Rathyatra - The onset of Durga Puja

Updated: Aug 18


As the three deities travel onto their chariots towards their aunt’s home people embrace the beginning of the festive season. With heads bowed in admire the crowds pull the chariots down the narrow lanes of the city towards the great display of bhog (significant of Rathyatra) and other stuffs including handicraft, books, clay idols, cutlery, etc. which the artisans display in the form of a mela (fair). The colours of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra are black, white and yellow respectively. While there are different beliefs behind the reason for this, social anthropologists interpret these colours to represent the three races of mankind viz. Negroids, Europeans and Mongoloiads. In the empirical language of physics black is the most ideal absorber of radiation, white a good reflector and the yellow one of the unadulterated primary colours. However, this earless, legless, incarnation of Lord Vishnu, with oversized heads beckon to people that in the present Kali Yug we have to do our own work by ourselves; Lord is there just to sit idle and watch our actions.



Well! This counts to one side of this of Rathyatra. With only 3 months left for the greatest festival of the Bengalis – Durga Puja – members from different Puja Committees officially start their Pujo preparations; Either they declare the theme of their committee, or by performing the Khuti Pujo (ceremony which start the pandal making) or by contacting the artisans for the idol preparation. What is actually significant is that according to tradition, artisans place the first layer of mud on the kathamo (basic structure of the idol made of straw) on this holy day of Rathyatra. The narrow lanes and by-lanes of Kumartuli come alive with the idol makers giving shape to the ten-armed goddess and her family with clay for the grand festivities. They put in hours, days and months making the majestic, larger than life idols of the gods and goddesses. As per tradition, the clay for preparing the Durga idols is a mixture of four important things – Ganga Mati, cow dung, cow urine and Punya Mati. The Ganga Mati is basically the clay brought down the Hoogly river from the village Uluberia; this clay being ideal for shaping the idols.


Hindu mythology is based of many beliefs; most of which can be reasoned; but there are some whose reason are still not clear, they are totally based on traditions. One of such unreasoned tradition is the use of Punya Mati in the making of Durga idols. This Punya Mati is the clay from the choukath (threshold) of the Brothels. Yes! You are right! Kolkata, being one of the largest red-light areas (Nishiddo Polli) of Asia, serves homage to around 10000 (Google count) sex workers. According to tradition, the priest of the temple would have to go to the brothel and beg for some clay; and he is denied, he would have to go on begging. Nowadays it is collected by the artisans before making the idols. But why this tradition? There are different beliefs. Goddess Durga embodies Women Power – The destruction of Evil over Good. Every year the Deity kills evil Mahisasura; But sadly, the evils of our society remain forever. This is perhaps a way to pay respect to them who are continuously humiliated by our society.



It is believed that the man who enter the brothel, leaves behind all his purity, virtue and all goodness at the doorstep to enter the world of carnal desires and sin; making the soil at the doorstep the purest on earth. Some section believes that Durga Puja must include all the nine class of women (or the Navakanyas) - Nartaki (Dancer), Vaishya (Prostitute), Rajaki (Laundry girl), Brahmani (Brahmin girl), Shudra (those of lower caste), Gopala (Milkmaid), etc. This ritual was introduced, perhaps, to include those who are outcasts during a festival. But contradiction still remains: The society that goes to beg some mud from these prostitutes, forgets about them for the rest of the year. Still today, Prostitutes are the products of a male dominated society. They are not welcomed by the majority of the society. They are subjected to abuse by common people whenever they are seen in public places. Even they are rejected entry in Puja pandals. For this reason, since the last few years they are denying mud to the artisans. Instead, they have started a Puja of their own.


Forward Media Group wishes everyone a very Happy Rathyatra. May the blessings of Lord Jagannath shower upon everyone.




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