I am sure many of my readers will recollect a scene from the Hindi movie ‘Devdas’ (any version, but latest being that of Mr. Bhansali), where Paro goes to Chandramukhi’s house (read brothel) to take clay for usage in making the idol of Devi Durga.
So what could be the reason behind this practice of collecting mud from the doorstep of a sex-worker?
The most prominent reason cited is that when a man enters these dens of vice, he leaves his virtues outside the doorstep, making the soil virtuous. When the man comes out of the house, he has left all his vices at the house of the sex-worker. Another reason given is that this is to ‘purge’ the sex-workers of their sins! This sounds quite ironic as it is well known that no woman in the area is there out of choice and no man is there out of force. So to use this reason is quite unfair to the already wronged women of the area.
So does the practice have a religious reason or does it have a social relevance? Has the ritual made any difference to the way a layman looks at them? What kind of ‘elevation of status’ (if any) is it when they are so important for a day, but whores for the rest of the year? If worship of Durga is of stree-shakti (feminine power), then why is this practice so demeaning to a set of the womenfolk who seem to be so integral to the ritual? Unfortunately, all I can say is that the practice is still on; the sex-workers are in as squalid condition as they were but definitely the ritual has lost its social relevance, if it had any.
It sure is quite a blotch on the land of social reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Swami Vivekananda, to say the least.