Rashmi Rekha Das
There is no shelter like the mother. There is no refuge like the mother. There is no defence like the mother. There is no one so dear as the mother. There is no mode of life that is superior to serving one’s mother
– The Mahabharata
Although Durga puja is celebrated with great fanfare every year, the essence and spirit of mother worship is lost on those unwilling to spare a thought about loving and respecting women
A mother is an object of reverence. The saying ‘Matri Devo Bhava’ (mother is divine) is apt. According to ancient scriptures, God creates, maintains and destroys the universe but the power with which he performs these functions is called Shakti (universal energy) and this takes a female form. This Shakti or power is worshipped alongside god as the Divine Mother. This is the origin of mother worship and thus the idea that the human mother is worthy of reverence and worship just as the Divine Mother or Shakti, says artist and art activist Kesu Das who is the pioneer of Naba Matruka Puja which is observed as part of Nabaratri celebrations.
But what is Naba Matruka Puja? It is the worship of nine women who have contributed to society. Nine women achievers from diverse fields are felicitated on the occasion. Come Dussehra, people irrespective of caste, creed and colour gear up for worshipping Goddess Durga, although they hardly care for their own mothers and disrespect them often. Naba Matruka Puja is an attempt at inculcating respect for women among everyone thereby reducing crime and atrocities against women by honouring women on the auspicious occasion. In a candid conversation with Sunday POST, Das, along with other organizers, talk about how it all started.
“It is normally believed that, being motherly is only a woman’s cup of tea. In fact being motherly is more to do with a person’s attitude of love, affection and sacrifice. It is the most valuable gift a child can get. Sometimes we take women for granted and overlook all the little things that she has done to see us bloom. Being a mother is a blessing and also being able to shape a soul in order to help him evolve is even more fortunate. Anyone who can love without reason, who can sacrifice without expecting anything, overlook flaws and mould with love, is a mother in the true reflection of the omnipresent. This universal motherly attitude works unbelievably even with human relationships. More than being a mother, being able to mother everyone is a greater quality to possess. However, it is really unfortunate that people have scant regard for their mothers. Durga puja is a carnival where people from all backgrounds, regardless of their religious beliefs, participate and enjoy themselves to the hilt. Idols of goddesses are worshipped, but ironically women are disrespected and assaulted at homes. That made me come up with the idea to observe Naba Matruka Puja every year during Nabaratri celebrations,” says Das.
It all started in 2011 on the day of Pratipada and continued till Nabami at Balasore. Each day a woman was felicitated. On the day of Dussehra, nine women were worshipped together at Brat Kalyan Mandap. It was organised by Balasori Kala Kendra founder Kesu Das in collaboration with the women’s magazine ‘Jugashree Juganari’s’ editor Mamata Mohapatra. The programme was appreciated by all and sundry and that’s why the organisers decided to hold the event every year during Nabaratri.
In 2012, nine dignified women from rural areas were felicitated at Naba Matruka Puja held at Dubulagadi school, 35 km away from Balasore city, in collaboration Das and Mohapatra. In the following year, a committee was formed in Bhubaneswar to celebrate Naba Matruka Puja at the state level. Litterateur Satakodi Hota and editor of a magazine, Sakuntala Baliarsingh, were chosen as its chairman and convener respectively. Engineer Priyabrata Das was chosen as its promoter. Among others, Kesu Das, Mamata Mohapatra, Saswati Bal, Prabhabati Panda and Birendra Kar played crucial roles in making the event successful in the state capital.
Noted women were honoured in Bhubaneswar in 2014 as part of Naba Matruka Puja for the first time. Though the programme was supposed to be held for nine days, it was held for a day due to the natural calamity that struck the state. Since 2014, Naba Matruka puja has been observed for a day.
Apart from honouring and worshipping legendary women, a yagya is also held on the occasion. First lady Vedic priest of Orissa Shanno Devi conducts yagya and chants holy hymns of the Veda on the occasion.
In 2015, a committee was formed at Remuna to do Naba Matruka Puja, thanks to the effort of Kesu Das and Mamata Mohapatra. They started performing the puja at the block level for the first time. In 2016, they took it to district level and in 2017, the puja will be performed at the zone level.
So far, Naba Matruka puja is being held at two places for the past few years. The organisers are hopeful to spread it across the state. They, however, regret that the increasing number of nuclear families, parents neglectful of their children, and eroded values are the reasons behind the increasing incidents of harassment against women in the country. We must inculcate the practice of worshipping our mothers in our children.
This year, women who are chosen to be worshipped and felicitated at Naba Matruka Puja scheduled to be held September 24 on Arya Samaj premises include scientist Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi, litterateur Jayanti Patnaik, educationist Durgeshnandini Mohanty, litterateur Banaja Devi, social activist Adaramani Baral, social activist Lakhmi Kumari Das, revolutionist Lakhmidivya Mishra, Ideal Mother Minati Mishra and homemaker Shantilata Singh.
What They Say
Keshu Das, who is spearheading the campaign in association with ‘Jugashree Juganari’ and Arya Samaj, says: “Mothers are the living goddesses, who have been silently working for society, never expecting anything in return. This is a very humble attempt to honour and thank them for their lifelong contribution.”
Priyabrata Das, president of Arya Samaj in Bhubaneswar and promoter of the Naba Matruka Puja, says: “Instead of worshipping nine deities made of clay on nine days during Nabaratri, a reform has been made as per Vedic lines to felicitate nine respectable elderly ladies (more than 75 years old) who have served society in different ways. This has been carried out for the last six years at Arya Samaj, Bhubaneswar. The idea is to inculcate respect for women. At a time when elderly people are not cared after and sometimes abused, it is an attempt and campaign to inculcate the practice of respecting and valuing elderly women. More than 50 elderly ladies have been felicitated so far. The aim is to spread this scheme into the rural belt of Orissa so that a day will come when every village will adopt such a noble practice.”
Mamata Mohapatra, editor of ‘Jugashree Juganari’, says: “Naba Matruka Puja is a unique practice to worship women. It’s an attempt to create awareness among common people about the importance of mothers in our life. In this dog-eat-dog world, people love to spend time by showcasing fireworks as part of Dussehra celebrations. They do all sorts of unnecessary things but never bother about their mothers. They have no time for the living goddesses who shaped their future. Most importantly, they never feel grateful to their mothers. That’s why women are suppressed and neglected in our society. Lack of respect for women leads to rise in the number of rape and assault cases. Once people start respecting and worshipping their own mothers, they will learn to give respect to other women too. Naba Matruka Puja is an attempt to inculcate such a practice. It is being held in Balasore and Bhubaneswar. We have planned to spread it to southern and western Orissa in the following year after forming committees. My earnest request is that people should start this practice from their home itself.”
Sakuntala Baliarsingh, convener of Bhubaneswar Naba Matruka Puja committee, says: “We have been worshipping idols of Goddess Durga but don’t respect the living women around us. We forget the commitment of mothers who shaped our lives. We hope this practice will bring about a change in the mindset of people and women will be respected and honoured. They say charity begins at home, and so must the trend begin in the family. Children must learn to respect their mothers. Changes will not take place overnight, but we are hopeful that gradually, the movement will bring some change in the mindset of people.”