In Durga Puja, the victory of good over evil is shown through the slaughter of Mahishasura. But researchers now say it's the winner's written history.
In Durga Puja, the victory of good over evil is shown through the slaughter of Mahishasura. But researchers now say it's the winner's written history. The dark side of Durga Puja Bengalis don't like to talk about.

In Durga Puja, the victory of good over evil is shown through the slaughter of Mahishasura. But researchers now say it's the winner's written history.

At the time when Hindu Bengalis celebrate their biggest festival Durga Puja, the Asura tribesmen mourn.

According to their folklore, the Aryan goddess Durga killed their king Mahishasur by deception at this time. Indigenous people could not forget the grief of losing the king for thousands of years.

 

The Asuras are a special tribal tribe in India. Asura is the first name in the list of official Scheduled Tribes of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar.

But now other tribal communities besides ‘Asur’ are also taking part in the Mahishasur commemoration ceremony.

Indigenous social researchers say that the organization of ‘Hudur Durga Smaran Sabha’ (Memorial Gathering) is increasing every year in the tribal areas of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

“There were more than 200 such commemorative gatherings across West Bengal in 2011, and in 2016 the number rose to just over 700,” said Sumit Chowdhury, director of a documentary on the origins of Mahishasur, India’s indigenous people.

Worship in memory of Mahishasur.
Worship in memory of Mahishasur.

This year, the memorial service has been held in only three districts of West Bengal – Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur. Charan Besra, a leader of Majhi Pargana village, a tribal social organization, told the BBC that the commemoration was held at 3,500 places.

Why is Mahisasur named Hudur Durga?

According to Hindu belief, their goddess Durga killed Mahishasur. Again the tribal society thinks that Durga is actually the name of their ‘Emperor Mahishasur’, where he is known as Hudur Durga.

Researcher Sharadindu Uddipan explains, “The word hudur means the sound of thunder, lightning or thunder. In this case Mahisasur’s influence and power was like lightning. And the word Durga is used to mean the keeper of the fort. It is masculine. . “

হুদুড় দুর্গা - বুন্দেলখণ্ডে এই মন্দিরে মহিষাসুরের পুজা হয় থাকে।

“He was a very strong and powerful king. According to tribal folklore, their king was killed by a fair-skinned woman.”

“Mahisasura was killed by a fair-skinned woman in Hindu mythology. The idol of Goddess Durga is made of Durga Gauravarna, straight and sharp nose, which are the physical features of the Aryans. Gauri (fair skinned) is another name for Durga. On the other hand, the idol of Mahisasur that is made in Durga Puja has black skin, curly hair and thick lips. These are all characteristics of non-Aryans, “explained Sumit Chowdhury, a documentary filmmaker.

Mr. Uddipan further said that after the Aryans came to India, they could not defeat Mahishasur in any way. So they take a strategy so that they use a woman to kill Mahishasur.

Two opposite stories of Mahisasur's murder

অনুসারীরা মহিষাসুরকে সম্বোধন করছেন দেশাই নৃত্যে

In Hindu mythology, there are stories of battles between Mahishasura and Goddess Durga, and in tribal folklore, but the perspectives of the two stories are completely opposite.

“Women were highly respected in the time of King Mahishasur. And such a king would not fight a woman, or take up arms against her, that was the idea of the Aryans. So the tribal society thinks that they used Durga for this purpose,” said Sharadindu Uddipan

And in Hindu mythology, Mahishasur is presented as a ‘villain’.

Although Mahishasur is usually portrayed as a monster, this time he is shown as a coronavirus in Durga Puja. Asuras and other indigenous communities have protested.
Although Mahishasur is usually portrayed as a monster, this time he is shown as a coronavirus in Durga Puja. Asuras and other indigenous communities have protested.

Jyotirao Phule, a social official and historian, also analyzed and critically reviewed the first myths in the nineteenth century. He analyzed the folklore and history of the indigenous people of India in the light of Hindu incarnations and deities.

Then Mr. Fule’s work was taken forward, the author of the Constitution of India. R. Ambedkar. He analyzed the conflict between Aryans and non-Aryans based on mythology and folklore. In his writings, it is first said that monsters, demons, monsters, kinnars, snakes, yaksas are all ‘demon’ communities, they were actually human beings. He was the first to tell the story of the struggle of this demonic community.

How mourning is observed for Mahishasur

Khajuraho temple is the idol of Mahishasur.
Khajuraho temple is the idol of Mahishasur.

