Urbanisation and decreased interaction with neighbours have changed the way festivals are celebrated today, and the most affected is the way Ashtami is celebrated in cities.
The dip in interaction among neighbours is attributed as one of the major reasons for the paradigm shift witnessed in the tradition of worshipping “kanjaks” in homes.
The practice of people inviting “kanjaks” (young girls) from neighbourhood to their homes on Ashtami, which marks the eighth day of Navratras, and worship them as Mother Goddess by offering them prasad, gifts and money, has undergone a tremendous change.
Lack of interaction has brought in hesitation among people to send their daughters to other people's houses, thus resulting in couples queuing at nearby temples or slums to offer prasad to slum children.
This change in celebrating Ashtami has resulted in a feast day for these “children of lesser God”. The slum children and their families look forward for the day which brings along bags full of “halwa and “puri-chana” along with making money and receiving other offerings which also include clothes.
Four-year-old Sheetal, a resident of Bhadehri, does not miss the opportunity to make an earning on this day at the Sector-40 temple. She says, “I along with a few other girls of the village come to the temple and people start pouring in since morning to offer us prasad and money. We manage to take a bagful of halwa and puris which is shared by our family members. Also, we make a humble earning, apart from getting red chunis (stoles) which are offered by residents.”
Five-year-old Rani, who makes a living by begging at light points gives the job a break on Ashtami and enjoys being offered parsad by people who on other days shoo her away.
“I miss the traditional way of celebrating Ashtami. As children we used to go around in the neighbourhood being pampered and worshiped by residents, but now things have changed. I prefer going to the temple in the morning and offer parsad to children and poor people present there,” says Kavita, a resident of Zirakpur.
“For me worshiping seven kanjaks had been a tradition, but now I struggle to find more than five girls every year on Navratras, so I prefer to go to a neighbourhood temple and offered prasad to girls. There is a drastic change in the way Ashtami is celebrated. To tell you the truth, now over the years I find it convenient to get up early prepare parsad and go to the temple and offer it to underprivileged children then to arrange kanjaks from nearby by slum colonies,” says Inderjeet Bassi, a lawyer in Chandigarh.
“With limited or no communication with neighbours, finding kanjaks is difficult. Parents are not very comfortable to send their daughters to neighbour's home with whom they do not have any interaction. Even my daughter does not like going around in the neighbourhood for the puja,” says Shilpi Rana, a resident of Panchkula.