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Why You Need Soil From a Sex Worker's Doorstep to Make Maa Durga's Idol

Ostracised all year, sex workers' homes bustle weeks before Durga Pujo. What is the story behind this tradition?

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Video Editor: Abhishek Sharma
Camera: Ribhu Chaterjee

(This story was originally published on 1 October 2022. This is being republished from the archives to mark Durga Pujo 2023.)

Did you know that soil from the doorstep of a sex worker is necessary to make the idol of 'Maa Durga'? And the temple priest or the idol maker must sincerely 'request' for this soil? We'll tell you the legends behind this curious, little-known tradition.

Ostracised and shunned all year round, 'nishidho pallis' – the 'forbidden' lanes leading up to the homes of sex workers bustle roughly a month before Durga pujo – when the idol making begins. 'Kumors' or the idol makers flock the brothels to 'beg' for the soil from their doorsteps.

But a month later, when Goddess Durga – the symbol of power and womanhood, and the victory of evil over virtue is celebrated, sex workers or their children aren't even allowed to step into the pandals.

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So, what is the story behind this hypocritical tradition, passed down for generations? Or are the beliefs and theories behind this ritual not so pretentious, but modified over generations to suit our interests?

The Tradition: What Scriptures Say

The 'Punya' Mati

Legends say when a person enters a brothel, they leave their 'purity' and virtue behind, outside the homes of sex workers, making the soil at their doorstep 'punya' or holy. This holy soil mixed with mud collected from the banks of river Ganga is used to sculpt the goddess.

However, this soil cannot be simply collected. A temple priest or the idol maker must request for this soil. Even if a sex worker refuses to offer the soil, they must still be coaxed, served, and treated with respect. Not humiliated or forced. Only when the 'holy' soil is offered as a gift or a blessing that it can be used to sculpt Durga.
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The 'Navkanyas'

As per 'Shaktism' – the Hindu cult that treats women and men equal and depicts women as manifestation of the Divine Feminine, Durga pujo is incomplete till the 'Navkanyas' – the nine class of women are worshipped, revered, and served alongside the goddess.

The soil from the doorstep of these nine class of women –

  1. 'Nati' (dancer)

  2. 'Vaishya' (sex worker)

  3. 'Rajaki' (washerwoman)

  4. 'Gopala' (milkmaid)

  5. 'Napita' (woman barber)

  6. 'Malakara' (woman gardener)

  7. 'Shudra' (backward class woman)

  8. 'Brahmani' (upper class woman)

  9. 'Kapalika' (skull-bearing worshipper of Lord Shiva)

must eventually give shape to 'Shakti' (Goddess Durga).

Ostracised all year, sex workers' homes bustle weeks before Durga Pujo. What is the story behind this tradition?
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The Battle With the 'Buffalo Demon'

Hindu mythology depicts that during the battle between 'Maa Durga' and 'Mahishasur' – the buffalo demon tried to humiliate the dignity of Durga. Angered by Mahishasur's demeaning of women, the goddess used all her rage to destroy the demon, bringing upon the victory of virtue over vice that is celebrated every year.

Ostracised all year, sex workers' homes bustle weeks before Durga Pujo. What is the story behind this tradition?
Using the soil from the doorstep of sex workers to sculpt Durga is hence considered a mark of respect to all women who are humiliated, disrespected and looked down upon. And homecoming of Goddess Durga marks the significance of this ritual – that in the end, it's all about equality and acceptance!

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Topics:  Navratri   Sex Workers   Durga Puja 

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