What is Mahalaya?
Mahalaya ushers in Debipokkho, or the Period of Devi Durga.
Though the countdown for the Durga Puja begins much earlier, from the day of 'Ulto Rath', it is only from the day of Mahalaya that the preparations for the Durga Puja reach the final stage. Mahalaya is observed seven days prior the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Devi Durga, the Goddess of Supreme Power. It's an invocation to the Mother Goddess to descend on earth.
In the dark night of Amavasya (new moon), people pray and chant mantras to invoke Goddess Durga to arrive on earth to ward off all evils. On the dawn of Mahalaya, homes almost all across Bengal resonate with the traditional Chandipath, chanting of hymns from the holy book of "Chandi"or the Durga Saptashati, in the recorded voice of late Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Since 1931, in Bengal, this has become synonymous with the commencement of Durga Puja festivities. The Chandipath is aired by All India Radio in the programme Mahisasura Mardini, narrating the saga of Devi Durga and her fight with Mahishasura.
Mahishasuramardini – The Radio Program
The one and a half hour programme of Mahishasurmardini is a beautiful musical montage of Chandipath in the unmistakeable voice of the Late BirendraKrishna Bhadra, Bengali devotional songs and some classical music. The music was composed by the legendary Pankaj Mullick, while the singers giving Bhadra company were all top performers of the time. Scripted by Bani Kumar, the composition had Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Banerjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhya, Supriti Ghosh, Bimal Bhushan, Utpala Sen, Tarun Banerjee, Krishna Dasgupta, Sumitra Sen, Ashima Bhattacharya, Shipra Bose and Pankaj Mallik himself lending their melodious voices. No Bengali can probably remain unmoved by the melodious 'Bajlo Tomar Alor Benu' by Supriti Ghosh, or cannot stop to marvel at the intricacies of 'Tobo Achintya' rendered by Manabendra Mukhopadhyay or fail to feel the invocation hearing 'Jago Tumi Jago' by Dwijen Mukhopadhyay. The sheer nostalgia coupled with the anticipation of Ma Durga’s arrival is what makes the dawn of Mahalaya special with one of the most looked-forward to Radio broadcasts.
On this auspicious day, people also pray for their deceased ancestors and take holy dip in the river Ganga in the early morning hours. This ritual is known as Tarpan.