Hello to all my readers, who have been following my blog for the past four years. Here’s wishing all of you Shubho Mahalaya! Wondering what is Mahalaya all about? Well, don’t fret! I am coming down right to the main point and take your time in grasping the article about Mahalaya the upcoming Durga Puja celebrations, slated to begin from October 6, the Maha Panchami Day, or the fifth day of the ongoing Navaratri celebrations, celebrated in North and West India particularly.

Come autumn, and Hindus all over the world get enthused in festive fervor. Come Mahalaya and the Bengalis get busy to complete the final preparations for their greatest festival – the Durga Puja. This year, Mahalaya is being observed by the people of India on September 30 and those in Bangladesh, the very next day, on October 1.

Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga, the goddess of supreme power. It is a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth – “Jago Tumi Jago”, which means “Wake Up Mother Durga” in Bengali. This is done through the chanting of mantras and singing devotional songs.

Since the early 1930s, Mahalaya has come to associate itself with an early morning radio program called “Mahishasura Mardini” or “The Annihilation of the Demon.” This All India Radio (AIR) program is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of “Chandi Kavya”, an album of Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.

The program has also been translated into Hindi set to similar orchestration and is broadcast at the same time for a pan-Indian audience. It has almost become synonymous with Mahalaya. For nearly six decades now, the people rises up in the chilly pre dawn hours, by around 5am to be precise, of the Mahalaya day to tune in to the “Mahishasura Mardini” broadcast.

One man who will always be remembered for making Mahalaya memorable to one and all is Birendra Krishna Bhadra or BKB popularly, the magical voice behind the “Mahishasura Mardini.” The legendary narrator recites the holy verses and tells the story of the descent of Durga to earth, in his inimitable style.

BKB has long passed away, but his recorded voice still forms the core of the Mahalaya programme. In a sonorous, reverberating voice Birendra Bhadra renders the Mahalaya recital for two thrilling hours, mesmerizing every household with the divine aura of his narration, as the Bengalis submerge their souls in quiet moments of prayer.

“Mahisasura Mardini” is a remarkable piece of audio drama matchless in Indian culture. Though the theme is mythical and the mantras Vedic, this program is a landmark composition. It was scripted by Bani Kumar, and narrated by Bhadra. The enchanting music is composed by none other than the immortal Pankaj Mullick.

All the songs are rendered by famous singers of yesteryears, including Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey and Arati Mukherjee. As the recital begins, the serene morning air resonates with the long drawn sound of the sacred conch shell, immediately followed by a chorus of invocation, melodiously setting the stage for the recitation of the Chandi Mantra.

The story element is captivating. It speaks of the increasing cruelty of the demon king Mahisasura against the gods. Unable to tolerate his tyranny the gods plead with Vishnu to annihilate the demon. The Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara (Shiva) come together to create a powerful female form with ten arms – Goddess Durga or “Mahamaya”, the Mother of the Universe who embodies the primeval source of all power.

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The gods then bestow upon this Supreme creation their individual blessings and weapons. Armed like a warrior, the goddess rides a lion to battle with the Mahishasura. After a fierce combat, the Durgatinashini is able to slay the Asura king Mahishasura with her trident. Heaven and earth rejoice at her victory. With her victory, the Durga Puja festivities begins and lasts for five days, worshipping her strength and dominance over the evil world.