Durga Puja and the Strength of the Feminine

Calcutta celebrates Durga Puja

Statue of Goddess Durga Puja upon the celebration in Calcutta

It was a time when evil reigned supreme in the world and the gods were powerless – so said the legends. The holy trinity of Hindu deities came together and in an explosion of rage created an all powerful woman goddess, Durga with the sole task of rooting out evil in the shape of a demon known as Mahishasura. Durga Puja is a celebration of women’s strength but what makes it ironic is the fact that women are treated in a way that is far from divine. They are abused, violated and trafficked while women goddesses – forms of Durga are worshipped across the nation. No one in fact, barring feminists, comments on the disparity. However, in Durga Puja pavilions, or pandals as they are called, in West Bengal, visitors do come across social critiques of the situation using the goddess and her surrounds as a metaphor through installation art. Subjects cover the rape of women in Manipur, the plight of migrant mothers and the horror that abused girl children face. What is quite clear is that visitors to pandals are well aware of the situation and understand what is being expressed with the worship of the goddess at the heart of each installation as an unexpressed plea for things to change.

The goddess Durga is the giver of strength, prosperity, bounty, whereas men apparently do not have the power to succeed without her blessings. Rama of the Ramayana called upon the goddess to help him defeat the demon Ravana who had kidnapped his wife Sita and she came to his aid, taking one of his eyes as payment – though she later replaced it.

A popular advertisement talked about Durga coming to visit strong women, though the examples cited were hardly pathbreaking, a woman commenting to a sneering elder who shames his son for staying at home with the children that child rearing is a task for fit for both sexes and not just women or a girl who has learnt to sing being requested to show her skill by another male elder only to be told that she is not a radio. There is a slight hesitancy in the media to be outspoken, a hesitancy which does not exist in the pandals thought there, admittedly, the protest in expressed in installation art through symbols rather than words.

The pandal in Kashi Bose Lane which focused on child trafficking won no awards though it shocked many sensitive visitors. Will the message of a powerful goddess capable of protecting her children win through? Who knows.


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