Dressed in a bright red sari, Fatima, a 4-year-old Muslim girl, sat in front of the idol of Goddess Durga as she was worshipped during Kumari Puja in Kolkata.
Kumari Puja is held on Ashtami during Durga Puja when young girls are bathed in Ganga water, clad in red Benarasi saris and adorned with flowers and jewellery, with Alta applied to their feet and tilak applied to their forehead. They are worshipped as manifestations of Goddess Durga, with the tradition believed to have been started by Swami Vivekananda in 1901 at Belur Math to celebrate women.
Tamal Dutta, a resident of Kolkata, has been celebrating Kumari Puja since 2013. This year, he decided to celebrate Kumari Puja a little differently. He told The Indian Express,
“I asked my friend Ibrahim if he had a 4-year-old girl in his family. He said yes and asked what did I plan to do. I told him we wanted to do a Puja with her. He said they were ready and that’s why we didn’t face a problem while performing Kumari Puja. We all think the same.”
Mohammed Ahmed, Fatima’s father, agreed at once to participate in the celebrations.
“When he approached me, I agreed instantaneously because I thought Kolkata would send a message to the country that how Hindus and Muslims live together, how we not only participate in each other’s festivities but also enjoy them and we contribute however way we can.”
Dutta and Fatima’s parents believe it’s more important to show unity in diversity than focus on what people would think. According to Bushra Begum, Fatima’s mother,
“I don’t care about what people think and don’t give importance to the Hindu-Muslim divide. I’m a human first, and so are you. I discussed this at home and people said that it was fine so we came here.”
Her husband added,
“This is the beauty of this country. This country is a land of Ganga-Yamuna culture. India’s diversity is its beauty.”
This is not the first time Dutta chose to break tradition and celebrate Kumari Puja in an effort to send a message.
“This is the first time that we invited a Muslim. Last year, we did Kumari Puja with a kid from the Dom community. We have also performed Puja with a Brahmin kid. There is no differentiation between people when it comes to Puja. You now know that the girl is Muslim but would you have been able to figure out her religion just by looking at her?”