Kanya Puja or Kumari Puja is a significant ritual during Navratri and Durga Puja. It is held during the most important days of Navratri i.e. Ashtami and Navmi. This ritual involves worshiping girls aged between 6 and 12, symbolizing the Kanya Kumari.
Kanya Puja is an integral part of Devi Durga Puja and perhaps this auspicious puja was originally initiated in order to give girls due social status in the male dominated Indian social fabric. Nine young virgins (pre-puberty) are venerated on this day, signifying the nine forms of Goddess Durga. The young girls symbolize purity on account of their innocence and stand for feminine power in its purest form.
In religious texts Kanya Puja is suggested on all nine days of Navratri. On the first day of Navratri only single girl should be worshiped and one girl should be added on each day for 9 days. However many people prefer to perform Kanya Puja for all 9 girls on a single day either on Ashtami Puja day or Navami Puja day.
The girls from two to ten years of age represent various forms of Durga and are named as
2 year old – Kumarika
3 year old – Trimurti
4 year old – Kalyani
5 year old – Rohini
6 year old – Kali
7 year old – Chandika
8 year old – Shanbhavi
9 year old – Durga
10 year old – Bhadra or Subhadra
During Kumari Puja, each girl is worshiped with a dedicated Mantra. Suitable girl for Kanya Puja should be healthy and free from diseases.
Mantra that is chanted while performing Kanya Puja rituals:
मंत्राक्षरमयीं लक्ष्मीं मातृणां रूपधारिणीम्।
नवदुर्गात्मिकां साक्षात् कन्यामावाहयाम्यहम्।।
जगत्पूज्ये जगद्वन्द्ये सर्वशक्तिस्वरुपिणि।
पूजां गृहाण कौमारि जगन्मातर्नमोस्तु ते।।
Devotees invite young girls to their homes. The food Prasad is kept ready for the girls (Halwa, puri & chane ki sabji). The homes are cleaned and decorated.The girls are welcomed by washing their feet with humility. Tilak is applied on their foreheads, mouli or the red auspicious thread is tied on their wrists. Mantras are chanted to please the devi. The girls are then made to sit in a row on a rug or a pedestal/chowki.
Devotees apply kumkum or tikka on their forehead and tie a Kalava.The girls are then served with food
Once they are finished with their food, devotees touch their feet and give them dakshina (money/gifts).
Some people also gift clothes or toys.
The ritual is steeped in the Indian caste system, when it comes to the choice of Kanyas to be worshipped on Durga Ashtami. Traditionally Brahmin girls are revered if the devotee is desirous of acquiring knowledge and Kshatriya girls to acquire glory and fame. Worshiping Vaishya girls will ensure prosperity and wealth while those wishing to have a son should worship Shudra girls.
Celebrating the feminine power – the universal creative force
All the major and minor energies and forces are represented by the various goddesses. Navaratra deity Durga and all her dimensions are believed to be the manifestations of the same basic inspiration, Mahamaya. Devi is essentially a worship of the great feminine. In a Kanya the great feminine potential is at its peak. Having developed into a girl of a certain age and before attaining puberty, a female child is considered the most auspicious, most jagrat, and the most clear minded and has the most clear soul. While invoking the Parashakti in such a form, the purity of mind, body and spirit is required and is fulfilled by a girl child of the said age ( approx 8+) before reaching puberty. Such a female child is indeed Devi, who in her later life takes the role of Parvati as a wife and mother, Lakshmi as a housewife, Saraswati as the first guru of her children, Durga as the destroyer of all obstacles for her family, Annapurna as the one who feeds and nourishes her family and finally as Kali the punisher, who brings the members of the family together and ensures righteousness.