Mahalaya heralds the onset of Devi Paksha

On the last new moon day just before Mahalaya, the idols of Devi Durga are coloured, especially the eyes are given the final shapes and this is known as 'Chakshu Daana'

Uday Sankar DasUday Sankar Das
Published : 25 Sept 2022, 11:18 AM
Updated : 25 Sept 2022, 11:18 AM

For Bengali Hindus throughout the world, Mahalaya signals the final preparations for their greatest religious festival, Durga Puja, which begins in a week. It is believed that on this day, Devi (Goddess) Durga descended to earth to exterminate all evil with her powers and bring peace to mankind. And thus goes the shlokas of the Chandi -

"Yaa devi sarbabhuteshshu, saktirupena sanksthita

Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai namo namaha.

Yaa devi sarbabhuteshu, shaantirupena shanksthita,

Namastaswai namastaswai Namastaswai namo namaha".

Mahalaya, on the one hand, marks the end of Pitri Paksha and the onset of the Devi Paksha. During Pitri Paksha, homage is paid to the ancestors through the performance of 'sraaddha'. This elaborate ceremony of ritual prayers must be performed by the son and it is thought to be essential to ensure the soul's salvation.

Although the sraaddha rites are performed throughout the preceding fortnight, it is considered especially important to perform them on this last day when many choose to perform 'tarpan', a ritual in which water is offered to the ancestors' souls on the banks of the river Ganga and temple premises.

Devi Paksha, meaning the Goddess Period, depicts the beginning of the journey of Devi Durga to earth seven days before the main puja is held. The countdown of the four-day Durga Puja begins on the day of Mahalaya. Devi Durga starts from her mountain abode where she lives with her consort, the god Shiva, to her parents' home with her children.

Preparations begin to welcome the goddess to the Durga Puja festival. On the last new moon day just before Mahalaya, the idols of Devi Durga are coloured, especially the eyes are given the final shapes and this is known as 'Chakshu Daana'.

The story of Devi Durga, the goddess of supreme power, is about her domination over the evil Mahisashura. It tells the story of the growing cruelty of the demon king Mahisashura against the gods. When it reaches a point when it becomes intolerable, the gods pleaded with Vishnu to annihilate the demon.

Vishnu joined hands with Brahma and Maheswara to create a powerful goddess - Devi Durga or 'Mahamaya', symbolising the basic source of all power. Armed with the weapons and the blessings of the gods, Devi Durga confronts the demon Mahisashura in a fierce battle and the 'asura' finally is killed to bring peace, and heaven and earth rejoice at this great victory.

Devi Durga is also called 'Mahisashuramardini' or 'Durgotinashini'. For Bangali Hindus today, Mahalaya has become synonymous with an early-morning radio programme "Mahisashuramardini" or "The Killing of the Demon", depicting the story of how Devi Durga or Mahamaya who embodies the primaeval source of power was created, how she was sent to a battle with Mahishashura and how after a fierce battle, the demon Mahishashura was slain.

This whole story is described through narration and shlokas interspersed with songs and I have seen since my childhood how Bangali Hindus would get up at 4 in the morning with so much interest and enthusiasm to listen to this programme aired by All India Radio (AIR).

The programme called "Mahishashura Mardini" was scripted by Bani Kumar and the music was directed by none other than a music stalwart of the yesteryears, Pankaj Mallick, with renowned artists like Hemanta Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee, Manabendra Mukherjee, Tarun Banerjee and Pratima Banerjee, to name a few, lending their voices.

But, the man who is remembered till today for making Mahalaya so important and memorable is Birendra Khrishna Bhadra, whose immortal voice still mesmerises every Bangali Hindu with his inimitable style. I, for one, would always remember how we in our neighbourhood in Patharghata, Chattogramwould eagerly wait for this unique programme.

There were radios in only a handful of households in the neighbourhood, and in the early morning of Mahalaya, the radio in our house was brought out in the verandah, cane-mats (Paati, as they are called in Bangla) used to be laid out with a few cushions for neighbours to come and listen to the programme.

The volume would be set at the maximum level so that it was audible to all present, and at the end of the two-hour programme, tea, with puffed rice and jilapi, used to be served.

In our neighbourhood in Patharghata, Chattogram, Durga Puja was observed with great fervour and the Puja Pandal at 'Panchbaari' which gained fame as years went by was visited by thousands of people. One notable event of that puja was the programme "MahishashuraMardini" performed by eminent artists of Chattogram.

It was performed early in the morning on Shoshthi and was played on the loudspeakers so that people in the locality could get the flavour of the coming Durga Puja.

Directed by Niraj Chowdhury (Jhuntu Babu), eminent vocalists like Ashok Sen, Hari Prasanna Pal, Chiranjib Das Sharma, MihirNandy, Maya Chowdhury and Shikha Rani Guha (later Das) used to lend their voices. My father Chitta RanjanDas used to do the narration and having studied Sanskrit during his Presidency College days was quite at ease doing the Chandi 'shlokas'.

The world today is besotted with greed, hatred, violence and conflicts, and more sadly, intolerance, and while Bangali Hindus throughout the world will be celebrating Durga Puja festival with great zeal, they will surely be also praying that we all live in peace and harmony and mutual respect.

[Uday Sankar Das is a senior journalist, political commentator and sports analyst]

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher