: General Information
Glory of Autumn
Autumn (Sharat) is
regarded as one of the best seasons in
India. The sun
is on his southward journey and, as his blazing rays begin
to slant, the subcontinent feels freedom from the oppressive
heat of summer months. The monsoon has infused new
life into trees, shrubs, creepers, herbs, grass, moss and
lichen; and Gaia, the Earth Goddess, shows herself off in
her richly embroidered green apparel of lush vegetation
In the villages there is a look
of plentitude and peace. The granaries are full with
freshly garnered grain, the fields offer large open spaces
with cattle grazing here and there, and along the borders of
fields you can see rows of white and light pink kashphool
(flowers of a kind of tall grass) tassels waving
triumphantly in the breeze. Overhead, the sky is deep
blue with an occasional white cloud sailing across lazily to
an unknown destination. A kind of mystic silence
pervades the air, broken only by the laughter of children
playing here and there.
It is as if Nature has prepared
herself for the advent of the Divine Mother. Indeed,
which other season can be a better one to welcome the Divine
Mother than autumn? And Durga Puja is about the advent of
the Divine Mother.
Worship of the Divine
Worship of the Divine Mother is
one of the oldest forms of worship known to humanity.
In prehistoric times, God was worshipped as the Divine
Mother all over the world. Evidences for Mother
Worship have been recovered in different places in Europe,
the Americas, Africa and Asia. But it is only in India
that Mother worship went beyond the framework of a cult and
became a full-fledged living religion supported by an
advanced theology, scriptures, rites, customs and festivals
which are followed by millions of people even in modern
times. And in Bengal, worship of God as Mother attained
the highest form of a cultural refinement and ritual
sophistication, and became the dominant faith and practice
of the people.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say:
''To look upon God as Mother is the purest and the highest
form of Sadhana'' (Matribhav shuddha bhav, sadhanar shesh
katha). Why did he say that? Because
Mother's love is the most unselfish and unconditional form
of human love. For a child, mother is all sufficient:
apart from giving birth, she provides everything that the
child needs - nourishment, protection, warmth, comfort,
training, education. To look upon God as Mother is to
make God all-sufficient in one's life. It is a very
natural, intimate and purest form of relationship.
Mother Worship in India
Worship of God as Mother has
prevailed in India from prehistoric times. It was
perhaps in vogue in Mohenjodaro-Harappa civilization.
In the Rig Veda, there is a wonderful hymn known as
Devi-Suktam (which is chanted during Durga Puja days) in
which the Divine Mother declares that She moves with the
Rudras, Vasus, Adityas, and all other gods, that She is the
power of all gods, that She is the Queen of the world, and so
It is, however, in the
Devi-Mahatmya, popularly known as the Chandi,
that worship of the Divine Mother assumes an independent,
supreme status. Although Chandi forms a part of
Markandeya Purana, it is treated as an independent
scripture. For devotees of the Divine Mother,
especially in Bengal, Kerala and some parts of Tamil Nadu,
Chandi is regarded as the most sacred and valued scripture.
It was composed sometime between the 6th and 9th centuries AD.
Another authoritative book on
Shakti worship is Devi-Bhagavatam. Between the 6th and
16th centuries a class of Shakta scriptures known as the
Tantras (believed to be 63 in all) came into existence.
The Tantras became popular in three areas, namely Bengal, Kerala and Kashmir, which form the three angles of a
Worship of the Divine Mother is
prevalent all over India - from Kanyakumari (famous for its
Kanyakumari temple) to Kashmir (Kshirbhavani temple) and
from Rajasthan (Amba temple) to Kolkata (Kalighat temple).
In fact, there is hardly any large area in India which does
not have a Devi temple. Great heroes of the past
worshipped the Divine Mother. Sri Rama is said to have
worshipped Durga before killing Ravana. Shivaji, the
great Maratha king, was a votary of Bhavani. Guru
Govind Singh, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, is also said to
have been a worshipper of Mother Durga.
