The androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati, Ardhanarishvara, maybe a popular iconography in south India but this representation is not as widely celebrated in Bengal. Which is why, when the members of Pratyay Gender Trust and Udyami Yubak Brinda Durga Puja committee in Kolkata decided to use the Ardhanarishvara as the idol, which is being hailed as the country’s first transgender Durga Puja, they were a little apprehensive about “rocking the boat too much”. “We are going against the conventions by helping the local club organise the puja. Activities that are traditionally male-dominated — the theme, marquee decoration, collection of subscription, puja committee formation — will see the participation of transgender persons,” says Anindya Hajra. This puja, which has a budget of Rs 1.5 lakh, has been organised by the self-help group of transgender persons.
The Ardhanarishvara Durga at the Udyami Yuba Brinda pandal is possibly the first such idol in the 300-year-old history of Durga pujas in Bengal. “This shows how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God,” says artist China Pal, who has designed the idol.
In accordance with the traditional iconography, the idol is half male and half female, split down the middle. It will be dressed in traditional Bengali ekchala style, adorned with the daker saaj, a style where embellishments are primarily made from silver foil (rangta) and enhanced with silver sequins. “The very process of making the idol was almost like a sex reassignment surgery. By the time we went to China Pal, who also happens to be the only woman idol-maker in this part of the country, the structure of the idol was ready. So, for the Shiva part of the idol, we had to remove the breast,” says Hajra.