Another name for Durga is Durgatinashini, which means ‘the one who eliminates suffering’. It is believed that the goddess appeared on this day and annihilated Mahishasura’s demon associates Chanda, Munda, and Raktabija.
Durga Ashtami is considered to be one of the most significant days in the Hindu calendar following Navaratri. Ashtami, meaning ‘the eighth’, is dedicated to Goddess Mahagauri, one of the nine forms of Goddess Durga.
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.
This year, it will be celebrated on Saturday 24 October. It falls on bright lunar fortnight Ashtami tithi of Aswina month, according to the Hindu calendar.
It is on this day that young girls are dressed up as the goddess herself and worshipped as part of the Kumari Puja. Additionally, the legendary Sandhi Puja also happens on this day. The Drik Panchang says that the window of the last 24 minutes of Ashtami tithi and the first 24 minutes of Navami tithi is known as the sandhi time (an auspicious hour), during which the puja has to happen.
While in olden days animal sacrifices used to happen on this day, it has largely stopped due to humanitarian grounds and now people symbolically cut down pumpkins, bananas, cucumbers, so as to keep with the tradition. Also during the aarti, 108 earthen lamps have to be customarily lit so as to appease the goddess and seek her blessings.
You can read more about Maha Durgashtami here.