A ritual that at once brings goddess Durga close to her devotees and also enshrines her as the perfect embodiment of divinity. It has been a long standing tradition in our culture to worship a kumari, a girl who has not yet attained puberty, as a form of ‘Shakti, which is infact said to be the most potent form. Bereft of desire and untouched by worldly pleasure, she is both graceful and godlike. Our culture has always held women’s purity in the highest regard and has associated it with divinity. It is to glorify and sanctify this and to bring the divine closer home, to make people believe that she exists amongst us, that Kumari puja is practised.
During Durga puja, the divine mother is worshiped in this form for which a girl child, preferably with a calm disposition, a bright mind, good lineage and belonging to a Brahmin family, is selected. Thus the goddess finds repose in a human form whose age may vary from 1-16. Depending on that, they are worshipped in different forms-Sandhya, Saraswati, Tridha,Kalika, Subhaga, Uma, malini, Kujjika, Kalsondarbha, Aparajita, Bhairavi, Mahalxmi, Pitnayika, Khetragaya & Ambika.
The ritual which is usually held on ’Ashtami’, involves bathing the girl in Ganges water, draping her in a red Benarasi saree and adorning her with flowers and jewellery. Her feet is coloured with liquid vermilion and her forehead bears a mark of the same. She sits on a special platform infront of the idol of the goddess and the priest worships her, chanting verses, placing offerings at her feet and conducting all the rituals that have been prescribed in the scriptures for this ceremony.
In Bengal, the grandeur of Kumari puja is witnessed at the monasteries of Ramkrishna Mission, especially at Belur Math, the worldwide headquarters of the mission. While Shri Ramkrishna had worshipped his wife, Sarada devi as a kumari, Swami Vivekanada had first performed this ritual at Belur Math and ever since, the practice has been very much a part of the religious festivity of Durga puja at the mission.
Among all the rituals of Durga Puja, this one is special and certainly deserves to be celebrated with all the reverence and devotion that is accorded to it.