It is perhaps one of the most hypocritical traditions of modern Indian society. While throughout the year, the prostitutes are shunned, looked down upon, insulted and ill-treated, come Navratri or Durga Puja and suddenly, they are revered and in demand. The reason? The idol of Goddess Durga is partially made from the soil collected from outside a prostitutes’ home. The soil is known as “Punya Maati” comes from the nishiddho palli or the forbidden territories. The priest making the idol and conducting the puja must beg for the soil from a prostitute. Quite a quirk of fate but why exactly is the soil from a prostitute’s house used?
1. Jai Maa Durga
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 Puja.
2. Society’s hypocrisy
It is no secret as for 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 Navratra, individuals throng at their doorsteps with polite smiles begging for some land from their land.
3. Visit to Nishiddho Pallis
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 terrritories). 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.
4. What you give is what you get
Today, we will tell you all about the reasons and ways how the ‘Punya Maati’ is collected. The procedure of seeking the mud from the land of a sex-worker is holy and dramatic at the same time. It is said, the priest of the temple has to go and beg at the doorstep of brothel or sex-worker’s home, for some mud for the Durga Maa idol. While she procures the sand, the priest enchants Vedic mantras. It is believed that even if she denies, the priest has to keep begging for the soil.
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.
6. Punya Maati
Most of the believers and bloggers say that the soil from the prostitute’s land is the purest as it holds the virtue of those who visited the place. It is also said that whenever a man visits a prostitute, he leaves behind his purity and virtue on her doorstep. As all the pureness gets accumulated outside her house. Hence, this ‘punya maati’ becomes an unavoidable element in the Durga Maa murti.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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 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.