At a time when aborting the female foetus is common in many parts of India, especially in the Northern provinces, a five-year-old girl has been worshipped as the living embodiment of goddess Durga in Tripura.
The ritual of ‘Kumari Puja‘ was organized by Ramakrishna Mission in Agartala on Wednesday.
Kumari, or Kumari Devi, is the tradition of worshipping young pre-pubescent Brahmin girls as the manifestation of the divine female energy or Devi in South Asian countries. Kumari literally means virgin in Sanskrit.
The ritual of Kumari puja, a significant part of Maha Ashtami worship, was started in 1901 by the founder of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission (RMRM), Swami Vivekananda.
An unmarried girl, who has not yet reached puberty and is bereft of desire, worldly pleasures, and anger, is selected for the ritual to highlight the importance of women.
The preparation for the ritual which started over two months ago, culminated in the girl being worshipped exactly as goddess Durga on the eighth day or Maha Asthami – the most auspicious of the five-day Durga Puja festival.
At the break of dawn, the Kumari was bathed, draped in a red sari, adorned with flowers and jewelry, with a “sindur (vermillion) tilak” applied on her forehead.
The young Kumari fasts the whole day until the puja is over. She is made to sit before the goddess’s idol on a decorated chair with priests chanting hymns and dhak (traditional drum) being played in the background.
This year Kumari Sayantika Chakraborty, a five-year-old child of Ramkrishna Sishu Titha School in Agartala was selected for Kumari Puja.
According to religious belief, after the puja, the divinity of the goddess is believed to descend into the Kumari.
Secretary, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Tripura, Swami Hitakamananda said, ” Durga Puja in Belur math was started by Swami Vivekananda himself in 1901 because in Indian society, Mother is considered the most respectable character in the society. Through Kumari Puja, we want to infuse the respect, love and honor that we should uphold towards women and at the same time the divine is present in all women and human as well. We want to infuse respect to women and highest respect to Motherhood.”
Though largely restricted to the various centers of Ramakrishna Math, the Kumari puja is also practiced at a handful of other pandals in the country.
Pratima Baidya, a young devotee said, “This Puja is very relevant today because Swami Vivekananda gave respect to the women and kept then above everything and so today it will send a message. I am not a regular visitor but the discipline here attracts me.”
Haradhan Datta, a devotee said, “Swami Vivekananda first organized Kumari Puja and during his Chicago speech he tried to enlighten the women force and which had sent a message throughout America. Since then he organized Kumari Puja a symbol of women power towards the liberation of women and which Ramkrishana Mission is still continuing.”