Durga Puja and a Handful of Clay from the Doorstep of a Sex Worker

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

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Durga Puja and a Handful of Clay from the Doorstep of a Sex Worker

Chandrika Das | October 11, 2018 12:32 hrs

Remember the scene from the movie Devdas, where Paro (Aishwarya) knocks the doors of Chandramukhi (Madhuri) to get a handful of soil from her premise for Durga Puja?

It wasn’t just a made-up scene; it showed a very significant tradition of Indian mythology.

Durga Puja is the only occasion when the sex workers, who are otherwise shunned and neglected by the society, get respect, and their identities are recalled for a handful of clay.

The clay, often known as Punya Maati or holy soil is an integral part of the idol-making process. It is an age-old tradition that artisans would collect a handful of clay from the doorstep of a prostitute’s home or a brothel. For the pujas in northeast, the punya maati is mostly brought from Silchar, or Kolkata’s popular red light area, Sonagachi.

Most of the artisans believe that the idol is incomplete without the holy soil. Talking to G Plus, a city-based artisan who busy working these days giving the final touch to the idols, said, “This maati is not just normal soil. This is devotion and belief. We can’t just bring the soil and use it for the idols. We pray this soil. This soil is the essence of womanhood, that everyone prays during the puja days. Prostitutes are otherwise neglected by our society. But this is a way of nature, where every human being bows their head before these women too.”

Photo by Dolee Talukdar

There is also a ritual behind procuring the punya maati. An artisan cannot just go and take the soil from the doorstep of a sex worker. The artisans need to beg for the soil, and the prostitute can either agree or deny to that. 

 (Cover photo by Ashiqul Haque)  

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