Kanya Pujan -A View On The Hindu Ritual of Virginity and Divinity

April 13, 2011
With each passing year I'm finding Kanya Pujan (or Kanjak) meaningless.  With each passing year, I'm getting more and more disinterested in this Hindu ritual, when on a given day, we have to worship small virgin girls.  And this year, for the first time, I was vocal about my thoughts to my family.

In the following paras, I have elaborated about the ritual, the legend behind it, and its religious importance.  If you already know it, you can jump to Changing times and Kanya Pujan (below)

What is Kanya Pujan?  

Hindus observe Navratras (meaning nine holy nights) and during these days they worship Goddess Durga.  On each day one of the nine dimensions of the Goddess are worshipped.  On the eighth and ninth day,  virgin girls till the age of puberty and the one's who have not attained puberty, are worshipped.  This ritual is called Kanya Pujan (meaning worshipping the girl). 

Goddess Durga
The Legend of Kanya Puja -

As per the Hindu scriptures, Kumari Puja is observed to rememorize the demolition of the demon Kalasura by the Goddess Maha Kali. Legend tells that the demon Kolasura occupied the heavens and the earth. All Gods were helpless and tired with the bad actions of Kolasura. They approached Goddess Mahakali for help. The goddess was born again as Goddess Durga Devi and demolished Kolasura. Devotees perform dances and special aartis during the celebration of Kumari Pooja.

Why a virgin girl (who has not attained puberty) is worshipped?

Hinduism believes in the universal creative forces to be feminine gender. The very original force is Mahamaya whose inspiration created the gods and the rest of the cosmos. The inspiration is the life force of the entire creation. All the major and minor energies and forces are represented by various goddesses. Thus, a virgin girl is the symbol of the pure basic creative force according to this philosophy.

Girls worshipped and fed as Kanjaks
In a kanya (virgin girl)  the great feminine potential is at its peak. Having developed into a girl of a certain age and before attaining puberty, a female child is considered the most auspicious, the most clear minded and clear souled individual.

While invoking the parashakti in such a form the purity of mind body and spirits is required and is fulfilled by a girl child of the said age of 8+ before reaching puberty. Such a female child is indeed Devi, who in her later life takes the roles of Parvati as a wife and mother, Lakshmi as a housewife, Saraswati as the first guru of her children, Durga as the destroyer of all obstacles for her family, Annapurna as the food provider through her cooking, Kali as the punisher to bring the members of the family on the right track, so on and so forth...

Where all in India is it observed? What's the ritual?

Some of the regions in India that observe Kanjak Ashtami are Chandigarh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Ritual - 5 or 7 or 11 small girls from the neighbourhood are invited at home.  The lady of the house performs the ritual with the help of other people in the family.  The feet of girls (referred as Kanjaks) are washed with milk and water, vermilion tilak is applied on the forehead, Mouli (the holy thread) is tied on their wrist.  They are offered delicious food, traditionally - Poori, Halwa and Chana, and some gifts and money.  Lastly, the couple touches the feet of the Kanjaks and take their blessings.

In eastern states like Bengal , Assam , Orissa and parts of Bihar the ritual is a bit different . Ritual - A single girl is chosen from Brahmin caste with auspicious signs and pleasant looks to be decorated as a goddess . Then she is brought to the place where worship of Devi has already been going on and the rituals are then conducted on her . She is offered all the sixteen items of worships and showered with lavish gifts to please her , like chocolates , dresses , jewellery , toys , cosmetics etc .

Changing times and Kanya Pujan -

First of all, due to skewed sex ratio in most the northern Indian States or I don't know for what reason, finding young girls in many localities is a difficult thing.  Secondly, as its regular school days, so all the kids are off to school.  The only strata left out from schooling is the children of maids and other unskilled labours, who live in some slum or urban village (as we call them) around. (Definitely, it talks about the conscience of convenience that we all have.  That day, we don't mind that these under privileged kids are not going to school).

Honestly speaking, inviting those unwashed, unclean kids with tattered clothes and unkempt hair and an equally repulsive odour to your place can be quite cumbersome.  And following the ritual with true devotion can be very challenging or you have to be religiously religious for it... I doubt how many of us would be doing that.... I'm sure most of us serve food and offer money to them with pity than with the great bhakti bhavana (religious feelings).

Finally, the only option left with a busy, working couple, is to cook all the dishes and go to the nearest temple to either give to the priest to distribute to small girls during the course of the day or again find some small beggar girl and give the food and money to her.  We ultimately resort to giving alms or best put - to beggary.

This was about the ritualistic part only, which makes it worthless in my eyes.  Femininity as divinity is only fashionable thing to say, nothing more than that.

Talking about why I'm so uninterested now is because of one apparent reason, which does not need any elaboration.  The ever growing violence against females - foeticide, infanticide, sexual abuse of minor girls (Digital rape is a new term I came to know about), rape, sexual offenses, ill treatment because of the gender. 

