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Do tribal people really believe that Goddess Durga was a sex worker?

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Some tribes in Jharkhand do consider Mahisasur as their ancestor but even those people don't think Goddess Durga was a sex worker. The theory was started by an obscure hate magazine named “Yadav-Shakti” in April 2011 and further promoted by an evangelist Christian magazine, Forward Press.

There was an outrage in people when Smriti Irani referred to the Mahishasura Martyr Event of JNU in the Parliament back in 2016. The first Mahishasur Diwas celebration was organized by the All India Backward Students Forum at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi in 2011. Since then many people have been claiming that Goddess Durga was a prostitute.

Such hatred is not only limited to students. A DU Professor had called Goddess Durga a prostitute in 2017.

There is a closed petition on to ban Durga Puja and other festivals of Hinduism. The petitioner argues:

Durga Puja is the most controversial racial festival where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark-skinned native named Mahishasur. according to popular folklore, Mahishasur was a brave and self-respecting leader of Dravidians, who wad tricked into marriage by Aryans after they failed to defeat him. They hired a sex worker called Durga, who enticed Mahishasur into marriage and killed him after nine nights of honeymooning during sleep. Every year thousands of pooja pandals are erected with idols of goddess Durga astride a lion, killing Mahishasur in the most gory and cruel manner.

Mahisasur - A Yadava King?

This false interpretation of Durga Puja was first published by an obscure hate magazine named “Yadav-Shakti” in April 2011. (archived link) The theory was written by N. Yadava. You can read more about this controversy here.

We have called this interpretation false because there is no evidence to support this claim. This is clear when we went through the article on Yadav Shakti. The author has called Mahisasur an ancestor of Yadav because he finds a similarity between Yadavas and Mahisasur. It is not backed by any evidence at all.

It was then republished by an evangelist Christian magazine, Forward Press in October 2014 issue. Speaking to The Wire on the issue, the consulting editor at Forward Press Pramod Ranjan said, "Mahishasura was portrayed as a Yadav king, and the complaint from the RSS’s supporters argued that we were creating divisions between Yadavs and Brahmins”.

“There is no one Hindu narrative. The Hindu religion encompasses lots of different people and traditions. What people like Smriti Irani (referring to her speech in parliament) are trying to is push a Brahminical narrative that promotes inequalities”, Ranjan said. “We are trying to put forward the voices that aren’t heard, the voices people aren’t willing to hear”.

However, both The Wire and Ranjan failed to mention that this was not an alternate narrative of Durga Puja but just an imagination of one author.

Even now their website is filled with stories around Mahisasur Day.

Mahishasur Martyrdom Day

The first Mahishasur Diwas celebration was organized by the All India Backward Students Forum at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi in 2011. After that, it became an annual affair

Speaking to The Wire, about the intent of the event Anil, a JNU student and member of AIBSA who was one of the organisers in 2014 said, “We were celebrating Mahishasura Martyrdom Day because he is an icon for the adivasis and other marginalised people in India. Historically, it was the adiviasis who were called demons, for instance, the ‘Asur’ community who also worship Mahishasura. How can you dishonour your own citizens? It is against the constitution”.

“The aim was not to have some sort of new prayer meeting. It was to try and understand contemporary society and why it is a certain way. It was looking at literature and history, and the transfer of societal values. We are not saying that nobody should worship Durga, it is the people’s right [to do so]. But at the same time, why must you show Mahishasura dying? That is hurtful to those, especially marginalised sections, who have a different view of the story”.

Are Tribals descendants of Mahisasur?

Krishnopriyo Bhattacharya, who has worked with the tribals of North Bengal for decades and has written Silent Departures: A Study of Contemporary Tribal Predicament in Bengal Duar, says there is no evidence to suggest that tribals are descendants of Mahishasur.

However, there are many Tribals (Asurs) who claim to be descendants of Mahishasur. Indian Express spoke to many Tribals and almost everyone claimed that Mahisasur was their ancestor.

A tribal man in Jharkhand Chamru says these are “just beliefs”. “I have heard we are descendants of Mahishasur. That’s all I can tell you. I can’t tell you how our descendants settled down in this part of the country and so on”.

Anil Asur, a laborer at the mining site in Jharkhand said, “When I was young, I loved going to Jobhi Path (a village nearly 10 km from Sakhuapani), where they would have a Durga Puja pandal. Once, my father objected to my going there. I asked him why and he then told me about our ancestor Mahishasur and how he was killed on that day. He asked me that if my brother or sister or any relative was killed, would I celebrate? No. But that’s all I know. You can ask more about the tradition from the elders in my village".

Sushma Asur, a tribal activist in Sakhuapani, says the community also celebrates Sohrai, which coincides with Diwali, by applying koronj (or karanja in Hindi) oil on their navel, chest and nose, and eat cucumber. “The symbolism here is that when our ancestor Mahishasur was killed, he had blood oozing from his navel, nose and chest. Applying oil on those parts depicts the same. Eating cucumber is a symbol that we are avenging his death by eating the ‘kaleja (liver)’ of the killer”.

Sushma further recalls how over the years she began getting acutely aware of the fact that the asurs or demons were always depicted as ugly and were primarily painted black. “All demons are dark-skinned, ugly and evil. Now, we trace our lineage to them.

