Over 15 districts spread across Uttar Pradesh,Bihar,Jharkhand,West Bengal and Orissa saw Durga Puja with a difference this festival season. Instead of the goddess slaying Mahishasur,the usual story of the Puja,this year,tribals and people belonging to Scheduled Castes and backward classes in these districts are celebrating the demon king as a non-Aryan inhabitant and a just king of the land,with Durga representing Aryan invaders.
They will conclude the Puja with Vijay Dashmi or Dussehra marked as Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas (Martyrdom Day).
According to this version,it is the Brahmins and Aryans who spun the false yarn of Durga being good and Mahishasur evil.
The first Mahishasur Diwas celebration was organised by the All India Backward Students Forum at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU),New Delhi,three years ago perhaps the first such subaltern version of the mythology of Mahishasur and Durga. Now,for the first time,it is being observed at such a large scale.
The nine days of Durga Puja have never been a time of celebration for the Kherwal tribes but that of mourning. Only this time,there is greater awareness amongst our people about the story of Mahishasur and Durga, Ajit Prasad Hembram,a tribal activist organising the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day in Purulia district of West Bengal,said over the phone. Similar ceremonies are being organised in at least 20 different places in West Bengal this year,including Malda,Bankura and Hooghly.
As per Hembram and Ashwini Kumar Pankaj,a tribal activist and editor of Johar Disum Khabar,a multi-lingual journal published from Ranchi,Mahishasur (also known as Hudhud Durga) was a clan leader of tribals in the Santhal region,who put up a strong fight against Aryan invasion. According to Hembram,as tribals did not pick up weapons against women,children,aged and the weak,the Aryans sent a woman to lure him.
The Aryans came with a proposal of marriage. But they used treachery and a woman called Durga killed Mahishasur, said Hembram.
A similar story is narrated by Pankaj: There is a tradition among the Santhals wherein during the Navratras,they hold what is called the Dasain dance. During that dance,tribals visit houses and search for something. That something is nothing but Hudhud Durga.
Celebrating the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day on Sunday,tribals in Puruliya danced the Dasain and Kathi dance and presented their story of Hudhud Durga through a play,apart from organising meetings and telling people about Mahishasur,said Hembram.
He added that Asur or Rakshas as presented in the Vedas and Puranas were none other than natives who fought the Aryans to protect their land. There is still a tribe called Asur amongst the Kherwals. So they are living people who are shown as devils and killed symbolically every year at Durga Puja, said Hembram.
Dr Vijay Kumar Trisharan,president of the Ambedkar Chetna Parisar,Palamu,Jharkhand,will organise the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day on Monday in his district.
In Giridih district of Jharkhand,people are observing the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day by tying black clothes on their faces and narrating the story of the just king door to door,said Damodar Gop of Giridih.
Like the tribals,the Yadavs also claim to be descendants of Mahishasur. One view is that the name Mahishasur is derived from Mahish,meaning buffalo,the main source of sustenance for both the Yadavs and tribals.
Mahishasur was our ancestor and these stories of him being a demon are wrong, said Rajvir Singh Yadav,founder president of the All India Prabudh Yadav Sangam and editor of the journal Yadav Shakti Patrika. We are advocates of equality and are striving to promote rational thinking and wipe out superstitions.
Yadav will organise the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day in Sitapur,Uttar Pradesh. It will also be celebrated in Kaushambi,Deoria,Sant Kabir Nagar,Unnao and Maharajganj districts of the state.
Bihar will also see such celebrations in Patna,Nawada,Muzaffarpur and Buxar. In Muzaffarpur,the celebrations will also include an idol of Mahishasur. Harendra Prasad,who is organising the meeting in Minapur,Muzaffarpur,claims to be a descendant of Mahishasur and said he will soon get a marble statue of Mahishasur erected.
In Orissa,Kalahandi district will hold the Mahishasur Diwas,said Narayan Bagarty,a social activist.
According to Jitendra Yadav,president of the All India Backward Students Forum and a PhD scholar at JNU,the widespread acceptance of the Mahishasur Diwas was a successful attempt to emancipate subalterns from the grasp of Brahminical culture.
India is a land of myriad cultures. But a particular group forced its own version of culture and religion on us. It was against this homogenisation that we started observing the Mahishasur Martyrdom Day, he said.