The Ashtami falling during the Navratri is called ‘Maha Ashtami’. The puja done on the eighth day of Navratri that is ‘Ashtami’ is meant to appease all aspects of Maa durga together and there it is highly significant. On this day, Navratri fasting ends with the worship and prayers of Goddess Durga. It is believed that Maa Durga manifested on this day. The eight aspects of Durga emerged from her and assumed distinctive forms and names. Each of these aspects signifies a particular attribute of the Devi. Legend has it that it was on the ninth day that Maa Shakti had taken the form of Goddess Durga on the request of Devtas and killed demon Kalasura.
The day is auspicious to celebrate womanhood. Therefore the ritual of ‘kanjakas’ or ‘kanya pujan’ is performed by Hindus across India and even abroad. Little girls are dressed in colourful and adorable dresses. In this puja ritual, nine girls who haven’t attained puberty are invited to home along with three boys. These nine girls represent nine incarnations of the Goddess and three boys represent Lord Ganesha, Batuk Bhairav and Hanuman. Their feet are washed, moli (a sacred thread) is tied around their wrist, tilak is applied on their forehead along with few rice grains. Then, they are feasted with the special prasad food that includes suji ka halwa, sookhe kale chane and puri. After feeding them, their feet are touched to attain the blessings of Devi Maa. They are given money and gifs while leaving as a token of love. A special Durga aartis is also performed to pay homage to the Goddess and complete the Kanjaka rituals. These rituals undoubtedly hold a great significance during Navratris. They may vary from region to region in the country.
In Hinduism, young girls are believed to be a form of Goddess Durga. According to ‘Striyah Samastastava Devi Bhedah’, a girl child is the purest form of Devi due to her innocence. A girl before attaining puberty is considered to be the most clear minded and a divine one. She is a true Devi in the real sense as she will take up the roles of Devi Parvati as a mother and wife, Devi Lakshmi as a housewife, Devi Saraswati as the first guru of her children, Devi Durga as a demolisher of all the problems of her family, Devi Annapurna by providing food to her family and so on in her later life. These are the feminine powers vested in the form of girl child. Durga is also known by the name of ‘Kumari’ and is the strongest of all the forms. Hence, on the eighth day, to honour the strength she embodies, ‘kumari pujan’ is performed.
According to Hindu scriptures, once demon king Kalasur started ruling heaven and spreading his terror on earth. The helpless Devtaas pleaded Maa Kali for help. Goddess Kali incarnated into Durga and killed Kalasura on the 10th day of Navratris, which is celebrated as Vijaya Dashmi throughout the country.
The festive fervour of devotees during Navratras reaches its zenith on the day of Ashtami but at the same time the ritual of kanjakas marks the closure of the celebration of nine day festival.