This year, while I walked towards the temple to offer the food etc for Kanjaks, the news of a three year old girl, raped and killed, kept banging in my head. I bowed my head in front of the idol of the goddess Durga and came back soon..... how does it matter whether some people worship the girls.... they actually don't need them.


pics coutesy: google images


Perception said...

Well the concept of Kanya Pujan was alien to me but then why blame this thing alone..Most of the rituals do not do any good. Crackers in Diwali, Bhaang during Holi..Pointless and harmful but these things continue nonetheless and they will continue to exist forever

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Perception - good to hear from you.

I had been writing about such rituals from time to time. Wrote about Karva Chauth, Diwali crackers as well.

Yes, we must question such things, which actually have no meaning today.


aakash said...

Agree to a large extent...
A majority of customs, in today's world, hold no significance.. And although I believe that rituals are a part of culture, that needs to live through the generations, but at the same time, rituals without sentiments are like carrying dead weight..
Umm.. But as far as feeding street kids is concerned, I find it something good.. I love it when my mum cooks a lot of food and if possible, I help her out in getting the kids to eat.. I guess it's all about the way we look into this ritual..


BookWorm said...

Nice....! Informative.. as also well written...

having said that, for a long time, i believed hinduism is the only religion that gave us the freedom to choose the kind of avatar that we wanted of God.. for us.. God could have been male or female.. but.. of late.. i have discovered that even in other religions too..there are references to the feminine face of god..

this is much amplified by the persona of Virgin Mary, through whom the God made her the 'Mother of God'...and this is popularly known as 'Immaculate Conception'...

even in qoran... there are references to this immaculate conception and where prophet Mohammed describes the concept of IC in Christianity... welll both Islam and Christianity were born out of the same.. thats why one can see so many similarities in both these religions.....

... waiting for more such articles on our culture and festivals which keep us informative, which otherwise, this new generation of which i am also a part of.. know very little of...

raji said...

very nice post.restless.You have given good information on kanya pooja .I too have often thought about this .You have researched the topic well.

Madhav Mishra said...

agree totally...even my family does the evry tme i visit my native place.
why al this show off when u dont hav respect for women??..or else we wudnt b facing wid declining sex ratio in india had ppl been so religious.wishing things change!

Prateek Bagri said...

I knew the history behind the Kanya Pujan or Kanjak but I never knew that only virgin girls are worshiped, I always thought little cute kids are prayed.
Whoa! That was an insight.
And the speeding fall in sex ratio will one day extinct this festival, sad.

Rachit said...

Yeah, the number of child abuses cases posses serious concern.

Deepika said...

Many people are just carrying it not without actually knowing its importance or rather meaning. Going in groups just for the sake of doing it.
It'll continue.. Alike other rituals cause we indians prioritize rituals over sanity or rationale.

bharat chandran said...

I never knew that there are so many roles that a female child can take, I mean relating back to hindu religion goddesses.

And whether you worship a female child or not is a different question logically speaking. Nevertheless, that custom might have been created to ensure that all the girls are protected in a society or may be taken care of from a social perspective?

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Aakash- very rightly said, let's not carry the dead weight. Secondly, feeding street kids is a very good thing, but see it from Kanya pujan point of view. Do we do it with the same sentiment, as the actual ritual is? that was my question. Giving alms and worshiping are two different things.


A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Book worm - thanks for the content u put in the comment.

Yes, I will doing it... the blind following of things irk me badly!

Raji - thanks dear. Yeah it took me the whole day, roughly speaking! Tried to put all that was possible.

Maniac hunter - WE will have to change things... good u thought about it.


A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Prateek - hmm,ok.. u didn't know that... i guess i should be writing more about such things then. Thanks for the feedback.

No, the custom should not get extinct. We must try to put the soul back in the dead weight we are carrying.

RAchit - True, its disturbing.


A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Deepika - rightly said, we value ritual more than the rationale! thanks!

Bharat Chandran - Good to c ur comment! These rituals date back to the time when supposedly women were treated well, and they played strong roles in families and society. so can't say...

However, talking about all this makes me feel very shallow... as I have never gone into any detailed readings about our ancient texts... just hear say.

so won't say much here.

wish some reader could elaborate this.


Unknown said...

Beautifully captured. Keep that going!

Jack said...


I have always maintained that there is no use of rituals with lot of pomp & show unless your heart / mind is pure. Faith is an individual's choice but to make it a big show for others is not being true to God but trying to create an image in public. A silent prayer with clean heart is what we must choose. I am not an expert but I have strong feeling that all rituals of any religion set by religious heads of past era had some logic for each which has been lost to us and we blindly follow rituals without any true knowledge.

Take care

Alka Gurha said...

That femininity as divinity is a myth. A woman might be divine after she reaches menopause. Before that even a 4 year old is vulnerable.

