Maha-ashtami or Durgashtami and Mahanavami are the eighth and the nineth day of the Durga Navaratri festival of the month of Ashwin or Ashweyuja. These are the most important day of the Sharad Navaratri festival of Goddess Durga.
On either of the two days people who had fasted during navrati, keep Kanya Puja or Kanya Bhoj at there places. This ritual is performed in most parts of the country.
Many devotees who do not observe fast during Navrati make sure that they fast on Ashtami. It is said that ashtami day ends with Sandhi puja, which overlaps into the next day which is the Mahanavami day. Goddess Durga is offered clothes, bangles, jewellery, dhoti, kajal, bindi and other. Then perform Aarti and offered Bhog (meal).
Kanya Puja or Kanya Bhoj means that on the day of ashtami or navami nine young girls (below the age of 11 years) representing the nine forms of Goddess Durga invited for a meal before 12 noon.
Before offering then food, their feet are washed and alta (pink or red color) is apply on it. Then a tika is applied on there forehead as a mark of respect for the Goddess.For the meal one can make any thing with out onion and garlic in it. The most perfered items are kala chana, halwa and poori (remember that one should not us a tawa on these days). Then after new clothes or various gifts are offered to these young girls by the worshiper.
In some regions eigth forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped known as Ashtanayikas – Brahmani, Maheswari, Kameswari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasinghi, Indrani and Chamunda. Numerous minor deities including many attendants and guards of Durga are worshipped on the day. Shakti temples conduct special pujas on the day and are visited by millions of devotees. It is also believed that demons Chanda,Munda and Raktha Beeja were killed by Kali on Durga Ashtami.
This year Durga Ashtami is on 9th October 2016 and Mahanavami is on 10th October 2016.
Note : There is no specific Muhurat or Auspicious time for this puja as it can be performed during any part of the day, especially performed in morning hours.