Once upon a time in India, a king became obsessed with a female buffalo. The result of their bestiality was half man/half buff, called Mahishasur. He asked the God Vishnu for help in conquering his enemies. He was granted a wish, that he would never be killed by a man. He became very powerful, even defeating gods. Something had to be done to stop him.
Meanwhile, on Mount Kailash, Parvati wanted to marry Shiva. She spent so long in the sunshine trying to woo him that her skin turned dark. Eventually Shiva succumbed to her charms, but he had to scrub off the darkness on her skin, which fell as rain on a vegetable garden. The woman who ate the veggies gave birth to a super baby called Durga. The gods contributed their individual super powers to the goddess, so at one stage, she had 108 arms, each with a special weapon. This got whittled away until she was left with eight armed arms. She had a bow and arrow, thunderbolt, spear, club, trident, conch, sword and chakra. Her divine purpose was to kill Mahishasur in combat.
I won’t bore you with the details, but after his entire army was destroyed by Durga, he morphed into a series of animals, eventually becoming a buffalo and being beheaded by Durga’s trident.
It doesn’t end there.
In the Ramayana, Rama needs Durga’s help to defeat Ravana, King of Lanka. She demands 108 blue lotuses, but being a mischievous Goddess, she stole one while Rama is saying his prayers. When he realises he was one blue lotus short, he takes out his knife to dig out one of his blue eyes as a substitute. Before he does, the Goddess stays his hand and ensures his campaign is successful.
This story is a huge festival in Bengal and among the Bengali community in Delhi. There is a dedicated band of artisans who come to Delhi from Bengal to make images of the Goddess. This takes place in the grounds of an old fleapit cinema, the Chandraloke, in Chittaranjan.
The design and construction of the idols hasn’t changed in centuries. The workers fashion a crude model using straw and bamboo, which they cover with clay. As the clay dries, it cracks and is covered with a fine silt to make a smooth skin. It is said that the mud from outside a prostitute’s house is particularly valued. This is because it contains all man’s goodness, which is left outside when he goes inside to have illicit sex. Finally, the painter decorates the idols and they are clothed ready for display.
These idols are not cheap. In the past, only the rich zamindars could afford to have their own Durga. However, groups of families were able to collaborate to have their shared image. The images below show Durga with painful, cracked nipples, Mahishasur with a 16 pack abdomen, Laxmi with her owl and Durga with more accoutrements.
Painting is done by spray gun, with the finer details done by paintbrush.
After a week of prayers and devotions, each image is taken to a river and immersed in the water, so the Goddess can return to her husband in the Himalayas. Then everyone parties and eats lots of Bengali sweets.
It is worth checking out this amazing blog from Calcutta/Kolkata: https://amitabhagupta.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/durga-puja-of-bonedi-families-at-kolkata/