Ardhanarishvara: Going Against The Conventions

Food for Thought


                        The vibes of the rising patriotism and extremism were first felt here. Speak of those brave hearts, the young men belonging to the cream of the society, who raised up arms against the faulty governance and fought for the betterment of the working class. The Communists and the Naxalites- bred by the city and shaped by Presidency, Jadavpur and Calcutta Universities - spilled their blood on the rich earth of this city. The director who took India to international platforms, won accolades for his marvelous masterpieces. Satyajit Ray, was born here. The first educational institution for women was established here. The Bard of India, Rabindranath Tagore, breathed the air of this city. This city also hosts the world's biggest and the most celebrated festival and is known for its gastronomic delights as well as its wonderful hospitable environment. With the Howrah Bridge, Victoria Memorial, Writer's Building, Fort William, Park Street's nightlife, the National Library and Sourav Ganguly, combined with the literature, music and arts of this region, makes it (without doubt) the culture capital of India.

The door opens. You step on the platform. The air feels different from the rest of the cities that you've been to. It smells of heritage and history. You know where you are.

Make yourself comfortable, and welcome to Kolkata! 

That's Kolkata from me - from someone who has been in this city for the past 22 years and from someone whose memories of childhood, school, college and university and of all the teenage whims have been born, molded and created by this city! Kolkata, my city for the past 22 years has shaped my tongue and has provided me with an identity, a shelter, a specific trait and a tag of being a 'Bengali'. Interestingly, Kolkata doesn't quite portray a pleasant picture of the present scenario and environment to the denizens of my country. Coming from a convent background, both my school and my college provided me with a lot of exposure. Gradually, I found myself interacting with students of my age group, few from my field and few others from different backgrounds. The mere whisper of the name of my city was enough to generate a vibe of enthusiasm among them. The culture, the heritage and most importantly, the Durga puja of Kolkata attracted them. Simultaneously, I had to bear with the complaints of my city being conservative and backward, with ill-developed roads and shopping complexes, with faulty management, infrastructure and governance and with the unending problem of unemployment (or the lack of good jobs that paid one well!). 

And therein lied the tragedy, as whatever they felt or believed was and still is absolutely true.

Practically viewing, Kolkata doesn't have the infrastructure of Bangalore, the Sarojini or Connaught Place of Delhi or the Juhu-Chowpatty of Mumbai. It doesn't have a place where one can drive on for the whole night and end up watching the sunrise while standing close to the edge of a mountain. Having spent a major part of my life in this city, at times I do ponder upon the things that are missing from my city, or how things would’ve been in Kolkata if the things that I desired or that I kept on hearing from my friends had actually been present! 

The world of imagination fills my mind with peace and tranquility. I picture a Kolkata that is altogether different from the city where I live.

However, still at the end of the day while I return home, passing along the streets in a bus, I tilt my head slightly outside the window.

It feels like home. I feel warm. I feel safe. I feel the presence of my mother. That’s exactly when I realise that no matter how far away I am from this city and that wherever I may be in the coming years of my life, the bond between me and Kolkata, my city, shall always remain unbreakable. And that there are way more than just a' few things' about my city that will perhaps draw me closer to her, the primary one being the Durga Puja, the festival of grandeur to which perhaps no other festival, carnival or celebration can match.

Yet another Fall has arrived and Kolkata is all decked up for the celebration of women power - the Durga Puja - performed for five days. The sky bears clouds akin to soft cotton balls and the fields are already filled with catkins. Mornings are cold and misty, the streets are lit up, the artisans are providing their finishing touches to the idols and the people are busy with their last minute preparations. The stage is set. The performance is yet to begin. Days left-2!!!

Sounds familiar right? The same old articles and publications on Kolkata's Durga Puja. The best idol, the best artisan, decor of the streets. The latest fashion and the flashback of a beautiful bong beauty, with eyes as dark as monsoonal clouds.

I'll say 'No'.

You'll ask me 'what’s so special this year?’ 

And I'll just wink, smile and say that my city isn't as conventional as you think it to be. For when the world is showing support and solidarity with the homosexuals and the transgenders and when, in my country, the youth is raising their voices in support of the third sex, MY city is worshipping, not only of this country's but the world's first transgender Durga idol this year -  the Ardhnariswar.



The news that is doing the rounds on all virtual networking sites at present, is the worship of a transgender Durga idol in Kolkata this festive season. It has been inspired from Shiva's Ardhnarishwar or ‘the half man and half woman’ avatar, in an attempt to include the marginalised transgender community in the Puja celebrations. Every year hundreds of Durga idols are made for this festival in Kolkata and West Bengal. Every street has its own celebration - few are big and others are small. However, this year's Puja at Kolkata's Joy Mitra Street will be totally different. The street will host the country's first transgender Durga idol and will be including one dozen members of the transgender community. 

One half of the idol has a moustache and a pectoral instead of a breast, smaller eyelashes and a dhoti (the traditional male garment). The other half is the usual female Durga idol that is worshipped. The idol was visualized by 55-year old transgender Bhanu Naskar and has been crafted by the only woman artisan of Kumartuli (the area where the idols are crafted), China Pal. 

The idol generates an enthusiastic vibe, and a very strong message. Goddess Durga is worshipped for her wrath, her power and her strength with which she slays the demon. She symbolizes women emancipation. On the other hand, Shiva, according to Hindu mythology, represents the power of the masculine sect. The idol of the Ardhnarishwar, portrays the communion and culmination of nature's strongest creative and destructive powers. The coalition of the male and the female. The creation of the strongest aura that perhaps can slay all the oddities.

The fact that the coalition of the creative power of a man and a woman technically creates a life which is divine and that it portrays the most powerful of all the powers, has been portrayed by means of this idol.

This idol spreads the message that humanity surpasses all divides, including gender.

The transgenders have been a symbol of the commencement of positive actions in our society, but always indirectly. In reality, the transgender has always been the outlaw and the untouchable or, more precisely, the neglected one. Hence, it is a huge step on the part of my city to give this neglected sect an identity, especially whilst celebrating a festival that sings the glory of the weaker, the neglected and the one controlled by the society (the goddess who rose to suppress the evil, even though Kolkata still had the social structure of a conservative frame of mind).

It feels great to view this incident and to hear the name of my city in talks, everywhere. It feels great to finally see my city soaring up gradually. The Durga Puja is actually being portrayed in the truest sense of the term this year, where both the male and the female are joining hands, rising to the occasion of devastating the grey ghosts of ancient faith and paving way for exposure, employment and better standards of living.

Most importantly, clearing a path for a humane behaviour. Kolkata thus welcomes a new face in her history of culture this Puja, the face of the Ardhnarishwar.