Ref: Indian Express, Times of India

Those who worship Mahishasur – are they saying Durga is a sex worker?

Even though there are only a few tribes who worship Mahishasura or mourn Mahisasur's killing during Durga Puja, they do not say that Durga is a sex worker. There are chances that the entire legend is different from the original one.

The theory of "Durga - a sex worker" started floating after Mahishasur Diwas was started in JNU and the theory was published by an evangelist Christian magazine, Forward Press in October 2014 issue.

There is no historic or Puranic evidence to back this theory.

Are dark-skinned always depicted as demons in Hinduism?

Durga’s other form is Kali – which means black. She is a manifestation of Shiva’s wife Parvati. Shiva is also a black god. Many other gods like Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, and Rama were also dark-skinned. The writers of Ramayan and Mahabharat were Dalits too. So, the claim is not true that dark-skinned were always depicted as Asura.

Asura’s are sons of Kashyapa and his second wife, Diti. So, their ancestors were Brahmins. Ravana was also a Brahmin who was defeated by a Black King Rama.

Asura doesn’t mean they are bad. The good Asuras are called Adityas while the malevolent ones are called Danavas. In fact, both Asura and devas were descendants of Kashyap.

Rishi Marichi who was the mind-born son of Brahma and one of the Saptarishi is also the father of Kashyapa and the grandfather of the Devas and Asuras. So, technically both Devas and Asuras are descendants of Brahma.

Hence, the claim that the Adivasis were called demons historically seems an imaginary concept because it is not backed by Vedas or any other Hindu scriptures. 

Mahisasur - a non-Aryan King?

During Durga Puja in 2013, some pamphlets and posters appeared at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus. One of them read as below:

The Shudra (and perhaps the unadulterated) reading of Mahishasur–Durga story goes like this. Mahish means buffalo. Mahishasur means the Buffalo Demon. Demon (asur) is different from god (sur). Sur means god. God means Brahmin or Swarna (upper caste). Surs do not work. Asur means those who work – in today’s parlance, workers. Mahishasur means people who rear buffalo, the buffalo-rearers, those who trade in milk -the dairy people. Asur may have changed to Ahur and then to Ahir (the present-day milkman caste). Mahishasur or the buffalo-rearers must have been the people dominating the Banga region. Racially they must have been Dravidians. They must have also been opponents of the Aryan culture. Aryans had to defeat them. These people used Durga.

In the Banga region, prostitutes mention Durga to be of their clan. Even today when one makes the Durga idol, some soil must be brought from the house of a prostitute. It took Durga nine nights to kill Mahishasur. The Brahmins who sent her waited nine nights with bated breath. This was a difficult task. If not force, deception – Force of deception. On the ninth night Durga tasted success, she killed Mahishasur. As they heard the news, the Aryans (Brahmins) were all agog. They swooped at Mahishasur’s people and cutting their heads (munda) off made a new kind of garland.

They put this garland around Durga’s neck. Even Indra couldn’t do what Durga had done. But Durga was distraught by the genocide and committed suicide by jumping in the river. This, the tradition of immersing her idol in the river was born. The festival is the celebration of genocide of the natives. It’s a celebration of murder unlike in any other religion. It promotes hatred and justifies caste violence against bahujans which is the continuation of the old racial war. It must be banned. 

Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) has been long debunked. Even the greatest proponent of a separate Aryan race now uses the word migration, Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) instead of AIT.

Even the great social reformer and Dalit leader, Dr. BR Ambedkar didn't believe in any Aryan invasion or Aryan race. In his book, Who Were the Shudras Vol 7, Dr Ambedkar dismisses the Aryan race with absolute contempt. On page 85, he concludes by saying (while dismissing the Aryan race theory) that

  • The Vedas do not know any race referred to as the Aryan.
  • There is no evidence in the Vedas of any invasion of India by the Aryan race and its having conquered the Dasas and Dasyus who were supposed to be natives of India.
  • There is no evidence to show that the distinction between Aryans, Dasas, and Dasyus was a racial distinction.
  • The Vedas do not support the contention that the Aryans were different in color from the Dasas and Dasyus.

Do prostitutes of the Banga region mention Durga to be of their clan?

According to the religious beliefsin the Banga region, the soil brought from the courtyard of the sex workers is considered to be extremely auspicious and essential for Durga Puja, so much so that without it, the puja remains incomplete.

According to traditional beliefs, the soil should be begged and received from a sex worker's hand as a gift and blessing since it is known as 'punya mati' or the sacred soil.

While it could be that people might have included the custom to include people who are outcasts into the folds of the autumnal festivities.

Many believe that the soil is considered to be blessed because people who visit the forbidden lanes of prostitutes leave behind their virtue and piety at the doorstep to enter the world of carnal desires and sin. The soil then imbibes all the virtues and becomes blessed.

Another school of thought, based on the studies of the vedas believes that nine classes of women known as Navkanyas are to be worshipped, revered during Durga Puja. A Nati (dancer/actress), a vaishya (prostitute), Rajaki (laundry girl), a Brahmani (Brahmin girl), a shudra, a Gopala (milkmaid): such are the women of known as Navaka?y?s. According to the belief, the worship of the ten-armed-goddess is incomplete without paying respect to these women.

There are no reports of prostitutes from the Banga region considering Goddess Durga from their clan.

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