UB said...

I really can relate to what you wrote. It's true with each year these days it's really difficult to ask girls to come over for the Puja be it due to school or any other reason. I knew about the fact that they are worshipped till they attain puberty..I kind of find it weird actually. I mean how can you be worshipping some girl and then don't allow her to sit down the next year if she attains puberty.Loved your informative post! I see thorough homework done in your posts! I always get to learn something :)

Vivek said...

Nice post friend,

Its nice we follow our rituals religiously , but why its just one day we do that ..one day we make them feel special..

where this thing vanishes when ..such incident happens ..its very sad..
here the real sanskars what parents gives to their childrens comes to picture and reflects..

A Restless Mind With A Sensitive Heart! said...

Ankush - thanks!

Jack uncle - yes that logic is the missing link!

Alka - not even after menopause Alka.

Vivek - yeah sanskara, the word.. right.


Desh said...

Restless - The very reason that women are not being treated properly is PRECISELY why rituals like Kanya Pujan should be PROMOTED!

The reason why people don't learn from it, is because they are closed.... they aren't sensitive.. aren't open to the possibility that is being offered to them.

The Universe comprises of two qualities - Masculine and Feminine (nothing to do with male and female). Masculinity manifests as Power, Economics, Money, Violence, Competition etc. Femininity manifests as Creativity, Innovation, Art, Compassion, Love etc.

While Masculinity is essential for Survival; Femininity is critical for Flowering of a being .. and indeed the entire Universe!

In the last 2500 years, since the Abrahamic religions started their march, the concept that Feminine could be Divine (or concept of Goddess) has been very systematically wiped out!

It is inconceivable in these cultures to think of God as a woman. Come to think of it - what IS "God"??? It is the highest conception of our imagination. No one has seen God or interacted with him.. but many have described him... in all the adjectives and superlatives that they could garner.

So, God is our concept of the Highest that can be there. When we destroy the concept of Goddess, we also destroy the possibility where people and an entire culture can think of a Feminine (Female in this case by extension) as the highest.

So, Survival becomes the highest quality to strive for. NOT Flowering!

Do you see the damage?

India is the ONLY culture left now, where Feminine is still worshipped as the Divine. Although and ironically, India also has the highest female infanticide in the world! What does this tell you?

To me, it tells me that we are so steeped in Survivalism that Flowering is just a ritual! It can be seen in our daily lives too. How many of us even think of taking care of the environment around us? How many want to pursue art for art's sake? how many will let our kids live a life of creativity sans any competition?

Ritual, however ignored its meaning, still provides that ray of possibility, that some one who has the necessary sensitivity may awaken to the concept of Feminine as Divine in the TRUE sense.

If you kill the ritual, you have even killed that small hope.

The thing to do is NOT to kill the ritual, but to find its true meaning and practice that... pass that.. PROMOTE that from the rooftops!

Killing a ritual is a lazy thing to do and something that any one with little IQs can do. But to strive to KNOW what it offers and WHY takes effort!

And that is precisely what the issue is. We will rather kill it and move on to further strengthen our survival; than to make effort and know it better.. enrich it more.. and sow the seeds of our collective flowering!!


Vyankatesh said...

Didn't know about such a practice!!

I agree with you thoughts!!

Anu said...

Can't believe that people are still doing such pujas.
I do respect and would like to follow certain cultures and customs. But y kanya pujan! these girls should grow stronger and bolder to face the challenging world, and not be made sensitive with these junk poojas...

Angry Ganu said...

As people mention, most of the customs are worthless and cause more damage than anything else.

Take the case of bursting crackers, wasting water, littering streets, etc. If anything we need a custom of humanness that brings people together without harming nature.

So what did you family think about your thoughts?
When I express thoughts to my family, it just ends up by them saying that it is tradition and custom and needs to be done.
I always end up arguing does it even matter if we are doing it just for the sake of it. Even if we realize those customs are worthless.


Desh!! Very well written!

The concept of masculinity and femininity has been explained very well!

True, in order to facilitate our survival, such rituals only serve as symbols of that celebration, of that sensitivity.

My problem is that I don't want to carry a ritual, just as a token of some lost thought. Don't you think, that today since the meaning of helping (promoting) the girl child has changed, we should change these rituals?? make something more relevant with the current times, something with which this generation can relate to??

I don't know what the new rituals would be? In the land where you have to bear a lot because of the gender u were born with, I don't know what ritual can bring back that sensitivity that u r talking about.

but thanks a lot Desh for ur valuable comments.

Manju Modiyani said...

I agree with your views... it actually hols good in our society.... on one side we r performing rituals like the one u mentioned above...and on the other side we kill the unborn girl child thinking of it as a burden....the Kanya Pujan has lost its real purpose....

Sati Matharu said...

Tell me more about rituals forgotten

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