Mahashtami is the most important of Durga Puja. People are gripped by feverish revelry and are ready to make the most of the day, in whatever way they can. The morning starts with pushpanjali across homes and pandals. Colourful congregations of pandal-hoppers are seen everywhere.
After the pushpanjali is over, it is time to gorge on some light snacks, and wait for the bhog to complete the daytime platter. The bhog, in most places, comprises steaming golden yellow khichuri, along with begun bhaja, a vegetable mix known as lyabra, chutney and sweets. The culinary delights vary from puja to puja, but the enjoyment of savouring bhog with one’s dear ones remains the same.
Typical ashtami bhog (sanolisrecipies.blogspot.in)
The meal is followed by a lazy afternoon adda which also gives people a chance to re-energise themselves for embarking on a fresh pandal-hopping spree evening onwards. Everyone dresses up in their best attire on the evening of Mahashtami. For many young people, Ashtami evening also means endless adda – either at their own locality pujas or at any place they can meet.
The rituals of Ashtami
In many places, Kumari Puja is performed on this day. A girl who has not reached puberty, symbolising the ‘kumari’ form of Goddess Durga, is worshipped in front of the idol of the goddess. The Kumari Puja at Belur Math is very famous. It was first performed in 1902 by Swami Vivekananda, and has been extremely popular ever since, with live telecasts on television now. Devotees throng to Belur Math every year to witness this ritual. The Kumari is also offered gold and silver ornaments, and clothes, as a part of the ritual, which is considered a pious act.
Kumari Puja at Belur Math (calcutta-kolkata-asim.blogspot.in)
Sandhi Puja, meant to destroy negative energies present in nature, remains one of the most important rituals performed at the juncture of Ashtami and Nabami. The duration of Sandhi Puja includes the last twenty-four minutes of Ashtami and the first twenty-four minutes of Nabami. The puja may take place in the evening or in the wee hours of the morning. During Sandhi Puja, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Devi Chamunda, the incarnation of the goddess who killed Mahishasura. A hundred and eight lotus flowers and 108 diyas are the most important requirements of this puja.
As midnight comes along and Mahashtami gives way to Mahanabami, there appears a small cloud of heartbreak since the last day of this most awaited festival is nearing. But the enjoyment is far from being dampened. The celebration continues!
Lead image: hdwallpaperpictures.blogspot.in