Mahashtami or Maha Durgashtami is the second day of Durga Puja and one of the most significant days of Durga Puja festival. Durga Puja rituals on Maha Ashtami begins with Mahasnan and Shodashopachar Puja, which are very much similar to those of Maha Saptami Puja, with an exception that the Prana Pratishtha is done only once on Maha Saptami.
On the day of Maha Ashtami, nine small pots, in which nine Shakti forms of Goddess Durga are invoked, are installed and all these nine forms are worshipped.
Kumari Puja is performed on Maha Ashtami, which involves worshipping of young unmarried girls, treating them as Goddess Durga. In many places, Kumari Puja is performed on all nine days of Durga Navratri. However, it is preferred to perform Kumari Puja on a single day on Maha Ashtami.
The renowned Sandhi Puja is also performed on Maha Ashtami. Sandhi Time or the holy juncture during Durga Puja constitutes the time-frame of the last 24 minutes of Ashtami Tithi and the first 24 minutes of Navami Tithi. Sandhi time is regarded as the most auspicious time during whole Durga Puja festival. Sandhi Puja is the peak point as well as the most significant ritual of Durga Puja. It is expected to perform animal sacrifice or Balidan at this sacred point of time. Devotees, who refrain from animal sacrifice, perform symbolic Balidan using vegetables like banana, cucumber or pumpkin. As per Hindu scriptures, Brahmins are prohibited from doing animal and hence they do only symbolic Bali. Even at the famous Belur Math in West Bengal only symbolic Bali is performed with banana. It is a custom to light 108 earthen lamps during Sandhi Kaal.
About Mahashtami Fast:
Mahashtami Vrat is a significant observance of Hindus all over the world. The fast is day long and starts from the sunrise to sunset. Men and women observe fast to seek divine blessings of the Goddess and perform Puja following the tradition and rituals. Take a quick look at how Mahashtami fast is observed.
Making Offerings to Goddess Durga:
On Mahashtami day, devotees get up early in the morning. After taking bath they make offerings to Maa Durga along with flowers, chandan and dhoop.
Doing Kanya Puja:
Kanya pujan or kumari pujan is also done in which very young girls are fed with special Prasad or naivedyam.
Fasting is an important ritual and most of the devotees restrict eating and drinking the whole day. This fasting is observed to seek the blessings of Goddess Durga and acquiring spiritual gain. Some drink only water and milk throughout the day while some eat fruits. Even those who do not observe fast that day, stay away from non-vegetarian food or alcohol. Some committed ones sleep on the floor and keep distance from comfort and luxuries that day.
Offering Barley Grass:
In some regions, people sow barley seeds in a small pot during the nine days of Navratri and in nine days they attain the height of 3 – 5 inches, they are thus offered to the Goddess and then distributed among family members.
Chanting Durga Chalisa:
Devotees chant Durga Chalisa, Durga Saptshati and other mantras relevant for Durga pujan that day. Some read Durga Ashtami Vrat katha also.
After the puja is over, people give alms to poor, feed and give offerings to Brahmins and do according to their wishes and desires.
Devotees visit Shakti temple on this day where special pujas are conducted on Mahashtami day. Many devotees do not leave their houses vacant that day believing that Goddess will visit their house anytime and someone should be there to welcome her.
Significance of Fasting on Durga Astami:
Durga is a Sanskrit word which means, unbeatable and Ashtami means, eighth day. According to Hindu legends, the most powerful and fierce form of Goddess Durga, Goddess Bhadrakali was incarnated that day. The day is also celebrated as victory of good over evil as it is believed that Maa Durga killed demon
Mahishasura that day. Hindus believe that those who observe Mahashtami Vrat with full dedication are bestowed with good fortune and happiness in their lives.
Mahashtami is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Hindus all over the world. It is believed that keeping fast with a true dedication and performing puja with concentration can help people stay strong and keep mortal problems away from their lives. The devotees, especially the ones who observe fast, break their fast and have food only when they have fed kanyas or young girls, Brahmins and poor. Once all this is over, the fast is over invoking blessings of Goddess Durga.