Durga Puja Festival 2018: Durga's empowered womanhood | Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 16, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:14 PM, October 16, 2018

Durga's empowered womanhood

Hymns, camphor-lit invocations and venerations of Durga followed by the immersion of idols in the river — Durga Puja is an electrifying carnival of a religious festival. Rooted in our very own Bengal, and dating way back to the 17th century, Durga Puja has evolved to mean a glorified community affair with lights, fireworks and colours. However, the main tableau of Durga herself is an overlooked story and one for the ages. And, it is here where the spirit of Durga Puja is tethered.

Durga Puja is the homecoming of the goddess. Inviting Durga through chants and lit wicks and setting up shrines to worship her, and eventually, bidding her farewell via immersing idols to signify her heading back to the Himalayas, the festival is the epitome of passion and devotion. But it is Goddess Durga's might and strength that created the whole story behind such a grand worship.

The gods in heaven found themselves at wit's end against a demon that was just too powerful to be defeated, especially due to being granted a special boon. This is when they united their powers to create the one in the form of Durga, a beautiful goddess, bestowed with all the lethal weapons that each god possessed in himself. In the end, Durga was given the form of a woman. And, so, it was this powerful woman who finally annihilated the demon Mahishashur.

“Durga is an amalgamation of all the male gods and an allegorical combination of their inner powers,” states Dr Pratima Paul-Majumder, former senior research fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and someone who takes interest in religion.

To put it simply, she said, “Durga is a combination of all the strengths existing in the world. She is a symbol. Goddess Durga takes nine distinct avatars, and each form tells the tale of the power a woman of any time and age.”

Certainly, Durga could have taken some other form, perhaps, an object or even of a man. A note of interest here is that, 'she' could not.

“A woman is an inventor, a defender and a nurturer in this world. It is our mothers whom we worship, to whom we ask for advice, and from whom we seek wishes to be granted. If that is the case, then it is only fitting that a deity of strength and courage be a woman,” explains Dr Pratima.

Hinduism is not the only doctrine that talks of a woman who can charge forward against gusts of winds and waves of oceans. The idea of independent women who can conquer anything is now perfectly entrenched in popular literary works.

Even reality follows as we go toe-to-toe from one powerful woman to another. The year 2018 proudly identifies a new generation of female icons, game-changers and gate-crashers, who are transforming the world bit by bit. Whether it is women in China adding 55 percent of new Internet businesses, or those within our own borders, women everywhere are making real changes.

Let's zero in on human stories of Dhaka. If you look closely enough, you will uncover narratives of fighters who work hard to be the breadwinners of their households, be at their children's beck-and-call, cook for whole families and, also take care of cleaning and washing. Do they receive all the glory that they deserve?

In great contrasts and stark differences, however, there is a gap in what we preach and what we do. Taken for granted, ignored, over-looked and underappreciated are not unusual. Being gazed at longingly, dismissing a lingering hold as you pay for a bus ticket, having your competency questioned and receiving a lower salary than a man for the same job — being a woman is not easy. Society's treatment of the woman it worships calls for a drastic change. And trying to take on the task should be education.

“Knowledge is power and making education accessible for all, regardless of gender, can be an important stepping stone when it comes to the unfair treatment of women. With knowledge, women can surpass men in all aspects of life and be empowered in reality as well as mythology,” she said.

Women need equal opportunities. The major problem of treating a woman differently simply because she is not a man needs to be eradicated from the very roots. Educating women in rural areas and preaching equality is what we need to strive for. We need to change how we think, and only that can bring a change in what we do. A woman is an extraordinary glory for what she is and that is exactly what deserves credit.

Worshipping Durga in all her forms is only half the work. To truly honour her magnificent story, a woman must be recognised for all she does and all she can do. And it is only then that Durga's story can rightfully come a full circle.


Special thanks to Dr Pratima Paul-Majumder, former senior researcher, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, for sharing insights into religious beliefs and how it should reflect in modern society.


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Make-up and Hair:

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