Indigenous people traditionally mourn for Mahishasur during Durga Puja. Somewhere Arandhan is observed, somewhere the tribals sit at home with the windows and doors closed, so that the festival of Durga Puja, the mantra or the sound of the dhak does not reach their ears.

At this time of Durgapuja they observe uncleanliness and dance with Bhuang musical instruments. They dance the dassai, where men disguised as female warriors roam the villages singing songs to the tune of tears.

“Their song is like this: ‘Okar Adam Bhuang Adam Janam Lena Re, Okar Adam Bhuang Adam Varsha Lena Re’. They believe that the only answer to the question in this song is Hudur Durga. If she hears this song, she will answer. And they will be able to identify Hudur Durga, ”said Sharadindu Uddipan.

“They say to Bindi or the spider, ‘O Bindi, have any of you seen my king? Our king has been kidnapped by a fair-skinned woman ‘, said Sharadindu Uddipan, analyzing the folklore of the tribal society.

Mahisasura's type of remembrance is changing

Indigenous community leader Charan Besra says their main central event has been canceled this year due to the Corona epidemic. That ceremony is the day after the end of Durga Puja. But people in the villages are remembering Mahisasur in their own way.

“Mourning starts from the 6th (Sashtami), 7th (Saptami). Dasai, Bhuang. These continue in different parts of the country. And the tenth day is a big event. We have been doing these since 2012. And the number is increasing every year.

“We are trying to re-establish the culture of the original inhabitants of India as opposed to the culture of Aryan civilization,” said Charan Besra.

Although Mahishasur has been commemorated in an organized manner for decades, the tribal community has been mourning for their king for thousands of years.

Mohishashur researcher Promod Ranjan thinks that there is a gap and a difference between the new way of mourning and the traditional way of mourning.

Ranjan now teaches at the University of Assam, but his main identity is that he has traveled to various parts of India to gather historical evidence about Mahishasur.

“The difference is that the traditional way of mourning was based on folklore and what is happening now is a positive cultural politics. This is an attempt to stand up against the humanist culture on the one hand and to promote their own culture on the other, “said Mr. Ranjan.

In search of Mahisasur

According to researchers, the folklore about Mahisasura is about 3000 years old, when the Aryans did not come to India. Even the history of the previous era of the Buddha.

And the folklore about Mahisasura is found all over South Asia. From northern India to the Deccan, present-day Nepal- and in many places in Bangladesh.

In the words of Pramod Ranjan, “Analysis shows that the history of this Asura nation is the history of the pre-Aryan era. Just as we found Mahisasur in present day Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, we also found Mahisasur in the present Mysore or Mysore city. “It’s not just that Mahisasura is in the folklore. We’ve also found archeological patterns.”

‘Apart from the tribe called ‘Asura’, the folklore of Mahishasur is also widely known among the Gond community of Chhattisgarh, which is known as the most primitive tribe in India.’ Stated Mr. Ranjan.

In 2014 he received some photos, the photos were from Bundelkhand of Uttar Pradesh it depicted scattered artefacts of Mahisasur.

Promod Ranjan was the managing director of Forward Press, a Delhi-based publishing house that dealt mainly with the literature of the Dalit community.

There was a picture in it, which is a specimen preserved by the Archaeological Survey of the Government of India, whose name is Mahisasur Smarak (Memorial to Mahishasur).

পIn the words of Pramod Ranjan, “With only those few pictures, one of my colleagues and I boarded the train and got off at Mahoba railway station, about 600 km from Delhi, one night. I showed the pictures to many people around the station. But no one understood where those places were. “

A couple of days later they found the Mahisasur monument.

“Someone sent us to a place called Kulapahar, but we didn’t find anything there either.After much searching, one speaks of a place called Chowka, some 70 km from Kulapahar.Arriving there we made sure we got to the right place. I saw a board in the archeology department, ”said Promod Ranjan.

The monument has been preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. Later Mr. In response to a question from Ranjan, the Archaeological Department said that the monument dates back to the 11th century.

After a couple of days, they returned to Mahoba and started looking for more traces of nearby Mahishasur.

They learned from a saint who was talking in Gokhar hill that Mahishasura was widely worshiped in the area. Somewhere in the name of Bhainsasur, somewhere in the name of Maikasur and somewhere in the name of Mahisasur, the people of Dalit class Yadav and Pala clan worship him. They consider Mahisasur as the protector of domestic animals like bulls / cows and buffaloes.

