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Mahisasur-Durga in Parliament: Devas and Asuras Were All People

Danava, Asura, Rakshasa, etc. were all adjectives slapped on people; They were no actual demons.

Updated
Opinion
2 min read
Mahisasur-Durga in Parliament: Devas and Asuras Were All People

Smriti Irani seems to have a problem with Mahisasura. However, even mainstream Brahminical Hinduism in Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, etc. worships Mahisasura. As kids, I remember being told to do pranam to Mahisasura during Durga Puja, putting flowers before him.

Because Mahisasura was a great Brahma bhakt (hence, utterly Hindu) – a demi-god with divine powers granted to him by no less than Brahma. He’s depicted as handsome and powerful, and not made a caricature of as with Ravana, with whom he shares many traits. He’s also immersed along with Durga, and not blown up like Ravana.

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The Deva-Asura Divide

Smriti Irani during her controversial speech in the Lok Sabha. (Photo Courtesy: Lok Sabha TV)

In early Hinduism, many Gods were called Asuras. Good and bad Asuras came much later. Similarly, there were Devas who were often up to no good. Mahabali (of Mahabalipuram, Dravidistan) was a good Asura. He kicked Deva ass. There were others like him. That’s why they were often granted divine powers by the Holy Hindu Trinity. The darker (literally) deities of east and north-east India may also have been good Asuras who were coopted into the Hindu pantheon. Their puja can be performed even by the lower castes.

Some put the Deva-Asura divide down to battles between early Persian migrants to Indian and the Persians themselves. In Zoroastrianism, Ahura is God, and Daevas are bad Gods. In India, this flipped. So for immigrant Persians in India battling their erstwhile countrymen, Ahura became the enemy, Asura. And they, who must’ve been called Daevas back home in Persia, became Devas in India, the good Gods.

Why Are We Becoming Insensitive?

Smriti Irani read from a piece of paper stating Durga was referred to as a sex worker. But we have not actually seen that piece of paper anywhere. The thing is, much like how Mahabali was deceived to accept defeat by Vamana (Vishnu), certain tribals believe that Mahisasura was killed by a deceiving and beautiful dancer called Durga, sent by Indra. Then there is that unexplained tradition of collecting soil from the threshold of brothels to make punya mati (sacred earth), from which artisans cast the idol of the goddess. This may be the route taken by right wing rumour corps to concoct the `sex worker’ charge.

Ultimately, Danava, Asura, Rakshasa, etc. were all adjectives slapped on people. They were not actually demons. Just like `Pakistani’ is an adjective. And people called that are not demons either. Melodramatic speechification alone won’t get us anywhere. Some rigour and sensitivity are required.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Smriti Irani   Goddess Durga   Mahishasura 

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