28 January, 2021

Annals Of Earth

Sonagachi sex workers break tradition, refuse soil for Durga idol

Sandipan Chatterjee
Annals Of Earth

Soil Theory

Why soil from sex workers’ doorstep is necessary for making Durga idols:

  • To make otherwise ostracised members of society feel included
  • Clients visiting ‘houses of vice’ leave their virtues outside the door, making the soil here virtuous
  • To purge prostitutes of their “sins”
  • As a fertility ritual
  • To honour ‘courtesans’, traditionally famed for their proficiency in the arts


Long before it became politically incorrect to call sex workers by any other name, it was considered inauspicious to worship the goddess Durga without seeking out the
blessing of courtesans, even if they were otherwise stigmatised and ostracised by society. Thus originated the little-known, age-old custom of collecting a handful of soil (punya mati) from the nishiddho pallis of Calcutta, literally ‘forbidden...



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