Different Forms of Divine Mother
Although the Divine Mother
is only one, Her manifestations are many. During the
early centuries of the Christian Era, the Divine Mother was
worshipped as an independent and Supreme Goddess. She
was mostly pictured as riding a lion (Simha-vahini).
This is the image of Durga we find in the Chandi where she
appears as Chamundeshvari and Mahishasura-mardini.
In later centuries, the
Divine Mother came to be regarded as the spouse of God
Shiva. Here again, there were two schools. In one
school, the Divine Mother and Shiva are regarded as equal in
power. This school, known as ''Samya'', is the more
common one, especially in South India. In the other
school, known as ''Kaula'', the Divine Mother as Kali is
regarded as the dynamic principle, and Shiva as the passive
principle. This school is most prevalent in Bengal, and
also in Kashmir and Kerala.
The Divine Mother is
regarded as having ''Ten Great Wisdom Forms'' (Dasha-mahavidya).
These ten Goddesses are:
Navaratri and Durga Puja
The nine days from the first
day after the new moon (known as Mahalaya) in the Indian
month of Ashwin to the 9th day constitute the festival of
Navaratri which is observed all over India. During
this period, the Divine Mother is worshipped in some form or
other. The majority of Hindus who cannot conduct such
worship at home visit Mother's temple in their locality
after taking bath and putting on new clothes. The
tenth day is known as Dassera. In the northern parts
of India, on this day the life of Rama (known as Ramlila)
is enacted in public. In many parts of India, on this
day weapons, implements, instruments, etc are worshipped.
[In Bengal, this worship of tools and implements takes place
on another special day known as Vishwakarma Puja.]
It is during this period of
Navaratri that Durga Puja is celebrated in Bengal. The
celebration of Durga Puja is a unique feature of the
socio-religious culture of Bengal. In no other part of
India does the worship of Durga affect the lives of the
people so deeply as it does in Bengal. Festivities
begin from Mahalaya and go on for nearly a month.
During this period, people put on new clothes, worship the
Divine Mother at any of the beautiful Durga pandals put up
in different parts of the city or town, and enjoy feasts.
The most striking aspect of
Durga Puja is the image of the Divine Mother as
Mahishasura-mardini. Here the Divine Mother is seen as
having ten arms, each wielding a weapon. [Hence She is
described as Dasha-prahara-dharini.] Once the
image is consecrated, and the Deity is invoked in it, it
undergoes a transfiguration. It is no longer a clay
image but the living Goddess, radiating power, knowledge,
love and joy, the benign Mother of the Universe who has come
to bless Her children and to assure them of Her love, help
Another prominent feature of Durga Puja celebration is the gorgeous Pandal or Durga dalan
in which the worship is conducted. Durga Puja is meant
for public worship, in which a large number of people
participate. Its rituals and paraphernalia are quite
expensive. Formerly only kings and aristocratic
families could afford to celebrate such public worship.
But in modern times Durga Puja is done through organized
community effort. People of a locality or street form
a celebration committee, take collections and put up the
Who first started this kind of
public celebration of Durga Puja? The generally
accepted view is that it was Kamsa-narayan, king of Tahirpur
in Rajshahi District (now in Bangladesh), who first started
the present style of public celebration of Durga Puja around
the year 1600.
Commingling of Legends
What is the mythological basis
of Durga Puja? Several mythological legends have
commingled to form the basis of Durga Puja. These are
Before fighting Ravana, Sri Ramachandra was advised
by Narada to propitiate Devi Durga. According to Hindu
mythology, during the six months of the sun's southward
journey the gods remain asleep. (They remain awake
during the six months when the sun moves northward.)
So Rama had to awaken the Goddess first. This is why
the first ritual in Durga Puja is the awakening (bodhan)
of Durga. This legend is found in the Ramayana in
Bengali written by Krittivas. In some other Puranas it
is mentioned that, when Rama wanted to propitiate Devi, it
was Brahma who did the awakening.
