Kolkata, Oct 6 (IANS) Thousands of devotees from various parts of India and other nations watched in rapt attention Kumari puja – the ritual of worshiping a pre-pubertine girl as the goddess at Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, as the Durga Puja fervour peaked on Mahashtami in West Bengal on Sunday.
An atmosphere of gaiety and religiosity prevailed over the entire state with devotees of all ages cutting across social boundaries turned out in their best offering anjali (floral offerings) to the goddess amid the heavy beats of dhak (drums).
On Mahashtami (eighth Lunar Day), the rituals started in the morning with Kumari Puja to celebrate the spirit of womanhood in Howrah district’s Belur Math.
Kumari Puja was started by Swami Vivekananda in 1901 at the Math to underline the importance of women.
The ritual starts from dawn, when after a bath in the holy waters of the Hooghly river, the ‘Kumari’ is wrapped in a red sari, adorned with floral ornaments and given a ‘sindur(vermillion) mark on her forehead.
Displaying equanimity, she sits for hours silently before Goddess Durga’s idol on a decorated chair with priests chanting hymns, thereby creating a mesmerising atmosphere.
After the puja, the divinity of the goddess descends into the Kumari, said a priest.
As the day progressed, people resumed heir pandal hopping with great zeal.
The Santoshpur Lake Pally in its theme has made a strong statement against pollution by putting up models of dolphin with plastic in their stomach, and a large number of mics and sound boxes in its marquee. Thermocol plates, glasses, plastic carry bags, pet bottles made the devotees ponder a while about the harm being done to nature by mankind.
The five-day festival is considered the biggest event in this part of the world when even newspapers don’t hit the streets and roads are choked with humans and traffic throughout the day and night.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children – Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati – descends on earth every year to visit her parents to fight evil. This is the occasion that the puja celebrates.
Durga, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur, comes astride her lion mount and wields an array of weapons in her 10 hands in symbolic representation of Shakti, or woman power.