Shukla ashtami, the eighth tithi (lunar phase) of the waxing Moon this month, marks the eighth day of Navaratri during which we honor Goddess as Mahagauri, the “great white” goddess. This incarnation of Durga is fair, shining and radiant like pure light, representing her purifying shakti. She rides a bull and carries a damaru (a hand-drum) and a trisul in two hands, keeping the other two in mudras for blessing and protecting. She represents compassion, truth, and purity and bestows these on her devotees. Mahagauri is often thought of as the young form of Parvati, and thus worshipers often feed young girls sweets on this day of celebration, to honor the great white goddess.
The story is often told that while Parvati was doing penance to win Lord Shiva, her body became black and dirty. When Shiva accepted her he washed her with the water of the Ganga which made her shine resplendently and become Mahagauri. This represents her power to free us from all pain and suffering and to bless us with auspiciousness and virtues, as those who bathe in the waters of the holy river Ganga are said to be blessed and purified. This includes freeing us from the painful attachments to the material world. As we worship Mahagauri after the night of worship dedicated to Kalaratri, we can see that this detachment and reemergence into the light can come only after facing death and darkness.
This goddess relates to the planetary deity Rahu (the north node of the Moon), who is actually a shadow point in the cosmos and has no physical body. Thus Mahagauri relates to parts of our soul and psyche that are beyond the physical body or chakra system. In our worship, making offerings to her and meditating upon her, we can begin to go beyond our attachments to the mundane details of life and brighten our awareness of spirit.