Durga Puja is an indelible part of the life of a Bengali and during the festival, Kolkata as a whole enters a period of diyas, the exquisitely crafted Durga idols, pandal hopping, fashion extravaganza, celebrations, and frenzy. It is intriguing to know that the sex workers in Kolkata, who are ostracised by the society, add the magical touch to the idol of Maa Durga, the main attraction of the festivities. Surprising isn’t it? It is true. It is said that the clay that goes into the making of the idol should contain the soil from the ‘Nishiddho Palli’ or Forbidden territories. The soil collected from outside a prostitute’s home. How ironical that although this place is otherwise considered dirty and forbidden by many, during the Durga puja it is this place which has the sacred soil that is needed for making the idol of our holy Goddess Durga!
According to early tradition, the soil of many kinds was mixed to create the idol. The soil collected from the seven holy rivers, soil from 51 Sakthipithas, soil from five animals and soil from the courtyard of Nine Kulanganas including the prostitute is mixed to mould the idol. Nowadays the artisans from Komortuli, the land of artisans in North Kolkata carry on the tradition of mixing cow urine, mud from the banks of the Ganga and the ‘Punnya Maati’ or pristine soil that is brought from the brothels.
‘Punnya Maati’: the custom and the theories behind such reverence
The origin of such a custom is probably based on the fact that everyone remains equal in the eyes of the Supreme Power and it would only be possible if even the most excluded women in society and included in the making of the ultimate divine feminine figure and its worship. However, who started such a ritual and when or why is something that has remained unexplained though there are many theories that float around it.
It is said that the priest or pujari has to beg at the house of a sex worker and she gives it as a blessing. The priest accepts it chanting Vedic mantras to purify those women and honor the holy soil from her courtyard. According to most believers, when a man enters the house of a prostitute, he essentially leaves behind his purity and virtue at her doorstep. The soil outside her home is therefore full of goodness and nobility and considered purest for use in making the idol. The very act of man begging the courtesan for a handful of soil from her porch could be a way for asking her forgiveness of him and his kind for the dishonorable life that she leads is to satisfy the dark desires of the male kind. It could have been seen as an act to cleanse himself or other males of the sins they committed and save his family from the wrath of such sins.
It is also believed that since the path that these women have undertaken for a living is a sin in itself and including soil from their land in making the idol of the divine Goddess purifies them and at least on this one occasion they are seen as mere devotees of Durga. Thus the entire Durga Puja is a way of paying respect to womanhood and that includes those women who are forced to serve masculinity for their livelihood.
With the passage of time, as scientific prudence prevails over traditional beliefs, there are some customs that fade away but the entire Durga Puja is a celebration of womanhood and honoring them. The custom is a reflection of the Bengali society in which every woman is revered no less than a Goddess.
Featured Photo by ankuz