Durga Puja is just round the corner. Much before the festivities of Pujo begin, Kumortuli, in North Kolkata springs into action. It is here that the idols for Durga Puja are sculpted.
The idol makers put in hours, days and months making the majestic, larger than life idols of gods and goddesses.
But do you know how these idols are made?
According to the traditional Hindu rituals, there are four things that go into the making of the idols for Durga Puja - mud from the river Ganges, cow dung, cow urine and soil from nishiddho pallis or forbidden territories.
This soil is known as punya maati and it comes from the homes of prostitutes. Yes, you heard it right. Kolkata is home to one of the largest red light areas in Asia - Sonagachi. It is estimated that around 11,000 sex workers live here.
Although the roots of this tradition are unknown, it is believed that traditionally, priests were supposed to go the brothels and beg for the punya maati from the prostitutes. And while the soil is being handed over, the priest must recite a particular mantra.
Have you ever thought what could be the reason behind considering this soil from brothels auspicious?
While no particular reason is known for this ritual, it is believed that soil outside a prostitute's home is pure.
Punya Maati is considered to be pure. It is believed that when a man enters a sex worker’s house, he leaves behind his virtue and purity outside the house making the soil at the doorstep pure.
Some others believe that this custom was started to include the prostitutes in the festivities of Durga Puja as Maa Durga doesn't differentiate between any section of the society.
Another theory propounded by the vedas is that nine classes of women known as Navkanyas are to be worshipped, during Durga Puja. The Puja is considered to be incomplete if these women are not honoured during the celebrations.
Maa Durga epitomizes energy. She destroyed Mahishasur, who looked down upon women. It is also believed that using the soil from outside the brothel is a way to respect those women who have always been humiliated by the society.
Then there are those who believe that including the soil from brothels in the making of Durga idols, purifies them as they are leading a life of sin.