The present-day Durga Puja is,
thus, a commemoration of the first Durga Puja performed by
The second legend is about the coming of Devi Uma
from Her abode in Kailash to the home of her parents - Himavat and Menaka. She comes riding a lion. In
the Vedas, Uma is first mentioned in the Kena Upanishad
where She is described as Uma Haimavati. It is a
popular belief in Bengal that Uma comes and stays with the
people for three days. A whole set of songs, known as
Agamani, describing the homecoming of Uma has come into
existence. These songs are sung during the days
preceding Durga Puja. These songs serve to
spiritualize Hindu mother's love and concern for their
The third legend is about Sati Devi. Although
neither Sati nor Uma is mentioned in the Chandi, in the
mool-mantra used in Durga Puja, Sri Durga is addressed as
Daksha-yajna-vinashini, ''The Destroyer of Daksha's
Daksha was one of the
Prajapatis or Creators of the Universe. He had eight
daughters, of whom the eldest was Sati. Against her
father's wish, Sati married the great God Shiva who was an
ascetic wearing matted hair and leading an unconventional
life on Mount Kailash. After some years, the roving
Rishi Narada reached Kailash and gave the news that Daksha
was going to conduct a big sacrifice to which all gods and
goddesses were invited, except Sati and Shiva.
Although uninvited, Sati went to see her father. But
Daksha spoke insultingly of Shiva and, unable to bear the
insult, Sati fell down dead. Shiva was naturally
enraged; and his anger burnt to ashes Daksha and his
sacrifice, and then Shiva began a dance of destruction.
But the gods intervened, and Shiva finally returned to His
meditation in Mount Kailash. Sati was reborn as Parvati
who, after years of intense tapas, got Shiva as Her husband
Daksha-yajna-vinashinyai, refers to the destruction of
Daksha's sacrifice mentioned above. It is, however,
quite obvious that this great Mantra has some deeper mystic,
esoteric meaning far beyond the mythological significance.
The most important legend which is central to Durga Puja is
about Durga, and forms the theme of Chandi. The
word Durga literally means one who ''protects like a fort'' or
one who ''destroys the evil consequences'' of our actions (durgati-nashini). In the Chandi, Durga is mostly referred
to simply as Devi, the Goddess, and occasionally as
Ambika. She is an independent, supreme Goddess,
not the consort of any male God.
As already mentioned, the
Chandi is one of the oldest scriptures on Mother
Worship. It was obviously composed before the
sectarian divisions of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism
entered Hinduism. Hence Devi is referred to in this
book as the Power of Vishnu and also addressed as Narayani
The Chandi is divided into
three parts. In the first part Devi appears as
Mahamaya which is described as yoga-nidra of Vishnu.
That is to say, Mahamaya is the power of Tamas which makes
people lethargic, indolent and sleepy. Under the
influence of this cosmic delusive Power, Lord Vishnu went to
sleep. At that time two demons by name Madhu and
Kaitabh came out the ears of Vishnu and attacked Brahma the
Creator God. Brahma then praised the Divine Mother as
Mahamaya or Yoga-nidra. Pleased with the petition, she
withdrew herself from Vishnu's body. Vishnu now woke
up and killed Madhu and Kaitabh.
In the second part Devi
appears as Mahishasura-mardini and is also called Chandika.
The story goes that when a powerful demon by name
Mahishasura was the king of the Asuras (demons), they
attacked the Devas (gods) and vanquished them. The
defeated gods went to Shiva and Vishnu and complained about
the atrocities of Mahishasura. Hearing this, Vishnu,
Shiva and other presiding Deities became angry. The
rays of their anger combined to form a supremely powerful
and dazzlingly bright female Being - the Devi known also as
Chandika and Ambika. Seeing the dazzling brightness of
the Devi, Mahishasura first sent his army to attack Her.
But the Divine Mother exterminated them all. Then
Mahishasura, who had the form of a buffalo, himself attacked
Her. Devi at once jumped upon his body, pressed his
neck with her foot, struck his chest with her spear, and
finally cut off his head. The gods being extremely
relieved and pleased, praised the Devi, and their praise
takes up the rest of the second part of Chandi.
In the third part of the
book, Devi appears first as Parvati and then, out of her
form, there arises another form known as Kalika. But
she continues to be referred to as Ambika. The third
part narrates another valorous act of the Divine Mother.
