Celebrated with great religious fervour by the royalty as well as the public, Sheetla Saptami is a big festival in Mewar.
A facinating festival of Mewar, Sheetlamata Saptami is celebrated seven days after Holi on Saptami. However, as Maharana Bheemsinghji’s birthday fell on this day, the festival began to be celebrated the next day. But people were free to celebrate it on any of the two days.
Once when prince Jagatsingh suffered from small pox, Maharana Sangramsingh Second built a temple of Sheetlamata near Rangniwas close to Samore Bagh. On Asthami in the morning, the Maharana would go to the temple in a procession for ‘darshan’ of the goddess. A ‘durbar’ was held in Rangniwas. Then he used to go to Navlakha in Gulab Bagh or Samore Bagh where there was a lot of singing and dancing. In honour of the Maharana, a banquet was arranged by Rajya Pradhan and all the Sardars and Umraos were invited to this feast. After the death of Idarwali Rajmata Chhoti Rathore in 1892, the tradition of going to the house of the Pradhan stopped.
Once Maharana Sajjansingh suffered from small pox. When he got well as part of the fulfilment of the ‘minnat’ of his father Maharana Jagatsingh Maharana Sajjansingh went for the darshan of the Mata dressed in bhagwa clothes.
The maid servants of the palace and women folk of the town used to go for ‘puja’ at the temple, singing songs all along the way. Even now on Sheetla Astami, ‘bhog’ is sent to the temple of the goddess from the royal palace of Udaipur.
In earlier times smallpox was a dreaded disease that caused a large number of deaths. It spread wildly during March and April when the season changed. To appease Sheetlamata, who is considered to be a form of Ma Bhagwati Durga, is worshipped. The tradition is that fresh food is not cooked on this day. On the previous day, a lot of dishes like sweet rice, ‘pakoda’, ‘kadi’, ‘halwa’,and ‘rabdi’ are cooked to be eaten cold the next day.
The eating of cold food on this occasion has another reason. The festival falls in the transition period of winter and summer. In winter, bacteria do not flourish much so the food remains fresh for a longer time whereas in summer it starts rotting soon. So it is advisable to eat only fresh food after this festival.
In Udaipur, in the morning, groups of women clad in gorgeous dresses with ‘puja thalis’ in their hands and singing merrily songs in praise of the Mata reach the Sheetlamata Mandir near Rangniwas to worship the goddess reverently and offer milk, curds and the eatables prepared the previous day. The surroundings have a ‘mela’ like look.
It is believed that her worship makes married life happy. She is considered to be goddess of cleanliness. She is also worshipped as Pathwari Devi, who shows people the right path, vboth literally and figuratively.
The religious fervour with which the festival is celebrated makes it an important event in Mewar.