Kolkata, Oct 21: After night-long pandal hopping, West Bengal on Wednesday woke up to the chants of mantras as thousands of devotees from across the country and abroad converged at the Belur Math for Kumari Puja (worship of a pre-pubertine girl).
The day marked Maha Ashtami -- eighth day of the lunar calendar and third day of the Durga puja festivities -- when weapons of goddess Durga are worshipped (Astra Puja) and hymns are chanted in praise of the deity.
According to Hindu mythology, on the eighth day the fierce form of the mother goddess -- Bhadrakali -- was invoked to slay Mahishasura, the buffalo demon king, while various other gods bestowed their blessings and weapons to the incarnated form of the mother goddess to battle the demon king.
The rituals began in the morning with Kumari Puja where girls are worshipped as personifications of the goddess.
According to Hindu mythology, Kumari Puja establishes the importance of women. The maiden who is worshipped symbolises the power that regulates creation, stability and destruction on Earth.
Kumari Puja was started by Swami Vivekananda in 1901 at the Belur Math, headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, 10 kms from Kolkata in Howrah district.
An unmarried girl, who has not yet reached puberty and is bereft of desire, worldly pleasures and anger is the right requisite for the Kumari Puja.
The young girl fasts the whole day till the puja is over.
She is made to sit on a throne before the goddess, as the priest chants hymns amid the sound of dhak (traditional drum). After the puja the divinity of the goddess is said to descend into the Kumari.
Kumari Puja is also organised in many community puja marquees and the households where the goddess is worshipped.
Thousands of devotees, including movie stars and sports personalities, rushed early morning to offer 'anjali' (floral offerings) to the goddess.
Actress Rituparna Sengupta and former Indian cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly were seen offering 'anjali' early in the morning.
The generally five-day carnival, shortened to a four-day affair this year as decreed by the almanac, is being celebrated across the state with enthusiasm and religious fervour.
Mahashtami ended in the afternoon, while the Mahanavami puja began after the end of Sandhi Puja held at the confluence of Mahashtami and Mahanavami (ninth lunar day). Mahanavami will end Thursday morning.
The Sandhi Puja, considered a most auspicious time, covers the last 24 minutes of Maha Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of Mahanavami.
In Kolkata, around 2,470 community pujas are being held. Besides, the goddess is being worshipped in another 5,000 households in the city.
Tens of thousands of marquees have come up elsewhere in the state.
As the morning gave way to afternoon, lakhs of people, attired in new dresses, started visiting the marquees. Long queues were seen outside the landmark community puja marquees.
The goddess, astride a lion and wielding an array of weapons in her ten hands, stays for four days to eradicate evil from Earth before returning to her husband lord Shiva on Mt. Kailash on Dashami.