When the Duttas commenced their Durga Puja in 2013, they decided to break away from every tradition. They have worshipped girls of different castes and religions as Kumari to make the celebrations as inclusive as possible.
“Ma Durga has no caste, creed or religion. We are worshipping the child as Ma and motherhood has no religion. Hinduism is a liberal religion and we shouldn’t be rigid,” said Ms. Dutta.
When Mr. Dutta, an engineer at the Kamarhati Municipality in North 24 Paraganas, asked his colleague Mohammed Ibrahim about a Muslim girl child they could worship, the latter immediately thought of Fatima, his 4-year-old niece. Mr. Ibrahim broached the subject with his older brother Imran, and then with his sister Bushra Bibi, Fatima’s mother. Everyone in the family “happily agreed” to let Fatima, who is yet to start school, be worshipped as the ‘Kumari’ (a virgin and unmarried girl). They sent a picture of Fatima to the Duttas and made all the arrangements to bring her to Baguihati, on the eastern edge of the city.
“I share a good relation with sir [Mr. Dutta], so when he asked me if he could worship my niece, I was very happy,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
Following this, Bushra Bibi and Fatima, who belong to a lower-middle income family, were brought to Kolkata from their house in Agra. Mr. Ibrahim said his sister was “honoured by this invitation” and all of them looked forward to having a unique Puja. They are currently staying at Mr. Ibrahim’s house in Kamarhati.
During Kumari Puja or Kanya Puja, a girl child who has not attained puberty yet is worshipped as an image of the goddess Durga. Kumari Puja, taking place in different parts of the country during Puja, however, has a casteist connotation to it, since only Brahmin girls can be worshipped, according to tradition. Interestingly, in 1898, Swami Vivekananda had worshiped a Muslim boatman’s daughter as Durga in Kashmir, after he received a vision about her. The event is now described as Kumari Puja. However, all Puja Committees do not encourage the ritual.
Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, eminent Orientalist scholar of the epics and Puranas, explained that the spirit of Kumari Puja has changed over the last century. “Kumari Puja started as a celebration of virginity and also women’s empowerment. The Shastras were made a long time back, so the rule that only Brahmin children could be Kumari was made by Brahmin themselves. Today, we are in a secular democracy, so if somebody decides to worship a girl of a different religion as Kumari, then that is considered progressive and a welcome initiative,” said Professor Bhaduri.
Ms. Dutta said that her elder brother had suggested worshipping a Muslim girl to induce “a strong message of communal peace” in Bengal. Ms. Dutta’s Puja has triggered curiosity in Kolkata — a city that, since Friday, has dramatically changed with lights and installations from Friday night. [The writer is an intern with The Hindu, Kolkata]