An interesting aspect of Durga Puja, is the status it accords to women or girls. While we understand that the festival has a huge relevance to the feminine principle in general and also stands for the feminine spirit and power, the festival has its relevance to the women folk even in the social milieu. While the times have changed and the outlook might not hold ground in today’s times, it is still in context that we need to see this aspect.
Bengal has traditionally always accorded an elevated status to women folk. A case in point is the number of festivals around goddesses like Saraswati, Durga, Kali, etc. These goddesses have an edge in comparison to other gods like Ram or Krishna, with a slight exception of Lord Shiva. Durga Puja which is one of the main festivals of the Eastern India, also focuses a lot on the feminine aspects be in the form of Kumari Puja (This is Utkarsh Speaking: Kumari Puja ) or getting clay for the idols from the marginalised section of the society (This is Utkarsh Speaking: Clay for Durga Idols ) or the numerous rituals which are centred around women. But here, let us look at a social angle to the festivities.
One of the aspects of the festival of Durga Puja is that Durga returns to her parent’s home for a few days along with her children, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Kartik and Ganesh. Many a folk song’s theme is about the tough life of Durga at her husband’s home with so much work, four children and an inattentive husband who seldom comes home, and who is engrossed in meditation or smoking hemp. Besides all this, Shiva’s lack of confirmation to social norms is another sore point in the marital life of the goddess. From a tough cold life of her husband’s house, she comes to the warm climates of her parent’s home to all the attention and love that parents shower on their daughters and her children. At her parents’ home, she gets all the warmth and comfort that is missing at her husband’s home and even if it is for a few days, she enjoys the attention and love.
In the ancient times a girl had to undergo hardships at her in-laws house, due to the pressure of household chores and numerous other expectations that the in-laws had from her, both in the social context as well as support at homes. The girls who were married off at a young age ended up becoming support-systems at their in-laws which were bereft of any modern-day amenities. In such a scenario, she would be subdued and at the beck and call of all elders in the family, more so the mother-in-law, along with the need to take care of her own children. The girl needed a break from all this. During Durga Puja, traditionally women along with their children would return to their parent’s home where they would be treated well and showered with attention and gifts and the much needed rest.
After the festivities are over, the girl leaves for her in-laws home for another year of hardship and toil, just as Devi Durga leaves her parents home for her husband’s, after Bijoya Dashami. Parents feel sad to see their daughter leave and even today, many a woman is seen weeping during the immersion of the Durga’s idol.
While many celebrate the Durga Puja as the killing of Mahishasura by the goddess Durga, some see it as a time to shower love and attention on their daughters who do not get the same attention at their husband’s home. An immensely relevant social custom of the times woven with mythological and religious sentiments is the way to see this aspect of the festivities. Times might have changed, but the social context could just be relevant even today in certain sections of the society.
With this we come to the end of Durga Puja. Here's wishing all my readers a happy Dashera & Bijoya!!!
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