Mumbai Artist’s ‘Menstruating Durga’ Hurts Religious Sentiments, But Has Its Supporters

The taboo on menstruation in still quite rampant in this day and age. Still deemed to be unclean, unhealthy and a matter of embarrassment as opposed to a natural bodily function that heralds fertility in a woman. Whether it is wrapping sanitary napkins in opaque covers to avoid being seen, advertisements using blue instead of blood red to depict menstruation or women being barred from temples and religious activities during ‘those days’

Mumbai-based artist Aniket Mitra has attempted to address this very taboo on menstruation and celebrate womanhood with his latest artwork.

The picture is that of a sanitary napkin with a bloodied lotus on it. But it is what’s drawn around the napkin that has managed to irk people about the graphic designer’s artwork.

Image Courtesy: Aniket Mitra’s Instagram

aROUND THE SANITARY PAD is a “chalchitra“, a decorative piece that forms the background of Goddess Durga’s pratima (idol).

Mitra’s art, which is bold and predictably ruffling a lot of religious feathers, was inspired by what the women in his family had to endure if they were menstruating during Durga Puja.

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“As someone living in 2018, this infuriates me.”

Speaking to InUth, Mitra explained,

“My artwork is just a reflection of what I had seen and experienced in everyday life. My wife loves the Ashtami anjali (a ritual on the eighth day of Durga Puja), but whenever she gets her period on Ashtami, she cannot participate in something she loves. There’s no such restriction for men so my artwork was an attempt at understanding how infuriating it can be for all women.”

Mitra also alluded to Assam’s Ambubachi Mela festival, which is a four-day celebration of the menstruation cycle of Hindu goddess, Kamakhya. The festival sees lakhs of pilgrims throng to Assam’s Kamakhya Temple to participate in it, one of the few times when menstruation is celebrated rather than shunned by religion.

 “Isn’t it hypocritical that we treat Ma Durga as our daughter, but we can’t accept a natural process that all daughters go through? Who are we really shielding when we become so angry about talking about gods and menstruation. Celebrating the menstrual cycle of a goddess at the Kamakhya Temple every year is convenient, but this is not?”

This wasn’t the only reason that moved the graphic designer to create this artwork.

Aniket Mitra explained to News18 how he wanted to shed light on the lack of sanitary hygiene for women during a festival that celebrates a goddess.

“Every year, the state government spends a lot of money during Puja. Committee also raise a lot of money for their respective pandals. Everyone knows that women are going to be out on the streets. Yet no one ever tries to get vending machines that dispense cheap sanitary pads in pandals. No one tries to get clean bathrooms for women.”

Mitra’s artwork has been condemned by many as ‘hurting religious sentiments’. A complaint was posted on Kolkata police’s Facebook page, following which Mitra had to take down the post from Facebook.

One of the comments on Mitra’s post said,

“If this was south India, people would have already chopped off his hands. We Bengalis are extremely tolerant but this is an insult to our Maa Durga and we won’t tolerate it.”

However, the artwork has found its own band of supporters too, particularly women, who have lauded Mitra’s bold message.

A beautiful attempt to bring women and the goddess closer…

Why can’t Goddess Durga bleed?

Aniket Mitra remains unfazed by the trolls and threats, some of which have even been directed at his family members.

He told NDTV,

“I am not really concerned of what people are saying. I am happy with the support that I am getting.”

Yahoo News quoted him clarifying that contrary to what people were thinking, this isn’t a publicity stunt.

“People have even threatened me and tried to blame for trying to gain publicity with my artwork. That was not my intention. I just wanted to start a discourse on normalising periods. I just had faith that if we can celebrate movies like Pad Man, then what’s the problem in openly talking about it? But we’re clearly not ready for it.

 

Ironically, only a week ago, the Supreme Court of India ordered open the doors of Kerala’s Sabarimala temple to women of menstruating age.

 

“SOCIAL EXCLUSION OF WOMEN ON MENSURATION IS UNTOUCHABILITY AND IS ANATHEMA TO THE CONSTITUTION.”

However, while hoards of people welcomed the Sabarimala verdict with open arms, there was dissent amongst the ranks. Not just male but even some female devotees considered this blasphemy and were willing to wait for their menstruation to end before entering the temple.

The problem then, doesn’t lie with religion or whether the Gods think a menstruating woman is pure or impure. The problem lies with what we, the Almighty’s humble devotees, think. And that indoctrination is something the Gods and Goddesses might have to descend on earth to change.