Devotees from across the country and abroad gathered at Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, for the worship of a pre-pubertine girl as the goddess as the Durga Puja revelry reached its crescendo on Mahashtami here on Sunday. An ambiance of merriment prevailed over entire West Bengal with devotees dressed in their best offered anjali (floral offerings) to the goddess amid the heavy beats of dhaaks (drums), chimes of bells and twinkling lamps (diyas).
With Mahanavami to look forward to on an otherwise manic Monday, denizens of the eastern metropolis hit the streets in huge numbers, relishing every moment of eastern India’s most celebrated festival, notwithstanding the occasional showers.
The rituals began in the morning with Kumari Puja to celebrates the spirit of womanhood.
Belur Math in Howrah district, 10 km from here, saw a huge gathering, as in previous years.
Kumari Puja was started by Swami Vivekananda in 1901 at the Math to underline the importance of women.
The girl who is worshipped symbolises the power that regulates creation, stability and destruction on the Earth.
At dawn, after a ritual bath in the holy waters of the Ganga, the ‘Kumari’ — a pre-pubertine girl — was wrapped in a red sari and adorned with flowers and jewellery, with a ‘sindur (vermillion) tilak’ on her forehead.
The Kumari fasts until the worship is over. She is made to sit before Goddess Durga’s idol on a decorated chair with priests chanting hymns and dhak (traditional drum) being played in the background.
After the puja, the divinity of the goddess descends into the Kumari, said a priest.
Selfie sticks were out as the youths captured every moment of offering prayers to Goddess Durga as art of an Ashtami ritual.
Though less in number, Belur Math also saw mobile phones being flashed and check-ins posted on Facebook as social media caught up with the rituals spanning over a century.
The festivities ruled the social media with #DurgaAshtami on top of the trending charts till Sunday noon.
The five-day carnival is the biggest annual event in this part of the world when even newspapers shut down and roads are choked with human traffic throughout the day and night.
According to Hindu mythology, the festivities and prayers begin with the symbolic arrival of Goddess Durga on the Earth on the sixth day of the first, waxing fortnight of the moon and ends on Dashami or the 10th day, which is celebrated across the country as Dussehra.
Traditionally, every pandal has an idol of Goddess Durga depicting her as slaying the demon Mahishasur. She is shown astride a lion and wielding an array of weapons in her 10 arms.