Kolkata, Oct 17 (IANS) Thousands of devotees from across the country and abroad gathered at Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, to witness the ritual of the worship of a pre-pubescent girl as a goddess, with the Durga Puja fervour reaching a peak on Mahashtami in West Bengal on Wednesday.
A feel-good ambience prevailed across the state as devotees dressed in their best offered 'anjali' (floral offerings) to the goddess amid beats of 'dhak' or drums.
As the warm day metamorphosed into a soothing evening, the city virtually turned into the Garden of Eden, where happiness and merriment reigned. Neons, halogens, twinklers and lights of all hues shone bright, drawing youngsters, the middle-aged and the elderly who poured onto the streets in lakhs to go marquee-hopping across the metropolis as well as in nearby and far-flung districts.
On Mahashtami (eighth lunar day), the rituals began in the morning with Kumari Puja to celebrate the spirit of womanhood in Howrah district's Belur Math.
Kumari Puja was started by Swami Vivekananda in 1901 at the Math to underline the social status and importance of women.
The ritual starts from dawn, when after ablution in the holy waters of the Hoogly river, the 'Kumari' is wrapped in a red sari, adorned with floral ornaments and given a 'sindur' (vermillion) mark on her forehead.
She sits before goddess Durga's idol on a decorated chair as priests chant hymns, thereby creating an enchanting atmosphere.
After the puja, the divinity of the goddess descends into the Kumari, said a priest.
Following the almanac, Mahashtami formally came to an end in the afternoon, and Mahanavami (ninth lunar day) began with Sandhi Puja held at their confluence.
As per Hindu mythology, goddess Durga killed Chando and Mundo -- two 'asuras' or demons at the confluence (sandhi) of the two days. The goddess is worshipped as the undefeated divine force with lotuses and offered her favourite food items.
Meanwhile, the Santoshpur Trikone Park marquee in south Kolkata drew mammoth crowds with its theme artistically depicting tales from the Ramayana and other Hindu mythological texts through the puppet dance of Andhra Pradesh.
Another big ticket community puja organised by the Naktala Udayan Sangha has been an eye-catcher for its boldness in bucking tradition. Modern aesthetics was at play as none of the idols carried weapons, but wore masks.
On the other hand, long queues could be seen outside the cinema halls and multiplexes as some chose to watch the films of their favourite actors.
The five-day festival is considered the biggest event in this part of the world when even newspapers don't hit the streets and roads are choked with devotees and revellers throughout the day and night.
According to Hindu mythology, goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children -- Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati -- descends on earth every year to visit her parents to fight evil. This is the occasion that the puja celebrates.
Durga, the slayer of demon Mahishasur, comes astride her mount lion and wields an array of weapons in her 10 hands in symbolic representation of Shakti, or woman power.