By Swami Harshananda
Aśokāṣṭamī is one of the less known festivals. It is celebrated on the eighth day (aṣṭamī) of the bright fortnight in the month of Caitra (March-April) and the flowers of the Aśoka tree (Saraca indica) have been specially recommended for worship, Goddess Durgā, the deity of worship. Hence the festival is named Aśokāṣtamī.
The day is considered doubly sacred if it happens to be a Wednesday with the Punarvasu nakṣatra (seventh lunar mansion consisting of two stars). On this day, housewives believe that, by eating the tiny buds of the Aśoka tree they will be free from śoka or sorrow (a-śoka = free from sorrow). A bath in the Brahmaputra river on this day is considered as very sacred, yielding the same fruit as the performance of the Vājapeya sacrifice.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore