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It is perhaps one of the most hypocritical traditions of modern Indian society. While throughout the year, the prostitutes are shunned, looked down upon, insulted, and ill-treated, come to Navratri or Durga Puja and suddenly, they are revered and in demand. The reason? The idol of Goddess Durga is partially made from the soil collected from outside a prostitutes’ home. The soil is known as “Punya Maati” comes from the nishiddho Palli or the forbidden territories. The priest making the idol and conducting the puja must beg for the soil from a prostitute. Quite a quirk of fate but why exactly is the soil from a prostitute’s house used?

Unfortunately, there are no concrete answers. Many priests of today just shroud it under the cloud of tradition. “It has been happening so since centuries. Why do we suddenly question tradition? Also, the first-ever Durga idol made was made from the soil outside a prostitute’s house”, were some of the responses we got. After speaking to a few priests and using the all-knowing Google to gain information, what we managed to stumble on was not one but a few reasons as to why the tradition is followed even today.

Surprisingly, the internet and the priests both had very different versions as to how the tradition originated and the reason behind using the soil. Below, we try and present most of the versions and reasons as to why the soil is actually used.

1. It is the “purest” soil.

This version is internet’s favorite version. According to most believers, when a man enters a prostitute’s house, he leaves his trueness and his purity behind. Thus, all his pureness lies right outside her house in the soil present there. The soil is therefore the purest and it is the reason why it is used in the making of the idol. But then, why must the priest beg for it? And a prostitute touching the soil and handing it over – won’t that make it impure as she and her home are treated as an impurity (only the soil from outside her home is used as only the outside is pure). This version doesn’t really answer all our questions.

2. It is a symbol of female energy.

This is the priests' favorite version. During the fight between Mahishasura and Maa Durga, Mahishasura tried to molest Maa Durga. However, Durga with her powers and wrath prevented it from happening and emerged victorious not only from the personal assault but also during the war. The use of soil from outside a prostitute’s house is to pay respects and revere those women who have been downtrodden and been humiliated by society. It shows the world that they too have power and can be a Durga. This version also doesn’t answer the question as to why must the priest beg for the soil but it does make us wonder if making the priests beg is a way of proving that all beings are equal in the eyes of God.

3. Inclusion of all.

The modern version is that the soil from outside a prostitute’s home is used to show inclusiveness. The destitute sections of society are shunned by all and through this process, it makes them feel a part of society and shows them that they too belong to the world as much as the others. Not a very promising or uplifting thought as the rest of the year they are still treated like dirt and looked upon with disgust.

4. To honor courtesans.

Long before the women were treated as sex workers and kept away from society, they were courtesans. They were respected for their art and through that art they provided pleasure to all of mankind. It is to respect these courtesans and their art that they too are a part of the festivities. taking the soil from their doorstep makes them feel like their art is still remembered and respected.

5. To purge the prostitutes of their sins

Through the process of the Punya maati, the prostitutes are said to be purged of their “sins”. Including them in the idol-making purifies them. While taking the soil from a prostitute, the priest chants a mantra, and this mantra is said to unburden their souls. Oh well.

There are many rituals and traditions that we follow blindly today without really know the true reason behind them. Unfortunately, this beautiful tradition has turned hypocritical with time with the true origins behind it forgotten and people using it just for promoting and highlighting the plight of the sex workers for a few days.