Kolkata: When we make merry, they mourn. When we celebrate, they are terribly woebegone.
The biggest festival in the world for Bengalis, Durga Puja, marks the celebration of victory of Goddess Durga over demon king Mahishasura, but behind this, there is a Santhal community in Purulia district who mourn the death of their king during this entire period which is not known to the mass.
Durga puja festivities begin with Mahalaya, which starts a week before puja where people celebrate the annihilation of the asura king by the Goddess. But the Santhal community remains bleak and silent during this time.
A complete contrast to the happy and enjoyable frame of mind of Bengal’s devotees of Durga, the Santhal communities are sad — they are mourning for the fallen leader of their tribe — the mythological demon, Mahishasura.
As Durga Puja draws nearer, the Santhal communities are getting ready to shed their tears.
During the four days of Durga Puja the Asur tribe mourns for their great loss. Living in their own country with an identity crisis is not letting them to come forward and tell their story.
According to this community, their leader was betrayed and murdered by a foreign lady called Durga. They were thrown out from their own land and their leader was portrayed as evil.
Most of the population of Purulia district consist of the Santhal tribes and if you happen to drop by during Durga Puja, you will be struck by the bleak environment unlike anyplace else.
Instead, they celebrate the Hudur-Durga festival where they mourn the death of the mythical demon, Mahishasura, who was slain by the Goddess during the battle.
There is quite an interesting story to this festival. It is believed that Mahishasura was the leader of their tribe in ancient times, who defeated the Aryans.
In turn, they conspired against him and sent a lady warrior to battle. Being a virtuous man, he would never lay hands on a woman and thus, it became the reason for his demise.
On this day, they commemorate their leader, worship him and sing hymns to his glory.
“During the nine days of Durga Puja, we don’t work much in the daytime. We only come out at night to offer prayers and at the end of the ninth day, we offer prayers to our ancestors to keep us safe. The men offer the pujas and then the women join in observing the day”, says Shyama Asur, a third-year student who pays annual homage at his village in Purulia.
According to the subaltern version of the mythology, Mahishasura, the buffalo-tribal king, was deceived and stabbed by Durga because of a boon that no man could defeat him. Subsequently, a group of gods arrived and killed him.
The mainstream Hindu interpretation says that Mahishasura, an asura (demon) was always at war with the devas (gods).
Since he was given a boon that no male could defeat him, the devas led by Indra couldn’t match up to him.
The devas called upon Durga, the warrior form of Goddess Parvati, who fought Mahishasura and killed him.
In scriptures and mythological narratives, she is depicted as a goddess riding a lion armed with weapons in each of her 10 hand slaying Mahishasura.
But as per the Adivasi narrative, Mahishasura was killed by deceit by the devas who couldn’t defeat him.
The Asur community thus assemble on a full-moon night of the Hindu calendar month Ashwin to mourn Mahishasura’s death.
The Ashwin Puja or Asur puja is observed twice a year, once during the month of Phagun (March) and again during the month of Ashwin that falls in September-October which coincides with the tenth day of Durga Puja (Dashami/ Dusshera).
However, the tradition of Asur puja has spilled over to several other tribal villages in Bengal who now observe ‘Hudur Durga’.
Tribal and Dalit communities such as Bagdi, Santhalis, Mundas and even Namasudras take part in observing the martyrdom of Mahishasura.
The event attracts tourists and visitors from all over the world, with their unique tribal dances, songs, choir and even stunt performances.