Durga and her Entourage in a Jawed Habib Salon: Reverence, Irreverence, Trolls, Erotica and the Liberal Hindu Mind

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There’s public outrage on the social media about the newspaper advertisement of Goddess Durga’s family dolling themselves in a Jawed Habib salon. The celebrity hairstylist is being trolled on Twitter. There have been advertisements of underwear and shoes too using the Durga image. No one cried foul then. Arindam delves into evidence of the liberal Hindu mind and finds that the fanatics are unnecessarily trying to take ugly political mileage. An exclusive in Different Truths.

There is much hullabaloo on the social media about a newspaper advertisement of the celebrity hair stylist Jawed Habib salon. It showed Goddess Durga and her entourage getting ready at the salon of the hairstylist. Trolls flooded despite Habib clarifying that the said advertisement was published by one of his franchisees, without proper approval of the corporate office. Hate trolls gave it an ugly communal colour.

Durga and her children are shown in a Habib salon in good taste. The outrage over this advertisement is thus misplaced. Habib became the soft target of the Hindutva forces because of his faith. Indeed, sad! It is necessary to point out that Durga’s face is being used in underwear advertisements of a well-known brand, along with advertisements of shoes. Amul too used Durga in its advertisements. Wonder why no one found these advertisements offensive!

The Bengali magazine, Anandamela, in its Puja Special issue has printed many imaginative depictions of the Durga family. From Durga reading a letter, Kartik shooting a selfie, etc. Yet another magazine, Sukhtara, in one of its issues had fun depictions of the Goddess’ family. No one cried foul then.  

Reverence too has certain irreverence in the agnostic Bengali psyche. Durga puja is a socio-cultural celebration, the religious ramifications are relatively minimal. Bengalis see Durga as a daughter returning to her parents’ home on Earth. For her children, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Kartik and Ganesh, it’s a time of indulgence at their maternal uncle’s place (Mamar Bari).

Theme pandals in Kolkata and elsewhere have used the most irreverent materials, from lentils, rice husk, chocolates, biscuits, to various other materials – you name it! There was no hue and cry then too.

Bengali artists, poets and writers have taken liberties – poetic justice – in the lighthearted depictions of the Durga iconography. Earlier, Durga had two hands and was engaged in a hand-t0-hand combat with Mahisasura. Later, as the Goddess gained stature, her vehicle, the white lion was added. She had more hands, between four and twenty. The Dashobhuja is worshipped in Bengal.1 

Let’s take a broader look at the folklore of various deities. We find that the Hindu mind has humanised2 gods do not frown or become murderous when we see Krishna steal butter, teases the Gopis – we merely give it another name – Leela (Cosmic Game). We do not see red when we find Lord Shiva smokes Ganja and enjoys Bhang (cannabis and its leaves). The Shiva Linga is a phallic symbol and at its base is the Divine Yoni (vagina). The Linga is what a child would see inside a mother’s womb during lovemaking.

We are not offended by the erotic poetry of Kalidasa, in Kumarasambhava, when he describes in great detail, the love making between Shiva and Parvati. Furthermore, we are not intolerant to Khujarao or Konarak, with its erotic depictions of fornications as frescos.

The Hindu mind was never reactionary. It was accommodative. No wonder, it gave space to Gautam Buddha as one of the Dashavataras of Lord Vishnu. It allows reverence for Jain and Sikhs  – the breakaway groups from the mainstream Hindu Dharma.

Furthermore, Durga Puja belonged to the wealthy class, the Babus (read landlords). There is evidence that several wily landlords brought in Courtesans and Nautch girls for their entertainment and pleasures. Some even entertained the Raj officials for favours.

In 1790, 12 Brahmin friends at Guptipara, Hoogly, did something revolutionary. They collected subscriptions from the people and thus began the Barowari (derived from baro or 12 yaari or friends). Durga Puja was liberated from the Thakurdalans (courtyards for Gods) of the Babus and brought into the public sphere. The Gods of the Lord and Masters became a public affair (Sorbojonin or Sarva-jana). It was everyone’s Puja and it also allowed space for everyone’s voices.

It would not be out of place to mention that the mud trampled by a prostitute is must for casting the idols of Goddess Durga. At a mundane level, the sex workers were the live models for the artisans. They would be blindfolded and asked to feel the busts, waists and hips of these women and recreate these in mud by their Gurus or Ustads. At a philosophical level, it meant that just as the sex worker did not discriminate between her clients, so also the Goddess does not distinguish between her devotees (Bhakts). Anyone from a saint to a sinner could worship her. Durga and Kali are the Goddesses of the dacoits, history tells us. Somewhere, we see the democratisation of the Goddess too, along with the message that Devi’s elements are there in the sex workers as well, who are otherwise pushed to the margins of the society.

Some of you may be surprised to learn that Muslims in Bangladesh celebrate Durga Puja too. More than religious overtures, the social relevance of the Puja is such that it allows everyone.

If creative space is a given, I wonder why the ugly noise about an interesting depiction of Durga and her children. She, like any other ordinary Bengali woman, has every right to doll herself up, along with her four children – yes, even in a salon!

©Arindam Roy

Photos from the Internet

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Related Links:

  1. http://wise-planet.blogspot.in/2009/02/lion-of-goddess-durga.html

2. http://wise-planet.blogspot.in/2009/02/of-durgas-homecoming-and-other-stories.html

Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.