Maha Ashtami, is the most important out of the four days of Durga Puja; Kolkatans 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. Colorful congregations of devotees can be seen everywhere.
Young girls clad in saris and young boys dressed in traditional kurtas come and go like butterflies, adding hue to the festivity. And we all know how common it is for teenagers to fall prey to Cupid's penchant arrow, as they remain busy impressing their new found crush rather than chanting the anjali mantra.
Time to relish bhog and enjoy relentless adda
After the pushpanjali is over it is time to gorge on some light snacks, and wait for the Maha Ashtami bhog to complete the daytime platter. Bhog - which mainly comprises steaming golden yellow Khichudi, along with begun bhaja, a vegetable mix known as Labra, dhokar dalna, payesh, chutney and sweets form an integral part of the day’s menu. The culinary delights vary from a bonedi bari puja to a community para puja, but the enjoyment of savouring bhog with your dear ones remains the same.
The meal is followed by a lazy afternoon adda which also gives people a chance to re-energise their energy levels before embarking on a fresh pandal-hopping spree. Everyone dresses up in their best attire in the evening of Maha Ashtami. For most young people, Ashtami evening means endless adda - either at their own para'r puja or at Maddox Square - strumming the guitar to belt out some popular numbers, hours of group Antakshari with friends and friends of friends, a contest of ‘who can gulp the highest number of phuchkas spice up the night long adda session - all of this further enhancing an already eventful day.
The rituals of Ashtami
At many places, Kumari Puja is performed on this day. A girl whose age falls within one to sixteen and has not reached puberty, symbolising the Kumari form of Devi is worshipped in front of the idol of Goddess Durga. In 1902, Kumari Puja was first performed in Belur Math by Swami Vivekananda. A throng of devotees come to Belur Math every year to witness this ritual. She is also offered gold and silver ornaments, and clothes as a part of the ritual, which is considered a pious act.
Sandhi puja, meant to destroy negative energies present in nature, remains one of the most important rituals to be performed at the juncture of Ashtami (8th lunar day) and Navami (9th lunar day). 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, an incarnation of the goddess, who killed Mahishashura. 108 lotuses and 108 diyas are the most important requirement in this puja.
As Maha Ashtami gives way to Maha Nabami, it brings a small cloud of heartbreak as the last day of the most awaited festival nears. But the enjoyment is far from being dampened. The celebration continues!