Once upon a time two brothers, Shumbha and Nishumbha became
lords of the three worlds, and the gods lost everything.
Coming to know of the beauty of Kalika, they sent word to
her asking her to come to them. When she spurned their
order, they at first sent two demons, Chanda and Munda, to
capture her. Seeing them, Ambika became angry and out
of that anger there issued forth a terrible form known as
Kali who fought with the demons. Finally Kali cut off
the heads of Chanda and Munda. She thus came to be
called Chamunda. Now Shumbha and Nishumbha themselves
rode in their chariots and attacked Ambika and Kali.
After a protracted battle Ambika herself destroyed Shumbha
Significance of Chandi
The image of Durga as
Mahishasuramardini epitomizes the Chandi. To understand
the significance of the image we have to understand the
significance of the Chandi.
The gory scene depicted by
the image of Durga, and the blood-curdling descriptions of a
warrior Goddess exterminating hordes of evil doers drenching
the earth with blood, may be enigmatic and repulsive to some
people, especially to those who are outside the Shakta
tradition of Hinduism. A mature and realistic
understanding of the Divine in the context of the real
situations in human life and society is necessary to
understand the true significance of Chandi. The basic
significance of Chandi may be briefly stated as follows.
The main purpose of Chandi
is to glorify Shakti. Shakti is the dynamic aspect of
the ultimate Reality known as Brahman. Shakti is
generally regarded as the feminine principle. The
feminine principle has two aspects: a lower, seductive
aspect, and a higher, maternal aspect. It is the
higher maternal aspect that is glorified in the Chandi, and
in the Shakta tradition in general. Sri Ramakrishna
used to say: Jini Brahma tini Shakti, tini i Ma
''He who is Brahman is Shakti, and He himself is the Mother
of the Universe''
A mother has three main
functions: to give birth, to nourish, to care and protect.
It is the third aspect that is highlighted in the Chandi.
God is not a disinterested spectator of the drama of human
life. She is an active participant. She
protects people from dangers. Think of the cosmic
figure of a Divine Mother towering over millions of people
guarding them from dangers, punishing evil doers.
Well, you can see this image of the Cosmic Mother in the
The second purpose of the
Chandi is to depict the reality of evil. Vice,
wickedness, cruelty, injustice, suffering - all these are as
much real as virtue, love, compassion, cooperation etc which
humanity has idealized and dreamed about from time
immemorial. Dharma and Adharma, virtue and vice, are
two inseparable aspects of reality, and we have to accept
We generally tend to
associate Godhead only with love and compassion. We
forget that Godhead has also an aspect of power, terror and
destruction. It was this destructive aspect of Godhead
that Sri Krishna showed Arjuna through the Vishwarupa
Darshana revelation. What we find in the Chandi is
the same terrible aspect, but associated with the Eternal
Nishumbha and other characters portrayed in the Chandi are
of course mythological, but this does not make them
irrelevant in the present-day world. Do we not find
similar, or even worse, types of people in modern times?
Political leaders who commit mass genocide, terrorists who
bomb crowded trains, buses and market places, serial
murders, rapists et cetra, about whom we read in newspapers
- are these people in any way better than the demons
described in the Chandi? As a matter of fact, Chandi
assumes greater reality and relevance in the contemporary
world than at any other time before.
Chandi is not a book of
romance. Nor does it promise a utopian world. On
the contrary, it wakes us up from our futile dreams and
situates us right in the midst of the terrible realities of
the present-day world which we very often fail to face.
The third message of the
Chandi is the empowerment of women. In recent years
there is a lot of talk about empowerment of women,
especially in rural and tribal areas in
India. The Chandi shows to what heights this
empowerment can be raised. In all countries in all
times, women have been indoctrinated from childhood to
believe that they are weak, helpless and totally dependent
on men. The Chandi shows how much power women can
wield, how they can work independently, and face boldly even
the worst challenges of life without unduly depending on
Lastly, Chandi delivers a
message of hope, the assurance of divine help and succour.
