Kumari Puja was started in West Bengal by Ramkrishna Paramhansa. It is done on eighth or the ninth day of Navratras. Kumari Puja as the name suggests is the tradition in which girls in their pre-puberty age are worshiped as a reflection of divine energy. The word Kumari is a derivative of Sanskrit word Kaumarya which means a virgin. The belief is that as soon as the girl reaches puberty the divine forces leave the body. We are not trying to justify if the tradition is wrong or right. The word is also used for referring to Goddess Durga in her childhood. Unmarried young girls are worshiped as Goddess Durga during Kumari Puja or Kanjak Puja.
Maa Bhagobhati is ever virgin though she is the creator of this universe. That's why there is apractice of Kumari Puja in every Shakti Peeth. In the temple of Kamakha in Asam there is Kumari Puja. Many devotees give darshan there. There is one sort of Kumari Puja in Nepal, Bhtan and Sikim. Especially, it's a very important part of Puja in Nepal. Although being very popular in Bengal and Nepal, it is a tradition that is practiced all over India. Irrespective of the fact where a Hindu is found in the world, they observe Kumari Puja in one form or the other.
Kumari Puja has been discussed in the ancient scriptures. It is said that the Goddess Chandi declared that she is manifest in all females in the universe and the entire set of rituals celebrates this spirit. As a part of the rituals a girl is chosen as a Kumari, a divine being. Though we knew about Kumari Puja very recently but it was re-introduced by Swami Vivekananda in Belur Math. This is the specialty of Durga Puja there. Even Swamiji arranged several Kumari Puja on the First Durga Puja of Belur Math. There is a nice reference on this event.
"On 1308 of the Bangla New Year our mother (Sree Sree Maa) was present after being invited by Swami Vivekananda. That was the first Durga Puja there. There the disciples set a nice alter and protima with the image of the mother. There was a great festivity there. Under her guidance, there was no animal sacrifice on that Puja. On that Puja Swamiji worshipped no less than nine Kumari there. He submitted himself to the feets of those young girls. There was such a young girl on the alter as Kumari Swamiji expressed while he was putting red sandal on the forehead 'Aha! Am I not hurting the third eye of the goddess?"
Even Sree Sree Maa also worshipped those Kumari girls in the alter. There are a lot of many stories on Swamiji's Kumari Puja. When he was in Kashmir, he worshipped a baby girl of a poor fisherman as Kumari. Nowadays a five or seven years of girl is worshipped beside the protima on Maha Ashtami. There is always a huge crowd on the day of Kumari Puja.
With the golden touch of Swami Vivekananda many women had changed theor lives. A so called modern woman Monika Chakrabharty turned Jashuda-Maa, a saintly figure to devotees. She was greatly moved by a spectacle of Kumari Puja by Swamiji in her childhood. How many spectacular changes had been taken place under the magical touch of Swamijiis yet to be discovered.
Now, we will discuss the procedure of Kumari Puja. The first step is to select the girl who will be the Devi in the Kumari Puja. This is a challenge as getting a child who will have the patience to sit for so long can be a little difficult.
The girls selected for Kumari Puja are mostly between six to ten years. The Bengalis consider the Durga Puja incomplete if Kumari Puja is not done on Ashtami or Navami.
We can also see the Kumari Puja in various Ramakrishna missions across the world. Belur math in Kolkata is also famous for its Kumari Puja. In Belur Math Swami Vivekananda performed Kumari Puja in the year 1902. The child is made to wake up early in the morning of Ashtami. She is given bath in Ganga water. The little girl is dressed in a traditional sari of West Bengal and completely made up like a Goddess.
She is made to wear jewelry and flowers. Kumkum and Chandan is used to decorate her face. Alta that is a red paint that Bengalis apply on feet and hands is applied on the hands and feet of the little girl. Once she is ready she is made to sit in front of the idol of Goddess Durga.
A flower from the hand of the goddess is taken and is given to the child to hold. Now all the items that are used for the puja of the goddess are placed in front of the child. On this day the child is considered to be the goddess and is worshiped. The priest starts chanting the mantra. The Dhak (drums used in Durga puja) starts to play. It is said that at least once during Puja Goddess Durga enters the body of the child. Offerings made to the little child are considered to be offerings to the Goddess.
Social degeneration motivated by the political and economic atmosphere led to degeneration of status of women in Indian society. With time there developed an attitude that a girl child is a burden. In total contrast to this Kumari Puja as mentioned in the scriptures shows the real position that women have in the social and religious world. Kumari Puja recognizes the potential divinity in all humans and specially women that must be recognized and respected is the main aim. There are definitely two thoughts to Kumari Puja. Some support it and some are against it. The tradition is old and it is highly accepted by all across the world. This is exactly why Kumari Puja will continue in Durga Puja.
The writer is a General Secretary Shadhu Nag Mohasoy Ashram, Narayanganj
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