleanliness of ones house, kitchen and surroundings. Also personal hygiene, today signified by taking a bath after coming from outside or back from work; or washing hands after coming from outside was a must in the olden days. These were not habits which consumed time or we did not use any tissues to rub, but it was a compulsory wash which was required. Even today there are many households where the lady of the house does not touch the utensils of her kitchen without taking a bath. There is nothing religious in it, but hygiene. Our Rishis were great enough to male such practices part of our day to day life through activities and giving a religious connotation to it.
Shitala is the also considered as the form of Goddess Katyayani. She gives coolness to the patients of fever. According to Devi Mahatmya when a demon named Jvarasura gave bacterial fever to all the children, Goddess Katyayani came in the form of Shitala to purify children’s blood and to destroy the bacteria of fever in blood. In Sanskrit ‘Jwar’ means “fever” and ‘Shital‘ means “coolness“. She is worshipped all over India by different names.
These days are of showers. Showers heavy and light keep the atmosphere clean and cool. The combination of the showers and these festivals are like a combination of lime and jaggery. They are both good for health and taste.
On these days,
Let us learn to inculcate a feeling of gratitude towards even towards the smallest of the things which make out lives healthy and better.
Let us learn to keep our surroundings clean and keep ourselves clean and healthy, free from diseases.
Let us know our ancestors and their vision and their efforts to keep us civilised.
Bow down to the Sanatan Sanskriti..🙏🙏🙏