Mahalaya, The Grand Beginning of Durga Pujo


Shiuli/Parijaat/Nyctanthes

How does nostalgia treat you? Is it like a spouse, lingering around, making space into your psyche, or like a distant lover, appearing only in turns? Mine is mostly like the latter, fleeting sporadically with a whiff of fragrance like the Shiuli flowers.

Mahalaya for Bengalis is a huge chunk of nostalgia that hovers before the onset of autumn. Marking the termination of Pitripaksha (fortnight of the forefathers), this day has its own significance within different communities. For us, it marks the beginning of Debipaksha (fortnight of the goddess) and eventually Durga Pujo, for others, the start of Navratri. Apart from these religious and spiritual habits, Mahalaya is solely important to a lot of Bengalis for a radio programme called Mahishasurmardini. This incredible show was curated and performed first in 1932 and is enthralling millions since then. It was recorded for the first time in 1946 so that pre-independence riots do not hamper the performance at dawn (source from Twitter). The Aagomoni songs for welcome of Durga into her parents’ abode take a backstage to the brilliant chanting of stotras by the legend called Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The resonance in his voice is something one can’t miss during Mahalaya each year. It gives me goosebumps for sure.

When I was a child, my parents used to wake up at four in the morning on Mahalaya and switch on the radio for Mahishasurmardini. I did not leave the bed until the second or third song but when I did, the next step would be to visit the garden and pick up Shiuli flowers soaked in autumn dew. A lot of years ago in my childhood, autumn was pleasant in Bengal, not sweltering like now. When the radio show ended, the rest of the day used to seem tranquil and happy. We would be treated with luchi-torkari or kochuri-chholar daal followed by a moderately heavy lunch of at least two fish items. It takes quite a bit to welcome the goddess Durga in her annual trip and good food is must or she won’t be happy!

Those were better times, I think; or it might just be my nostalgia taking control. Radio was soon replaced by Mahishasurmardini plays on television and honestly, they didn’t match up to the charm of an unseen voice. These days, the entire show is available on the internet for non-residents like us. It has eaten away a bit of the charm for sure, but then, non-residents in my childhood didn’t have the privilege to listen to Mahalaya. I still do, now, play the Mahishasurmardini on the internet irrespective of the country I reside. The chants and music that reverberates around the house is priceless and sets the mood for the entire year for me.

Shubho Debipaksha and have a great Durga Pujo!

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15 thoughts on “Mahalaya, The Grand Beginning of Durga Pujo

  1. Oh you reminded me of childhood..I never knew the name of these flowers but we used to collect them in morning for puja.. and their fragrance is oh so divine…

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    • Shubho Debipaksha to you too Amrita. We had a simple lunch of bhaat, daal, aloo posto and dimer dalna. 🙂 Hope you have a great pujo this year.

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