In spite of all the terrible happenings described in the
book, there is absolutely no pessimistic tone or note of
despair in the Chandi. Let troubles and difficulties
come, let even dire calamities occur; we have nothing to
fear, for there is a God, a Mother, who protects us from all
dangers or gives us the inner strength to face them.
In modern times the Divine Mother, born as Sri Sarada Devi,
has given us this assurance: ''Always remember, there is
somebody behind you … Place your burden upon me and remain
unperturbed.'' This is also the last message of the Chandi.
Durga Puja was first celebrated
at Belur Math in 1901. Since then Durga Puja has been
celebrated at Belur Math year after year, although for a few
years after the first celebration in 1901, Pratima worship
was not done. (In this connection it should be mentioned
that Durga Puja was conducted on a small scale, without the
image, by the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna during the early
years of Ramakrishna Math at Baranagar.) It was Swami
Vivekananda himself who started the first Durga Puja with
the image at Belur Math. As a rule, Hindu Sannyasins do not
conduct this kind of ritualistic worship. Why then did
Swamiji start the new tradition?
One reason was to gain the
acceptance of the local community for the new way of life
that Swamiji and his monastic brothers were leading.
The Hindu society in Calcutta had not fully accepted
Swamiji's going to the West, and the rather unconventional
ways of life at Belur Math which included disregard for
caste rules and mixing with Western people. As a
matter of fact, the celebration of Durga Puja helped to
remove much of the misunderstanding and misgivings about the
new monastic institution among the local people.
Another reason was Swamiji
wanted to institutionalize respect for divinity of
motherhood and sanctity of womanhood. Swamiji saw that
one of the main reasons for the advancement of Western
people was the elevation of women in the West, and one of
the main reasons for the backwardness of India was the
neglect of women in this country. Worship of the
Divine Mother, especially the Kumari Puja, would create the
awareness of the potential divinity of women and a
respectful attitude towards them.
A third reason was
supernatural. A few days before Durga Puja in 1901,
Swamiji had a vision of Durga Puja being done at Belur Math.
More or less at that time, Swami Brahmanandaji saw in a
vision Mother Durga coming across the Ganga from
Dakshineshwar to Belur Math. Swamiji asked Raja
Maharaj to make preparations for Durga Puja immediately,
although only a few days were left to begin the Puja.
The main problem was to get a
clay image for worship. Enquiries at Kamartuli (the
street in Kolkata where artisans make clay images) revealed
that there was a single beautiful image of Durga in a shop.
The person who had ordered it had not turned up, and so the
artisan agreed to sell it to the monks.
Apart from the image, a lot of
other things had to be collected for the elaborate
ritualistic worship. Under able direction of Swami
Brahmanandaji everything was done well at short notice.
The first Durga Puja at Belur
Math was conducted in a huge Pendal (decorative shed) on the
open ground to the north of the old shrine. The
invocatory worship on Shashthi (the 6th day of the lunar
month) was on 18 October 1901. The Pujari was
Brahmachari Krishnalal and the Tantradharak was Isvar
Chandra Chakravarty, the father of Shashi Maharaj.
Sitting under the Bel tree (which now stands in front of his
temple) Swamiji sang Agamani songs welcoming the Divine
The householder disciples of
Sri Ramakrishna and orthodox Brahmins of nearby area had
been specially invited, and thousands of people,
irrespective of the distinctions of caste or religion,
attended the three-day festival. On the night of
Navami Swamiji sang many songs in praise of Divine Mother,
some of which used to be sung by Sri Ramakrishna.
Holy Mother and Durga Puja
When Swamiji decided to
celebrate Durga Puja at Belur Math, one of the first things
he did was to seek the approval of Holy Mother Sarada Devi
who was then staying at Baghbazar in Kolkata. Swami
Premananda went to Mother, and Mother whole-heartedly
approved the proposal. On Shashthi day She came with
other women devotees and stayed at Nilambar Babu's garden
house nearby. Mother attended the awakening ceremony
that day and attended the Puja on all the three subsequent
Since Sannyasins cannot
undertake this kind of ritualistic worship, Swamiji decreed
that the Puja should be done in the name of Holy Mother.
