By Oindrila Muhuri Last Updated:
One of the biggest festivals in eastern India, Durga puja needs no introduction. The grandeur of the festival with its amalgamation of light, sound, food and people, made its place in the representative list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since December 2021. No matter what, every Bengali living outside Bengal surely misses the essence of the festival during this time. And every non-Bengali who even once visits Kolkata during the month of October can surely take back a heart filled with lifetime memories.
Most of you may be aware of Devi Durga's victory over Mahishasur, which is celebrated as Durgotsava or Sharodotsava. But do you know about the Kumari puja, which is a substantial part of Durga puja, and witnesses the worshipping of living goddesses in the form of young girls? Yes! You read it right! Young Kumaris, who resemble Durga Maa, the divine goddess of the festival, are worshipped during this day. So, without much ado, let’s delve into the details of it and also see a list of beautiful young girls donning a variety of bridal attires. In addition, we have also thrown light on a Muslim girl who was worshipped during this Hindu festival. Read on to know more!
Kumari puja is celebrated on the eighth or ninth day i.e., either on Mahaashtami or Mahanavami during Durga puja. Apart from this, Kumari puja is also celebrated during Kali puja, Jagaddhatri puja, Annapurna puja and all kinds of Shakti puja. The story behind Kumari puja dates back to 1898, when Swami Vivekananda had taken a halt for a few days in Kashmir while returning from Amarnath at Kshir Bhabani. There he performed Kumari puja for the first time on the day of Maha Ashtami when he had a dream of worshipping a boatman’s girl, and upon convincing a boatman over there, he worshipped his daughter and also touched her feet.
Afterwards, in 1901, Vivekanada started this ritual at Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramkrishna Mission in Bengal’s Howrah district. For the unversed, Vivekananda was an ardent follower of Ramkrishna, who used to worship his own wife, Sarada Mani as a goddess. And still now, Kumari puja is practised there along with many other places throughout the state. Moreover, the ritual is also mentioned in many Hindu scriptures associating that Devi Maa had taken re-birth on Earth in the form of young girls to commemorate the killing of Kolasur.
According to the age-old customs, a young girl (mostly Brahmin) is chosen to be the Kumari and is named based on her age. A girl of 1 year is called Sandhya, of 2 years Saraswati, then Tridhamurti, Kalika, Subhaga, Uma, Malini, Kuvjika, Kalasandarbha, Aparajita, Rudrani, Bhairavi, Mahalakshmi, Pithanayika, Ksetrajna till that of a girl of age 16 years is named Annada or Ambika.
The young girl is then bathed in holy water and sits in a high-raised place to get their feet washed. She is dressed up with beautiful sarees and adorned with golden ornaments. Moreover, a thread with a red Kumkum is tied on her forehead, along with shola crowns (mainly worn by brides during their wedding). She is also applied Alta (red liquid) to decorate her hands and legs with beautiful designs.
The young girl is offered special food like rice grains, luchi (puri), kala chana, coconut, and halwa. Finally, she is worshipped by chanting mantras and performing aarti in front of her with incense sticks.
Let's now check out some of the cutest young girls decked up as Devi Durga.
The young girl looked gorgeous, donning a white-coloured saree adorned with a pink border. Along with it, she wore golden jewellery, including a sleek maang teeka, a simple nath, bangles, a golden necklace, lotus garland and flaunted the chandan designs on her forehead.
The young girl stunned in an orange-hued Banarasi saree paired with a matching blouse and looked simply cute. Along with it, she donned a golden necklace, a maang teeka, a matha patti and matching golden bangles. Altogther, with the beautiful crown and floral garland, the little bride was simply looking beautiful.
The young girl donned a red checkered saree adorned with a golden border paired with a matching blouse. She completed her look with golden jewellery, including a broad neckpiece, matching long earrings, a unique maang teeka, a nath and a beautiful crown on her head. However, what caught our attention most was the girl's beautiful floral headgear which was also working as a backdrop.
Each one of them, donning red-coloured sarees looked simply pretty in their bridal attires. They completed their looks with golden jewellery, chandan designs on forehead and cheeks, floral garlands and crowns and radiated pure devi vibes.
As the saying goes that Devi Maa is present in everyone, and it isn't judged by caste, creed or religion, a Bengal family proved this true once again. A young Muslim girl named Fatima was worshipped in 2019 by the Dutta family of Arjunpur in Kolkata's North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Fatima hails from Agra in Uttar Pradesh, and though the Dutta family faced many uphill while taking the remarkable decision, but their initiative spread the message of communal harmony.
For the unversed, Kumari puja is also celebrated in other parts of India by different names like Kanya punjan or Kanjak puja in North India on the 8th and 9th day of Navratri, during Ram Navami and many other significant days. Not only that, it is also one of the deeply embedded cultural festivals of Nepal.