Kolkata, Sep 21: Durga Ashtami or Maha Ashtami is one of the most auspicious days of five days long Durga Puja Festival. It is the eighth day of Navratri or Durga Puja celebrations is also known as Durgashtami.
Devotees undertake to fast on this day. This day is also known for 'Astra Puja'(Worshiping Weapons) as on this day the weapons of Goddess Durga are worshiped.
Traditionally, the eighth day of Durga Puja was in the ancient times was designated for the buffalo sacrifice that symbolized the vanquishment of the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura at the hands of the Goddess. However, in the present scenario, these sacrifices have pretty much stopped owing to animal cruelty awareness programs. Hence, now the sacrifice of 'Ash/Wax gourd' (vegetable) is performed.
The early morning prayers ceremonies of Maha Ashtami begin with the chanting of Sanskrit hymns dedicated to the praise of the Goddess.
Kumari Puja, a special attraction of Durga Puja festival in Bengal, is held to celebrate this faith through ceremonious worship of young girls in sense of Divine Mother. Kumari Puja is called Kanya Pujan in North India. Bengal celebrates it on Maha Ashtami, the eighth day of Durga Puja, while it is held on the ninth day or the last day of Navaratri in other states of India.
Kumari Puja is held at every Ramakrishna Math & Mission. It is a grand ceremony and spectacular ritual at Belur Math in Hooghly district of West Bengal.
Further, in the evening, Sandhi Puja is conducted, since it is believed that on the evening of Ashtami, Navami begins. Therefore, this Puja interlinks the two days.
Items needed for Ashtami Puja of Goddess Durga:
Food Offerings: Fruits, items for bhog, items for arati, 40 or 22 bowls of madhupakka, honey, sugar, curd, ghee, 40 or 22 noibiddos, four small noibiddos.
Cloth Offerings: One sari for Durga, new clothes for Lakshmi, Saraswati, Chandi, Kartik, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, nine planets, the peacock, mouse, lion, demon, buffalo, ox, snake, Jaya, Bijoya and Ram.
Puja Items: One dantakashto, 40 or 22 finger rings made of kusha, one nosering, iron, two conch shells, a box of vermillion, flowers, a garland, belpatra garland, one chandmala, one ghoti.
For Sandhi Puja: Flowers, gold ring, a bronze bowl for madhupakka, a small sari, main noibiddo, one small noibiddo, one plate, one pitcher, iron, one nosering, one pillow, a mat, a chandmala, 108 earthen lamps, items for bhog, and items for the arati .