Durga Ashtami Puja is observed in many parts of India mainly in Tripura, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and other eastern parts of India. The day is considered significant as life is “breathed” into the idol of Durga by priests who perform elaborate rituals amidst chanting of religious verses.
The devotees of Goddess Durga start the celebrations on the morning of Maha Ashtami with Pushpanjali. Devotees perform the ritualistic bathing and fasting before offering Pushpanjali. Fresh flowers are held in hand and the mantra is recited after the priest. After reciting the Sanskrit couplets everyone showers flowers at the Goddess’s feet.
The worship of little girls, called ‘kumari puja, is the main attraction of the day. Kumari Puja is the puja where in a young girl, within age 12-13 is worshipped, as the young girl representation of Devi Durga.
Yoginis (the companions of Devi Durga) are worshiped on this day. The nine manifestation of the Goddess- Durga, Jayanti, Mangola Kali, Bhadra Kali, Kapalini, Kshama Dhatri, Siva, Svaha and Svadha are worshiped.
Evening Aarati is performed with fire. The fire symbolizes light and is the purifier of sins. In the evening, Sandhi puja is conducted, which marks the inter-linking of the Maha Ashtami with Maha Navami. It is performed at the end of Durga Ashtami and the beginning of Maha Navami. Sandhi Puja is one of the most important ritual during Durga Ashtami-Durga Puja. The 48 minutes interval or Sandhi when Ashtami Tithi transits into Navami is highly sacred. Half of it falls in Ashtami and another half in Navami. At this time Durga is worshiped as Chamunda (a form of Kali who killed the demon Chand and Munda).