The Durga idol as a migrant worker created by artist Pallab Bhaumik | Source: Pallab Bhaumik
The Durga idol as a migrant worker created by artist Pallab Bhaumik | Source: Pallab Bhaumik
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Goddess Durga is being de-Hinduised and Hinduism distorted. This is what some outraged defenders of religion would want you to think of Pallab Bhaumik’s art form portraying the goddess in a migrant worker avatar, reflecting a woman who lost her job in the lockdown and walked home for days.

What the new flag-bearers of Hindutva don’t understand is that people in West Bengal have bridged the gap between tradition and art long ago, and are all the richer for it. Hinduism in West Bengal does not need defending. For Bengalis, creativity is part of worship and religion doesn’t begin in temples but in people’s emotional expressions.

The idol of goddess Durga in a sari carrying a shirtless baby in her arms became an overnight internet sensation. Sculpted by Kolkata artist Pallab Bhaumik, the idol, made for Barisha Club Durga Puja committee, highlighted the plight of the migrant workers, who were forced to walk thousands of kilometres to reach home from cities amid the Covid-induced lockdown.

The conceptualisation of goddess Durga in the form of a migrant worker was hailed by many on social media for bringing to the fore the hardships and the struggles of thousands of migrant labourers, who were left with no jobs or money after the lockdown, forcing them to take long and painful walks back home.

But not all were impressed. Many called the idol a “distortion”, an attempt to “de-Hinduise and de-fang Durga”, “conspiracy to destroy Sanatan Dharma”, and “making mockery of Hinduism”.

Those outraging over the idol’s depiction must educate themselves about Bengal’s culture of celebrating Durga Puja.

Goddess Durga, for long, has been worshipped in different forms in Bengal — as transgender Durga, where she was modelled on ‘Ardhanarishwar’, the androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati; as Barbie Durga; as mother nature, or as the traditional ‘ekchala’ (single backdrop) idol sporting big, wide eyes on a heart-shaped face.

The state has also worshipped Durga idols made of chocolate as well as spices, wheat, pencil and more.

The ‘migrant’ Durga idol is just another example of such artistic expression.


Also read: The painting that inspired artist Pallab Bhaumik’s ‘migrant’ Durga idol


Celebrating art

When it comes to depicting art through Durga idols and pandals, West Bengal never imposed boundaries. In fact, it is also through the Puja that the state has been promoting and celebrating art since times immemorial — whether it is ‘theme’ pujas, pandal illuminations/lightings or idol installations.

Bengalis never considered innovations with Durga idols as a breach of tradition, let alone calling it an attack on Hinduism.

We never stuck to the traditional form, and have always viewed innovations and experimentations as work of art modelled by artists whose genius manifested itself in idols and pandals.

Probably, that is why Bengal’s Durga Puja has evolved to become a socio-cultural celebration, rather than a religious festival.


Also read: Durga to slay ‘Coronasura’ this year as Kolkata artisans theme their idols on pandemic


Celebrating motherhood

Artist Rintu Das, who conceptualised the ‘migrant’ Durga idols, said he wanted to portray the “strength and determination” of goddess Durga in the migrant woman.

This is in sync with the traditional image of the goddess, which is that of a fierce woman with ten hands, slaying the demon ‘Mahishasura’.

The image of goddess Durga as a poor migrant worker can be, therefore, looked upon as being symbolic of the power of a mother.

It highlights the strength of thousands of poor migrant mothers, who walked back to their native villages carrying their toddlers, braving the scorching heat, hunger and thirst. Goddess Durga is symbolic of such immense resolve, grit and determination.


Also read: In West Bengal, being Bengali was the only religion, but then BJP entered


Durga, daughter of Bengal

The ‘migrant’ Durga idol isn’t the first to offend self-proclaimed Hindutva warriors. In 2017, noted hair stylist Jawed Habib was accused of hurting religious sentiments for featuring goddess Durga in an advertisement showing her at a Habib’s salon.

In both the cases, the outrage seems to have come largely from outside West Bengal.

The outrage brigade must know that goddess Durga and her children (Lakshmi, Ganesh, Karthik and Saraswati) have been humanised in Bengal over the years. And this is also primarily one of the reasons why Durga idols can be presented in different artistic forms, be it as a migrant worker or someone else.

Humanisation of Durga and her children has much to do with how Bengalis view them. Durga is not just a goddess to Bengalis, but is also considered as the daughter of the house, who is believed to leave her sasural in Mount Kailash every year to visit her maternal home on Earth with her children for five days, just like the homecoming of a married daughter.

It is, therefore, pointless to waste time on those who have no idea about how Bengal worships goddess Durga. They may even have an ulterior motive to ‘manufacture’ outrage, considering how reminding people about the hardships that migrant workers faced is not something a section of the political class would like.

West Bengal will continue to celebrate and worship Durga in her various avatars and forms. And there can be no better way to celebrate Durga Puja than to laud the beauty and spirit of women — migrant or otherwise.

Views are personal.

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25 Comments Share Your Views

25 COMMENTS

  1. Why cant we worship ” LIVE DURGA ” in our community /society?? ” BEING DuRGA” in the need of the hour .Imbibing values of ” GODDESSES DURGA” will lead to development of Human Race.

