Maha Ashtami, also known as Maha Durgashtami is one of the most Auspicious days of Durga Puja and Navratri Celebration. It is celebrated on 8th day of Navratri which falls on the Ashtami Tithi of Chaitra month according to Hindu Calendar. On Maha Ashtami nine small pots are installed and nine Shaktis of Durga are invoked in them. All nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped during Maha Ashtami Puja. Durga Ashtami is also known as Astra Puja as on this day, the weapons of Goddess Durga are worshipped.
Young unmarried girls, being treated as Goddess Durga itself, are also worshipped on Maha Ashtami. Worshipping of young girls during Durga Puja is known as Kumari Puja. In many regions Kumari Puja is done during all nine days of Durga Navratri.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga is the mother of mankind and is believed to be the power behind the creation, preservation and destruction of the universe. The Hindu warrior Goddess Durga is typically portrayed as a beautiful woman with ten arms that bear divine weapons to protect each one of us. Her role in Indian mythology is very strong and powerful. She has been worshipped as the supreme power of the universe. She is a multi-dimensional Goddess, with many names and many persons. On the day of Durga Ashtami, Goddess Durga is worshipped as Maha Gauri, she is considered to be extremely beautiful. She represents calmness and exhibits Wisdom. Her power is unfailing and praying to her is instantly fruitful. The left upper hand holds a ‘Damru’ and the lower one is in the pose of granting boons to her devotees. It is believed that Goddess Kali appeared on this day from the forehead of Durga Maa and annihilated Chanda, Munda and Raktabija who were the demons associated with Mahishasur.
The legendary Sandhi Puja is also falls on Maha Asthami. The time window, commenced in the last 24 minutes of Ashtami Tithi till the first 24 minutes of Navami Tithi is known as Sandhi Time or the holy juncture during Durga Puja. Sandhi time is considered the most auspicious time during whole Durga Puja. Sandhi Puja is the culmination point and the most important ritual of Durga Puja. It is customary to perform Balidan or animal sacrifice at this sacred juncture. Devotees who abstain from animal sacrifice perform symbolic Bali with vegetables like banana, cucumber or pumpkin. For Brahmins any type of animal sacrifice is prohibited by scriptures and Brahmin community does only symbolic Bali. Even the famous Belur Math in West Bengal does symbolic Bali with banana during Sandhi Puja. It is customary to light 108 earthen lamps during Sandhi Kaal.