Kolkata: Devotees gathered in the thousands from across the country and abroad at Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, to watch `Kumari Puja` or the worship of a pre-pubescent girl on Maha Ashtami of Durga Puja on Monday.
Maha Ashtami, also known as Durga Ashtami, was marked by significant rituals in the morning, beginning with Kumari puja where girls are worshipped as personifications of the goddess.
Upholding tradition, the nine manifestations of the goddess - Durga, Jayanti, Mangola Kali, Bhadra Kali, Kapalini, Kshama Dhatri, Siva, Svaha and Svadha - were also offered tributes.
Belur Math, in Kolkata`s twin district Howrah, about 10 km from here, saw a sea of humanity with people, including Governor MK Narayanan, watching in awe as monks worshipped a `Kumari` as the `Mother Goddess`.
According to Hindu mythology, Kumari Puja was started to establish the importance of women. The maiden who is worshipped symbolises the power that regulates creation, stability and destruction on earth.
Kumari Puja was resurrected by the famous religious leader Ramakrishna Paramahansa Deb in the late 19th century.
Throughout West Bengal, festive fervour peaked on Maha Ashtami as young and old alike chanted hymns, taking part in anjali (offerings to the god) and stood in long queues before idols of the goddess Durga.
The revellers, in their best outfits, gorged on the Ashtami staple of luchi-aludum (flat-bread and pressure-cooked spicy potatoes) or khichuri (dish made from lentils with cauliflower).
Durga Puja, one of the biggest annual festivals in eastern India, marks the victory of good over evil, with the slaying of demon Mahishasura by goddess Durga, astride a lion.