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Durga idols: Not all follow the ‘red light soil’ tradition

Ramprasad Mallick, 25, a rural artisan and a resident of Kamrangaguri on the outskirts of Siliguri, said he did not collect such soil this year.

Manas R Bannerjee | Siliguri |

A section of artisans engaged in making Durga idols is reluctant to collect soil from red light areas, as is the tradition, due to several reasons, though they say they still believe in mythology and practice what their ancestors have taught them.

Moreover, many of them, especially young artisans, cannot explain the tradition to collect soil from the yard of a prostitute’s place.

Ramprasad Mallick, 25, a rural artisan and a resident of Kamrangaguri on the outskirts of Siliguri, said he did not collect such soil this year. “But I used the soil, which I collected last year from a red light area in Siliguri, because I have to keep the tradition alve,” he said today.

“Artisans used to make such Durga idols for limited puja committees earlier, and aristocratic families invited them in their houses. Idolmakers themselves did not collect soil from red light areas. Organisers collected such soil and supplied it to artisans for making the Durga idols,” Mallick said.

“But now it is business and livelihood for us. Very few bother about ancient rituals, but still, some old puja committees and families who have been worshiping Durga for more than 100 years, use soil from red light areas during worship, as artisans often cannot maintain that tradition,” he added. According to him, he came to know from his mentors that “Lord Shiva used to visit prostitutes.”

“Devi Durga, his wife, used to be saddened and expressed her remonstrance. From that myth, we use such soil for making her deity even these days. We collect the soil silently and secretly from the doorsteps of their houses,” he said.

The soil from the house of prostitutes is imperative for the worship of Goddess Durga, as mentioned in a book named ‘Prachin Bharate Matri Pradhany Kinbadantir Punorbichar’, written by Sujit Choudhury.

According to Mr Choudhury, the tradition highlights the misery of women folk as the era of women-priests transformed into a patriarchal era and a section of the former had to take up prostitution. According to the book, after the invention of the iron and plough, the patriarchal system replaced the matriarchal tradition that was there in ancient times.

“It was also recognised that women-priests finally converted into prostitutes in a patriarchal society,” Mr Choudhury points out in his article on Kartik, the son of Devi Durga. Mr Choudhury also talks about prostitutes worshipping Kartik, and the surrender of women priests before the patriarchal culture. “though the woman was the power for productivity as well as cultivation and creator of the Gardens of Adonis.”

“In Bramhapuran, Kartik is branded as the Corinthian, lothario and lascivious, as was used to be involved in physical relations with wives of several gods,” the book says. According Mr Choudhury, the Gods helplessly complained about the same with Devi Durga. Though Durga asked Kartik to refrain from doing so, he never listened, the book says.

“Devi Durga finally had to discover a new way to prevent Kartik from having such relations with others. Durga disguised as wives of other gods to teach Kartik a good lesson, and one day as Kartik was involved in physical relations with a wife of a god, he found his mother’s image on her and he was extremely ashamed,” the book adds.

Since then, he started seeing all women as his mother. Monasticism came to his life finally.