Mr. Ranjan says the villages do not have a Mahisasur temple, but the locals worship in a place like a paved shed.

He also saw a statue of Mahishasur at the World Heritage Site in Khajuraho.

Researcher Sharadindu Uddipan says that during the reign of Emperor Ashoka, he sent Mahishasur to rule the present Mysore or Mysore region.

Seeing all the patterns, Promod Ranjan said, “Mahisasura was spread in different eras. So it’s probably not a single person, it’s a title. Its traditions are spread in different parts of South Asia. That tradition has been carried on by the indigenous people for thousands of years. “

The dark side of Durga Puja Bengalis don't like to talk about

The next time you see the idol of the goddess, remember, it is no less a symbol of oppression.

For every Bengali, anywhere in the world, the Durga Puja is special. It is an occasion for unbridled joy as the mother goddess comes visiting and every effort is made to ensure that her brief sojourn at her “natal home” is as memorable as it possibly can be.

It is a time for new clothes, new relationships and new resolutions; for dance, music, delicious food and adda (loosely translated as gossiping – that favourite pastime of the Bengalis). It is as much a social event as a religious one: an occasion to catch up with friends and family; an occasion that celebrates togetherness far better than what can be achieved, for instance, through Facebook or Skype.

The energy with which it is celebrated is something one has to see to believe. The priest performing an aarti of the goddess and dancing himself into a trance to the heady beats of the dhaak (traditional drums), with smoke from a thousand incense sticks creating a veil around the place is one of the most abiding images of the Durga Puja that you can have.

It is surreal. It gives you goosebumps. It also, importantly, marks the victory of good over evil, with the ten-armed warrior-goddess riding a majestic lion vanquishing the vicious buffalo demon (Mahishasur). It is all about symbolism and it calls on us mortals to have faith in god to dispel all our troubles, and all misfortune the way she destroyed the evil demon. The Durga Puja, therefore, is special indeed.

Or, is it really so? Is the Durga Puja all good and glorious, or does it have a darker side to it? Does it have a diabolical agenda, that is expertly concealed? Let’s put the “goodness” of this popular festival – an unmistakable element of dominant culture – to test.

To understand the politics of the Durga Puja, we may start from the idol itself. The goddess is fair-skinned (and hence, beautiful) and embodies all the virtues of life and is shown as slaying a demonic half-man-half-animal creature who is placed at her feet.

The demon Mahishasur is dark-skinned, has a naked upper body and is attributed all “dark” (tamasik) characteristics. More than signifying the victory of good over evil, this very powerfully symbolises the subjugation of the dark-skinned indigenous inhabitants of the region, the adivasis, by the fairer Aryans.

The goddess impales Mahishasur with her trident and that is what the adivasis have always had to suffer, metaphorically speaking. It is almost taken for granted that they would submit to this physical, cultural and psychological disruption in their lives without much ado. They are expected to surrender to the onslaught of the dominant culture without much of a fight.

So their lands are taken away from them, they are displaced from their forest abodes and their cultures undergo forced transformation. A recent study showed that in the last 50 years or so over 200 indigenous languages have become extinct in India.

Contact with the mainstream population, though is expected to deliver the fruits of development and modernity to the adivasis, can also have deleterious effects and activists fear that it may expose the adivasis to diseases which they have never known of, and to which they have grown no immunity.

The dominant culture, on a civilising mission, prescribes methods through which the adivasis can “upgrade” their lifestyles, so that they can be mainstreamed. Indeed, assimilating into the dominant culture is perhaps the only way in which the adivasis can save themselves from violence in their lives.

That is what Prahlad and Vibhishan did, for example. Both of them were born in demon clans, but realised that their deliverance depended upon accepting the mastery of the cultural hero. Thus while the former was a devout worshipper of Lord Vishnu, the latter submitted to Lord Ram (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), thereby upgrading their lives, and hence were assimilated into the dominant culture with due dignity, and could save themselves from the violence that the rest of their kin suffered.

Coming back to the symbolism inherent in the Durga Puja, the fact that the goddess kills the demon is what meets the eye. But what does not readily is perhaps that Devi Durga not only slays the physical form of Mahisasur, but perhaps also the vices that the demon possesses. It is almost a purification ritual that an adivasi has to go through to be assimilated into the mainstream.

Moreover, the good versus evil narrative that is at the heart of Durga Puja is also problematic. Mahishasur may have had his reasons to wage war against the gods.