This became a tradition which continues to this day.
Swamiji looked upon Sri Sarada Devi as the divine
counterpart of Sri Ramakrishna, born for the awakening of
womankind in the modern world. In a letter to Swami
Shivananda written in 1894 from America, Swamiji had given
expression to his conviction about the Divinity of Holy
Mother as follows: ''Brother, I shall show how to worship the
living Durga (Jivanta Durga), and then only shall I
be worthy of my name. I shall be relieved when you
have purchased a plot of land and established there the
living Durga, the Mother (i.e. Sri Sarada Devi).'' The
presence of Holy Mother, the Living Durga, during the Puja
must have given boundless joy and satisfaction to Swamiji
and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
Holy Mother attended the Durga
Puja at Belur Math in 1912 and in 1916 and perhaps in some
other years also. Each time Mother stayed for a few
days and blessed Her monastic and lay children.
As already mentioned elsewhere,
several mythological legends underlie Durga Puja festival.
One of these is the legend that every year during the
Navaratri, Goddess Uma, who is identified with Parvati the
divine consort of Shiva, comes to the home of her parents - Himavat and Menaka. In Bengal this legend has been
universalized into the belief that the Divine Mother visits
the homes of all her children during the three days of Durga
Puja. Agamani songs are songs which vividly depict the
maternal love and deep concern of Menaka for her divine
daughter. They are sung to welcome Mother Uma into homes.
They also reflect parents' love for their married daughters.
Swami Vivekananda was fond of
Agamani songs because of the tender feelings expressed in
them. On the Shashthi of the first Durga Puja at Belur
Math, Swamiji sang Agamani songs such as, Giri Ganesh
amar shubhakari etc. The tradition of singing
Agamani songs continues in Belur Math. Every year from
the first day (pratipada) after Mahalaya to the sixth
day (Shashthi) Sadhus and Brahmacharins gather at the
main temple of Sri Ramakrishna at dawn and sing Agamani
songs in chorus. [At night, after Arati, they conduct
During the nine days of
Navaratri the book Chandi is recited everyday morning.
This recital is done along with worship of the Goddess
Chandi. In Belur Math this is done during the first
five days at a corner of Natamandir and from the 6th at a
corner of Durga Mandap itself.
Shashthi : the 6th day
This is a very important day
when ritual preparations are made to begin the Durga Puja
proper. These preparations are mainly three:
Kalparambha, Bodhan, Adhivas and Amantran.
Kalparambha : This ritual
is done early in the morning. It is mainly an act of
making the samkalpa or ''sacramental intention'', the
firm determination to conduct the Puja properly during the
three days. The ritual consists of installing the
ghata, water-filled copper pot, at a corner of Durga
mandap and offering worship to Durga and Chandi.
Bodhan: This rite is
performed at the Sandhya or dusk. The word ‘Bodhan'
literally means ‘awakening'. As already mentioned
elsewhere, the Hindu mythology holds that all gods and
goddesses go to sleep for six months during the southward
journey of the Sun. Autumn (Sharat), during which
Durga Puja is done, falls in the middle of this period.
Hence it is necessary to first of all awaken the deity Durga.
We have already mentioned that the awakening of Durga was
first done by Sri Ramachandra who wanted to propitiate the
Goddess before fighting Ravana.
The ritual of Bodhan consists
in installing a water-filled copper vessel at the base of
the Bel (Bilva) tree (or, as is now done at Belur
Math, keeping a branch of the Bel tree in the pot) and
praying to the Divine Mother to awaken.
Adhivas and Amantran :
These rites follow Bodhan. Adhivas means
''invocation''. Through Bodhan the Devi has awakened:
now the awakened Devi has to be invoked in the Bel tree or
branch of the tree. Adhivas is also a ritual of
sanctification. The actual ritual consists of the
following main steps.
Devi Durga and the Bel tree
are first worshipped
Twenty-six sacramental things
(mangalik dravya) are sanctified by touching Devi
Durga and the Bel tree with them.
