The Durga Puja festival is an annual Hindu event that celebrates the worship of the goddess Durga. Worshipers make idols of the goddess to commemorate Durga’s triumph of good over evil. But this year festival-goers in Kolkata, India, will observe holiday with a new kind of idol -- the first-ever transgender Durga.
Udyami Yuba Brinda Durga Puja is one of the hundreds of small worship committees that raise funds to hold local celebrations, but this year, it partnered with the Pratyay Gender Trust, a local transgender persons collective, to make history.
Designed by a woman artist, the transgender idol is modeled on the Ardhanarishwar, or the composite andogynous form of the Hindu Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Organizers say the half-man/half-woman idol is an effort to include the city’s transgender population in worship activities.
“Ours is an attempt to question these practices and caste/class structures and to cross gender lines -- as ‘women’ and ‘outcasts’ -- who have traditionally been barred from taking part in integral aspects of socio-religious functions such as Durga Pujas, where decision making powers and participation has by and large remained in the control of men and powerful and upper castes/classes,” the Pratyay Gender Trust said in a statement.
The puja is set to take place on Sunday, but the collective is still accepting donations to support the event and installation via its Facebook page.
Activists say India's transgender community is often gravely marginalized, and many see this move as an important step toward inclusion.
“A country-wide debate is going on over the rights of the marginalised transgender community and even people from the so-called normal world are slowly coming out in the open in support of their equal right,” Kaushik Gupta, a criminal lawyer who is active in the Kolkata LGBT rights movement, told the Hindu Times. “To me, this event is a genuine attempt to add to the process of creating awareness.”