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Jawed Habib’s Maa Durga in salon reflects Bengal’s love for the goddess

A cursory enquiry about the ethos and practices in Bengal will highlight the futility of the Right-wing umbrage against Jawed Habib’s innocent advertisement Maa Durga arriving for a spa with her family

opinion Updated: Sep 11, 2017 13:55 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Hindustan Times
Swami Vivekanada,Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,Saffron camp
Protesters vandalising a Javed Habib saloon, Dhanbad,Jharkhand, September 9 (Bijay/HT)

One of the major strands of the Bengal Renaissance that stretched from the 19th to the early 20th century was religious awakening. A crucial lesson that Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886), the most prominent religious face of this period, left for his disciples is that gods are also found in temples. Primarily, they reside in our homes as a member of the family. Not one to issue idle sermons, the saint walked the talk. He used to treat goddess Kali as his mother and even fed and bathed her, spoke to the deity and sung songs for her. If he was delighted he would speak to her in a jovial tone, but would turn sombre if he felt low and even chide her when his mood was foul. His most prominent disciple who spread his philosophy around the world was Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), the social-religious leader many in the saffron camp swear by.

It is quite a pity that despite lessons by such leading lights, Jawed Habib’s innocent advertisement Maa Durga arriving for a spa with her family has triggered vandalism, trolls and even police complaints from the saffron army. It should be noted that tempers were not lost in Bengal and Kolkata, the global capital of Durga puja.

Even if one sets aside lessons from a nineteenth century saint, a cursory enquiry about the ethos and practices in Bengal will highlight the futility of the Right-wing umbrage. In this state, the mainstream religious thoughts teach people to love gods and not fear them.

Nowhere is this expressly manifested as during Durga puja in Kolkata, where hundreds of community puja organisers unleash one of the biggest displays of public art over a full week. Artists are free to decorate the idols that are also worshipped with full rigour.

There are hardly any reins on imagination when it comes to decorating the pandals. Almost everything from earthen cups to recycled plastic wastes, tyres to sweetmeats, cow dung cakes to motorcar parts are used to make whole pandals in which the idols are kept and worshipped. The walls of many pandals regularly carry political caricatures and social messages.

Several publishers bring out special puja editions of magazines both in Bengali and English. Every year, some of them commission prominent artists to draw pictures of Durga. Anyone who has lived in Bengal has seen that Durga is depicted in quite unconventional ways in these pictures. In one she and her children are seen playing a music band, while in another she is seen taking a ride on a speedboat with the family and a few Disney characters.

For more than 100 years Bengalis have written books and made films where gods have been given comic treatment. All these follow from the Bengali tradition that Durga is like a daughter returning annually to spend a few days with her parents. The mother goddess and the daughter become one and the same. Extending the same liberal philosophy, numerous Muslim artists work on decoration items of Durga. There are even examples of Muslims assisting Hindu priests in rigorous and elaborate rituals to worship the goddess on all four days of the festival.

And Durga is no exception. Bengal has more minor goddesses such as Shasthi (for the well-being of children) and Manasa (to protect the locals from snakes). In rural Bengal, they are all treated like members of the household.

Habib placed his communication against the backdrop of this liberal ethos in Bengal — and there’s no need to get worked up over a visit to a salon.

Twitter: @avijitghosal3

First Published: Sep 11, 2017 13:35 IST