Mahalaya Countdown Begins: Bengalis Prepare for Durga Puja Festival as Mahalaya Arrives

Mahalaya is honored with great reverence, demonstrating its importance to Bengali culture. For many years, a tradition has been upheld in most Bengali households where people welcome Goddess Durga by listening to the Mahishasuramardini recitation on the radio.

Mahalaya marks the conclusion of the Pitru Paksha or the fortnight of ancestors, a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their forebears.

Somnath Banerjee, a member of the Kalibari Association in Noida, says that Mahalaya holds relevance in today’s world as it signifies the end of ancestral reverence.


“On this day, we honor our ancestors and enthusiastically celebrate the entrance of Goddess Durga on Earth. Just as a daughter is welcomed when she visits her parents’ home, the Bengali society honors the mother with great pomp. Priest Tapas Bagchi said, ‘Ashwin month’s Amavasya marks the departure of our forefathers, so Mahalaya is observed today.'”

This occasion is associated with various rituals and practices. Many people perform ‘tarpan’ to bring peace to the departed souls of their ancestors, offering food and essentials to Brahmins as ‘bhog’ for the needy.

After Mahalaya, the entire country gears up for the grand celebration of Durga Puja. It marks the beginning of the Sharadiya Navaratri, celebrated the very next day. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Durga comes to her maternal home on Earth from Mount Kailash along with her children, residing here for ten days. Durga Puja commences on the seventh day of Mahalaya and concludes on Dashami, symbolizing the victory of good over evil.

According to Hindu mythology, when everyone was unsuccessful in fighting the demon Mahishasura, all the gods and goddesses created Goddess Durga to vanquish him. Goddess Durga battled Mahishasura for nine days and finally slew him on the tenth day. This occasion is celebrated as the ten-day festival of Durga Puja, with the tenth day known as Vijayadashami, signifying the triumph of good over evil.

Mahalaya holds a special place in the hearts of Bengalis. It signifies the start of Devipaksha and the conclusion of Pitripaksha. It is a day not only to observe rituals but also to evoke many emotions and memories. Though I have been living in northern India for the past two decades, I still cherish my childhood memories of these days. I remember how my grandparents used to take a holy dip in the Ganges a day before, followed by offering prayers at the famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple. But the most remarkable thing was waking up at 4 AM, being wide awake, and sitting in front of our majestic old radio.

I remember, the day before, we would check the battery of our radio and repeatedly set the alarm clock. It was an extraordinary event for us. And then, as the melodious voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra resonated through the house, across neighborhoods, and perhaps even across the seas, the world would change. As soon as the recitation began, the calm morning air echoed with the deep sound of the sacred conch, followed by a tune from the shehnai that led us into the program with the chanting of the verses from Sri Sri Chandi or Durga Saptashati, Bengali devotional songs, classical music, and dramatic melodrama. The atmosphere became filled with immediate reassurance, respect, universal love, and serenity.


Interestingly, Mahishasuramardini is a widely popular early-morning Bengali radio program that has been broadcast on All India Radio (AIR) in the Indian state of West Bengal since 1931. It is a compilation of verses from Sri Sri Chandi or Durga Saptashati, Bengali devotional songs, classical music, and dramatic narration that lasts for about one and a half hours. The program was conceived and directed by Pankaj Kumar Mallik, Premankur Atorthy, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Nripendra Krishna Mukhopadhyay, and Raichand Boral. It has become synonymous with Mahalaya, marking the beginning of Devipaksha and the commencement of Durga Puja.

The sky seems brighter and bluer; the clouds are in a state of contentment. In my childhood days, books with the lyrics of Puja songs were published especially for this occasion. But nowadays, there are neither books that can enrich your song knowledge nor the fresh print smell to excite you. Yet, without too much disappointment, I wish for the flowers and Shiwli to find a place in our Bengali mental world and after this Mahalaya morning, we are set for the next seven days. Last-minute shopping, rechecking the list, making plans with friends and family, and hoping for some unexpected events to unfold – “Oh God! So much to do.”

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