FOR GENERATIONS, adivasis of several states have been holding an annual festival to pay homage to Tushu, a beautiful Kurmi princess who, the legend goes, had jumped into the river Kasai (Kanghabati) to escape the advances of a Muslim nawab keen to marry her.
Today, local Trinamool Congress leaders have introduced their own version of deification of Tushu — a temple in West Mednipur.
The tradition has been Tushu Utsav, celebrated around December-January, in adivasi settlements across the Chhotanagpur region of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, parts of Assam and Chhattisgarh. “We sing to Tushmoni for prosperity, love and happiness. We fast and we pay our homage to Tushmoni with offerings of foodgrains, flowers and fruits,” said Aparajita Mahato, 30. “On Makar Sankranti we immerse her idol.”
The first ever temple to Tushu came up in Gopiballavpur in January, an effort by local TMC leaders to help adivasis “integrate” with mainstream Hindu culture. “We had a four-day event with lakhs of adivasis assembling in Nadongoriya village, many from as far away as Odisha and Jharkhand. TMC leaders including general secretary Sailendrabijoy Malladeb inaugurated the temple,” said Lakshman Roy, a local journalist and one of those behind the initiative.
The temple, painted yellow and green, stands in a clearing by the highway near Nadongoriya village. Inside the 15-foot-high temple, a hand-painted idol of Tushu towers to a height of two feet. Alongside, in her red saree, is the traditional Tushu doll, the size of a palm. “We can’t immerse the idol as it is sculpted out of rock (it weighs 65 kg). This year we brought holy water and poured it on the idol instead,” said Shashadhar Mahato, a farmer who was appointed the temple priest.
“Tushu Utsav is more a village-level cultural gathering than a strictly religious puja. There are no purohits to head the celebrations,” said Mahadev Hansda, a Purulia-based scholar and editor of the adivasi journal Tetre.
Other activists and journalists say that the temple and the mela around it might be the beginning of a commercial venture shored up by the local TMC political class because there has been a spurt in the number of fairs and festivities in rural Bengal over the last five years.
“Adivasis are not caste Hindus. There is political pressure to institutionalise cultural symbols and turn their cultural celebrations into organised religion for political gains,” said Xavier Dias, an activist in Jharkhand. “Hindutva groups have been forcing adivasis to build Hanuman temples in villages in Jharkhand.”
In Gopiballavpur, the local TMC leadership plans to make the Tushu Utsav a bigger event. Some say it will become a tirthasthal (site of pilgrimage) for adivasis and organisers are planning to put it up on Google Maps in the coming days.
“It will become a site of pilgrimage for adivasis and we plan to put it up on Google Maps,” said Horen Mahato, TMC’s youth wing president (Gopiballavpur II) and member of the Mandir Nirman Committee. “We have been promised funds by MLA Churamani Mahato, the forest department is planting trees, and the BDO got a hand-pump installed.”
Roy concedes the idea of a temple to Tushu had initially offended tribals but explained: “Adivasis cannot go into our temples and they do not have their own. That is why they feel inferior. We want the adivasis to build themselves a strong identity.”
Amiya Patra, a CPM leader contesting the ongoing elections, accused the TMC of mandir-masjid politics. “The Left never plays with religious and cultural sentiments of a people,” he said.