The ‘Kumari Puja’ Ritual in Odisha on Maha Navami

By Himanshu Guru: ‘Kumari Pujan’ is an essential ritual of ‘Durga Puja’, which is being observed during the ‘Navratri’ days in the year. In Odisha, the ritual is performed with much excitement as ‘Durga Puja’ itself is celebrated in the state with pump and show.

The ritual of ‘Kumari Pujan’ includes worshipping of young virgin girls in the age group of 1+ to 10 years treating them as live incarnations of the Goddess Durga. Basically nine such girls are taken for worship to represent the nine incarnations of the Goddess during the nine auspicious days of Navratri.

‘Kumari’ means young adolescent spinsters who have not reached puberty. Once a girl reaches puberty, she then disqualifies to be worshipped as a ‘Kanya’ during Durga Puja. Hence, girls from the above mentioned age group are chosen so that they are young, beautiful and virgin.

The symbolic meaning of worshipping the girls as a ritual has several implications. A young girl is the most vulnerable form of human being. More clearly, when normally women, old elderly persons and children are considered vulnerable, a young girl is the most vulnerable amongst them. Hence worshipping of her symbolizes that – we respect each human being including the powerful and vulnerable.

Secondly, some mythological texts suggests that during slaying of the demon Mahisasura, who was a symbol of evil, the Goddess had killed him as a young virgin spinster. Hence to mark the incident Kumari Pujan is performed.

In Odisha, ‘Kumari Pujan’ is celebrated both in the individual houses and in the community puja pendals. Devotees, who observe the vow of Navratri, invite nine or one girl to their home and worship them as per the original rites that we use to perform during worshipping an idol of the Goddess. They first make her stand on a wooden table and wash her feet and then make her seat in a decorated chair and offer vermillion, flowers, dhoop, Arati and Prashad. A small amount of money is also provided to her as ‘Dakshinaa’.

Normally, as children love chocolate, many people offer chocolate to the young girl/girls in Naivediya. But this is a modern adaptation and as the whole intention of Kumari Pujan is to please the girl, people do it, which should not be questioned claiming that it was not provided in the original texts.

MahaSaptami, MahaAstami and MahaNavami are the three most important days when several rituals of Durga Puja take place. In Odisha, Kumari Pujan is observed on Maha Navami, the ninth day. In the puja pendals either one or nine girls are unanimously chosen to be worshipped over there and both men and women worship them as per the instructions provided by the ‘Purohit’, the worshipper.

This year Kumari Pujan was done in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Balangir and Sambalpur along with in other districts of the state on 23 October. After worshipping them devotees (of all age group) touched their feet to get the divine blessings from the live incarnation (considered) of the Goddess.

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