Who is to say that those reasons had lesser weight than those of Durga? Didn’t the gods cheat to deprive the demons a share of amrita (nectar of immortality) following samudra manthan (churning of mighty ocean)? Why? Was it because the gods thought that had the asuras become immortal, they would have caused mayhem and destroyed the moral fabric of the society? If so, were the gods any better?

When Indra, the king of gods, seduced Ahalya, the wife of sage Gautama, where did all the morality vanish? He was cursed by the enraged sage but was later freed by none other than Lord Shiva. Isn’t it the height of partiality that Indra’s offence is forgiven, while Mahishasur had to pay with his life for dislodging Indra from his heavenly throne? Who knows, Mahishasur could have made a better ruler than Indra.

This narrative in itself may be seen to reside merely in the realm of mythology, but the symbolism involved renders it socially salient. It shows that once a group of people comes to possess a degree of power, they try to cling on to that power, the abilities of their leader notwithstanding.

At the time when Hindu Bengalis celebrate their biggest festival Durga Puja, the Asura tribesmen mourn.

According to their folklore, the Aryan goddess Durga killed their king Mahishasur by deception at this time. Indigenous people could not forget the grief of losing the king for thousands of years.

‘Asuras are a special tribal tribe of India. Asura is the first name in the list of official Scheduled Tribes of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar.

But now other tribal communities besides ‘Asur’ are also taking part in the Mahishasur commemoration ceremony.

Indigenous social researchers say that the organization of ‘Hudur Durga Smaran Sabha’ is increasing every year in the tribal areas of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

“In 2011, there were more than 200 such commemorative gatherings across West Bengal, and in 2016 the number rose to just over 700, “said Sumit Chowdhury, director of a documentary on the origins of Mahishasur, India’s indigenous people.

In any battle, each party believes that s/he is fighting for justice. What may be right or just to one may be wrong or unjust to the other and vice versa. It is very difficult to take sides. However, the fact that we have all too easily accepted Mahishasur as the vile villain and Durga as the ultimate heroine reflects a lopsided cultural education.

It also shows the imprint of dominant culture on us. It seeks to project one line of thought as the truest, while belittling the others and even identifying some of them as “enemy” cultures. Thus for the devas (gods), the asuras and rakshasas (demons) were part of an “enemy” culture that is to be subjugated, and vice versa.

What a dominant culture also does is to find ways to perpetuate its dominance. This is achieved with the help of an ideology that gives the dominance a degree of legitimacy. Thus elaborate narratives are constructed that are then accorded the sanctity of religion. It is in this light that the narrative around the Durga Puja is to be interpreted.

So the belief systems of people come to reflect the power structure prevalent at a particular point of time, and ensures the continuation of that structure. The Durga Puja celebrates the perpetuation of pre-eminence of a certain category of people and establishes beyond doubt that whenever there emerges voices of dissent, they have to be quelled for the sake of social well-being, and indeed it is done by unleashing on the dissenters the great powers of the universe (in the form of either Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and his many incarnations, or Devi Durga).

But what about Kali? She is dark-skinned and still a mainstream goddess, is she not?

Importantly, she is considered to be a manifestation of Adi Shakti, and here comes the politics behind this representation. It could well be that a tribal deity had got assimilated in the mainstream Hindu culture and got its importance only in so far as the mainstream Hindu culture would allow it its space, with the condition that the latter would have to do the bidding of the mainstream Hindu culture. Kali, therefore, is considered to be a manifestation of Adi Shakti.

Kali is therefore not the main deity, but one which relies on the main deity for its existence. Durga is also a manifestation of Adi Shakti, but the assimilation and subordination of the “little culture” by the “great culture” does not come across as profoundly in the case of Durga as in the case of Kali.

This subordination is sought to be institutionalised by putting the stamp of religion on it, and once anything becomes part of people’s faith, it is very difficult to dislodge. Karl Marx had famously said that religion was the “opium of the masses” and he was perhaps right.

The Durga Puja, therefore, is not simply about devotion and worship, but about a dark power play. One may contend that according to tradition, the first lumps of clay for making Durga idols have to be collected, among others, from the doorstep of a prostitute. Isn’t that a symbol of inclusiveness? However, it might well be a mask to conceal the reality.

So the next time you see a Durga idol, remember, it is no less a symbol of oppression, and the next time you immerse yourself in the celebrations, ask yourself: Are you not being a party to that oppressive cultural system?

Author Profile

তেপান্তরের পথীক
Bengali Columnist

Sharing is caring!