Artists and idol makers start shaping idols for the festival, the high point in every Bengali’s year, Durga worship. These are the idols that are going to come to life and be witness to countless prayers, tears, smiles, appreciation, and laughter. In India, all religions and their rituals are sacred; while some have crystal-clear explanations others exist only because there has been an age-old practice. And, among them is the famous yet unexplained practice of using soil from the land of sex-workers to prepare Durga Idols in Kolkata. While the entire North and West India celebrate the nine holy days prior to Dusshera as Navratras; in East the festivity is observed as Durga worship.
God is from all and for all
Some say, as these sex-workers are an abandoned section of society all their lives, this one occasion sees them coming under one unity umbrella as devotees of God and are included in the society. During this time, they are well-treated and welcomed to all religious Durga pandals; unlike rest of the year, when they are ill-treated by the same society. Sadly, this hypocrisy still exists in our times.
Purging their sins
It is believed that the path they have chosen to lead their life is a sin in itself, and for that reason including the soil of their land for Durga idol making, purifies them in the process. Also, while they handover the soil to priest, and amid the mantras enchanted by the latter, souls of prostitutes are unburdened.
Epitome of energy
According to some Hindu priests, before the fatal fight between Maa Durga and Mahishasur, the latter tried to malign her dignity and attempted molestation. Angered by this disgrace, Durga Maa used all her power and rage to destroy Mahishasur, who looked down upon women. For this reason, it is believed that using of soil from outside a brothel should be treated as a respect to those women, who have been downtrodden and humiliated by society.
Punya Mati or Holy Soil
As per many believers and bloggers on the Internet, the soil from the prostitute’s land is the purest because it beholds the virtue and purity of those who visited the place. It is said that whenever a man visits a prostitute, he leaves behind his purity and virtue on her doorstep. So, all the pureness gets accumulated outside her house. Hence, this ‘holy soil’ becomes an unavoidable element in the Durga Ma idol.
With changing times not just priests, but even the idol makers today visit brothels or prostitute’s home to seek the sacred soil. Kumortuli in Kolkata is traditionally a potter’s land, where numerous clay idols of gods and goddesses are prepared in larger numbers for festivities and export purposes. After searching the Internet in-n-out and speaking to Bengali friends and their families in Kolkata, I did all and came around with not one, but four possible reasons behind this revered ritual.
Visit to prostitutes’ land
According to Hindu rituals, for the preparation of Durga idol, four things are of utmost importance- mud from the banks of the Ganga, cow urine, cow dung and soil from a prostitute’s land or Nishiddho Pallis (forbidden terrorities). Together the mixture constitutes the sacred idol of Goddess Durga; without the sand from a prostitutes’ land, the idol is considered incomplete. This one tradition has been going on for years, but no one knows the exact reason why it started.
It is no secret as how some women are subjected towards inhumane treatment, some are shunned from society, a few insulted and ill-treated throughout the year. But, during Navratras they are worshipped and considered auspicious; call it hypocrisy at its peak. The worst affected section of society is of sex-workers, all their lives they are attributed with slangs, but during Navratras, individuals throng at their doorsteps with polite smiles begging for some land from their land.
The soil of brethel is considered as holy
It is believed that the soil from outside a sex-worker’s home is considered holy and that is why the priest of the temple had to go at the doorstep of a brothel and beg for the mud for the Durga idol. While a prostitute handover the mud to the priest, he had to enchant some mantras. The priest had to keep begging for the soil if they deny.
It is high time we pay heed to the fact that woman, no matter what strata of the society, what class, what walk of life she is from… are to be respected, revered and honoured. Let this ritual not be an act of tokenism, let it be a reminder that even if you might think a woman is not virtuous, she has a Durga within.