  2. @Saumadeep. I was told by my friends from Nagpur that Muslims hate Hindus. Thanks to you, now I know that even Hindus hate fellow Hindus.

  3. A lady can have the qulaties of maa durga and she may possess all those qualities like love sacrifice , power n agrression against all wrong doings but maa Durga is supreme power she should not be potrait in any single image as she is above all these things . Goddess of the universe nd mother of all :*

  4. Nowadaus the Bengalis of Kolkata even don’t know regarding the Bengali culture and value system , they are just like zombies ….very bad and disgraceful. They are propagating their stupidity under the cover of Religion….

  5. Ma’am, is your point that Durga belongs to Bengalis alone? Can followers of Sanatan Dharm of other states and countries not express their opinion? Or is it that giving opinions on all matters is the perrogative of only luddite liberals and selective secularists?

    • In fact Durga Puja is purely a Bengali ritual. Durga Puja first appeared in the version of Ramayan penned by Krittibas in Bengali, it has no mention in Valmiki Ramayan. Off course people other than Bengali Hindus can offer their respect to Maa Durga in which ever way they deem fit and proper. But they will be at a stretch to appreciate the nuances of the average Bengali Hindus’ connect with Maa Durga. Firstly Maa Durga is seen as a family member in the form of a mother and/or a daughter, not as some distant deity from the heavens. She is intrinsically connected with the trials and tribulations, sorrows and joys, pains and pleasures of average Bengalis’ daily life. There is a whole repertoire of Agamani (welcoming) and Vijaya (Immersion) songs in Bengali literature that’s a testimony of this connection. Moreover for most Bengali Hindus Durga Puja is as much religious as it is a socio-cultural festival. It has got its imprint on Pujo special dress, food, music and art. It will be a stretch for the less evolved to appreciate such nuances wearing a puritanical lenses.

  6. Dear Miss Dey, the matter has already been settled.
    On social media the artist is congratulated for showing Hindu women fleeing from Noahkhali massacre of Hindus by Muslims.
    So everyone chill!

  7. North Indians should know that Durga Puja is traditionally a Bengali festival and since the past 500 years when Goddess Durga became a community festival in Bengali, she has become a part of the Bengali culture and psyche.

    Bengalis don’t see her just as a goddess but as a daughter who comes to her parents’ house with her children each year during the holidays.

    North Indians should stick to their Bhavanis and Jai mata di and let Bengalis celebrate their Durga Puja the way they have been celebrating since the past 500 years.

  8. Is the point of the article that people are not supposed to express their opinions if it disagrees with a certain point of view? Yeah you may have an opinion so please speak it. Why brand folks that disagree with your world view as Hindutva vaadi in a derogatory sense….. Come on now,. It jus shows you as intolerant and in poor light.

  9. India sure is becoming a Hindu Pakistan. Being a Bengali, born and brought up in Calcutta, I am used to the idea of Durga as a ‘Ma’ rather than a ‘Devi’. Most Bengali Hindus share the same view. Hinduism not a monolithic religion, and female goddesses like Kali, Saraswati, Durga, Santoshi Maa, Laxmi and many others have been always more popipop here in Bengal. And most often than not, they are worshipped either as ‘Maa’ or ‘Meye’ (daughter). These Hindutva radicals should stop feeling victimised by how we worship our idols. More than that, they should focus on the treatment of women and women empowerment in States like UP, Haryana, Bihar, MP etc where Hindutva is more prevalent. Otherwise, they can always go to Pakistan.

  10. A school TEACHER was beheaded in FRANCE.

    DIDI herself quotes from religious text of a community who votes for her lock stock and barrel.

    So there is only one religion to abuse to prove you are SECULAR ie Hinduism .

    And if you criticise proselytizers you might just end up ….

  11. Migrant Durga idol is just fine. It is so innovative, and conveys the contemporary realities prevailing in our country. Kudos to the concept conceiver and its executor. The critics of it should be thankful that those at the helm of affairs have not been depicted as “Mahishasuras”.

    • Brilliant. The ‘Mahishasuras’ analogy is so perfect that even Bhakts, who are intellectually handicapped will instantly identify the object.

  12. The statue is more a comment on Bengali culture, if such a thing exists. A culture that exults in following failed foreign ideologies like Marxism, Communism etc. A culture that had failed to provide a decent livelihood to millions of it’s denizens whose only hope lies in escaping the hell that is West Bengal.

    • As of today roughly 50% of Calcutta residents are non Bengali, that includes a sizable population from relatively prosperous states like Gujarat, Punjab, Tamilnadu etc. Pray, tell me why they are living in the state you call a hell?

  13. If the writer of this article is honest to her core values let her seek the same for other peaceful religion and see what happens. Here Hindus are generally docile and dont respond assertively. That emboldens people like the author of this article to go on lecturing Hindus on Hinduism. No one needs these lectures and rank bad hypocricy. For too long the Hindus who were dormant have woken up. Better late than never. They will reply in the language which pseudos like you understand. Dont fan religious and bigoted fires under the garb of liberal journalism. This is third grade, tasteless.

  14. Neither you have an understanding of Bengali culture nor can you come out of countless perversions which are so deeply entrenched into your value system. Don’t market them with a religious packaging.

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