Mahalaya 2022: Spotless blue skies and rows of kaash phool (a seasonal flora) herald Sharad (autumn) and take the Bengalis back to their childhood memories of Durga Puja, Bengal’s biggest festival. While the festival is celebrated with much pomp and splendour over five days, the mood is set much before the Goddess is said to leave her abode in the Kailash for her paternal home in the mortal world.
According to legends, Devi descends on Earth on ‘Mahalaya’, which marks the end of ‘Pitripaksha’, a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. As the ‘Devipaksha’ begins the next say, Mahalaya in effect sets the tone for the Durga Puja festival.
Going by the Hindu lunar calendar, ‘Mahalaya’ is marked on the last day of ‘Krishnapaksha’, the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin.
The next day marks the beginning of Sharad month, ushering in the 10-day ‘Sharadotsav’, as it is also known locally in Bengal.
Mahalaya is on September 25 this year, while the Durga Puja will be celebrated from October 1 (Mahashasthi) to October 5 (Bijoya Dashami).
Mahalaya is a calendar holiday for government offices and public schools in Bengal, while banks stay closed in neighbouring Odisha, Tripura and down south, in Karnataka.
‘Mahalaya’ – An insight into its tradition
Hindus mark the last day of ‘Pitripaksha’ with ‘tarpan’, a ritualistic offering to their departed kin or ancestors. The ritual is performed by taking a holy dip in the Ganges or other water bodies and sending up prayers in memory of their forefathers.
With the closing of ‘Krishnapaksha’ comes the ‘Shuklapaksha’ or the brighter fortnight. Coinciding with autumn or Sharad, this fortnight is celebrated as ‘Devipaksha’. On this day, sculptors, who spend hours and days in their ramshackle studios in north Kolkata’s Kumartuli and elsewhere, shaping Goddess Durga from lumps of clay, start painting her eyes. In Bengal, it is a ritual called ‘Chakkhudaan’. With ‘Chakkhudaan’, the Goddess, true to rituals, is invoked and aroused with a prayer to open her eyes.
Days after, the idols set off on trucks from the studios to their eventual moorings at gilded and exquisitely crafted Puja pandals.
The timeless and nostalgic strains of ‘Mahishasuramardini’
While the changing hues of nature signals the arrival of Sharad, ‘Mahalaya’, for Bengalis, evokes nostalgia and the treasured childhood memories of staying up late into the night and tuning in to Akashvani for ‘Mahishasuramardini’, the signature radio broadcast at the crack of dawn.
While childhood memories blur with time, the one of huddling around a radio with the loved ones and listening to shlokas in the signature tone of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, interspersed with soulful renditions invoking the ‘Devi’, is one that stays golden and unfaded.
While many years have rolled by since the first broadcast of ‘Mahishasuramardini’ way back in 1931, the chanting of the holy versus by the inimitable and multi-faceted Bhadra still holds people in thrall and leaves them with goosebumps.
The radio broadcast, which had a spin-off version much later but not nearly as successful as the original one, has almost become a time-honoured tradition for Bengalis to welcome the Goddess as she makes her way to the mortal world along with her children — Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh.
While the ‘Chandipath’ by Bhadra continues to hold its spell across households in Bengal, the compositions by music stalwart Pankaj Mullick and the flawless singing by a battery of artistes tugs at heartstrings even to this day.
Durga Puja 2022 dates
Mahashasthi – October 1
Mahasaptami – October 2
Mahaashtami – October 3
Mahanabami – October 4
Bijoya Dashami – October 5