To ward off evil effects, a
red coloured thread is tied around the altar where Puja is
The above ritual is followed by
Amantran which literally means ''invitation''. Through
this rite the Devi is invited or entreated to accept the
Puja the next day (Saptami).
After this, Devi is worshipped
with five items and Arati is done to Her.
The important point to note
here is that a living medium is necessary to invoke the
indwelling of a deity. It is through a living
medium that Divinity manifests itself. On the sixth
day Divinity was invoked in the Bel tree or a branch of it.
On the seventh day the Deity is invoked in a group of nine
plants known as
Navapatrika. The nine plants, which include a
branch of Bel tree also, are bundled together, given a
ceremonial bath, covered with an orange coloured cloth and
installed on a wooden seat on the right side of the image of
Durga. This is followed by Mahasnan (great
bath) on a mirror, using various materials. After
this, consecration and divinization of the image, known as
pranapratishtha, takes place. This is followed by
elaborate worship of the Devi with sixteen items (shodashopacharapuja).
The other deities, attendants and other objects associated
with Devi are then worshipped. The Seventh Day's Puja
is concluded with bhog (food offering) and Arati
As on Saptami, on Ashtami also,
Mahasnan and Shodashopacharapuja are done.
In addition, nine small pots with flags of different colours
attached are installed and the Nine Shaktis are invoked in
them and worshipped. After this sixty-four yoginis are
worshipped. Then one crore yoginis are worshipped.
This is followed by worship of Nava Durga (nine aspects of
Durga) and Goddesses Jayanti, Mangala, Kali, Bhadrakali,
Kapalani, Durga, Shiva, Kshama, Dhatri, Svaha and Svadha.
Ashtami Puja is concluded with Bhog and Arati.
Kumari Puja :
Worship of a young girl, treating her
as Devi, is also a
part of Ashtami Puja. Sri Ramakrishna has said that
the Divine Mother manifests herself more in a pure-hearted
girl and that is why Kumari Puja is done. He used to
bow down before little girls looking upon them as
manifestations of the Divine Mother. When Durga Puja was
done at Belur Math for the first time, Swami Vivekananda
worshipped several Kumaris. Now only one Kumari is
worshipped. The same kinds of offerings made to the
Devi are given to the Kumari also, and finally Arati is
performed. Even senior monks offer flowers at her
Sandhi Puja : The
last 24 minutes of Ashtami and the first 24 minutes of
Navami (a total of 48 minutes between the two lunar days)
constitute the Sandhi or ''Sacred Juncture''.
It is considered to be a most auspicious time. At this
time Durga is worshipped as Chamunda (that is, Kali who
killed the demon Chanda and Munda). This Puja is
considered to be the highest point in the whole Durga Puja
and the most important ritual.
It is customary to perform
bali or animal sacrifice at this sacred juncture.
When the first Durga Puja was celebrated at Belur Math in
1901, Swami Vivekananda wanted to have bali done.
But Holy Mother prohibited it and, in obedience to Holy
Mother's injunction, animal sacrifice is never done at Belur
Math. Instead, a banana is ‘sacrificed' as a symbolic
As in Ashtami, during Navami
also Mahasnan and Shodashopacharapuja are
offered to Devi. In addition, bali and Homa are
performed. In Belur Math for bali white pumpkin
and sugarcane are offered. The Homa (fire sacrifice)
is a combination of Vedic and Tantric traditions.
In the morning a brief Puja,
Shital bhog (cooling food offering) and Arati are
first done. Then the Pujari and Tantradharak
circumambulate the altar and perform the visarjan
ritual. In this ritual the Devi, who had been invoked
in the Navapatrika and consecrated Image, is entreated to
return to Her celestial abode. The Divine Mother,
however, dwells for ever in the hearts of devotees.
In the evening the Image of
Durga along with Navapatrika is taken in procession to the
river bank and immersed in the river. The water taken
from the spot, known as Shanti Jal is sprinkled on
the devotees who embrace one another as an expression of
their solidarity as children of the same Divine Mother.
And thus the holy Durga Puja comes to an end leaving joyous
memories in the souls of people.