Mahalaya is too special to a Bengali. However, this day is significant and various rituals are performed all across India.
Mahalaya marks the end of Pitru Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha. It is believed that goddess Durga descended the Earth on this day with her children- Devi Lakshmi, Devi Saraswati, Lord Ganesha and Lord Kartik. It is a day of the new moon (Amavasya).
Many perform ‘Tarpan’ on this day. ‘Tarpan’ is a ritual to offer prayers to the departed souls of the ancestors. Food and clothing donations to the needy are also made. This day marks the beginning of Durga Puja in Bengal and Navratri in the rest of India.
The mythological story behind Mahalaya is not only interesting but also tremendously encouraging. It is one of woman power and virtue. Mahisasur, an Asura (demon) in the form of a buffalo (Mahesh), wanted to rule the Heaven and the Earth. He had a boon that he cannot be killed by any men or god. With this in mind, he attacked the Heaven and the gods failed to control his tyranny. Then with all the wish, power and prayers of the gods, was created Devi Durga, the goddess with ten hands.
The gods gave her their weapons and she rode a lion. It was she who defeated Mahisasur in multiple battlefields where he took different forms. She finally killed Mahisasur and is called ‘Mahisasur Mardini’ (the one who killed Mahisasur). Devi Durga is worshipped as an epitome of shakti (power). In Bengal, she is also adored as the daughter who comes to her house with her kids.
Mahalaya through my eyes
Let me tell you why Mahalaya excites me.
Almost every Bengali wakes up at 4 am on this morning to tune into the radio to listen to the recital of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s ‘Mahisasura Mardini’. This broadcast of recitation of the epic battle of Devi Durga and Mahisasur, followed by ‘Chandipath’, started from 1930. It’s a tradition in every Bengali home to listen to it. It is believed that ‘Mahisasura Mardini’ mantras invoke the Goddess. The most famous one is ‘Jago Tumi Jago’ (Rise O’ Mother). The radio broadcast is my personal favourite as the day begins with hope, positivity and festivity.
Mahalaya implies that Durga Pujo is knocking at the doors. Generally, 7 days from Mahalaya, the festivities of the Puja begin. Durga Puja comprises a major part of a Bengali’s world. Bengalis living abroad or outside Bengal also make it a point not to miss this. Even though it sounds hyperbolic, everything pertaining to this festival is beyond proportions in Bengal.
A Photographer’s Delight
These days in Kolkata, Mahalaya has become a day of photographic delight. I had taken a photo tour last year on this auspicious day of Mahalaya with a photographer friend of mine. At dawn the banks of River Hooghly (A tributary of River Ganga) host several worshippers to perform the ritual of ‘Tarpan’. This is a sight to behold. We began from our photo trip from Babu Ghat. The soft light of daybreak, the incessant chants of mantras, the vast river, the flowers and the iconic Howrah Bridge weave unique magic together with instilled faith in the hearts of the people.
The unique feature of our photo tour was the serpentine lanes of the potters’ workshops, Kumartuli. Kumartuli is where the potters craft the idols with clay. It is on the sacred occasion of Mahalaya that the eyes of Devi Durga’s idol are painted by the potters. This is what is known as ‘Chokkhudaan’. Capturing this moment is an experience in itself. I felt as if life is being breathed into the clay idol.
It is on this day that numerous idols are transferred to their place of worship from Kumartuli. The majestic idols, placed on trucks, travel through the roads of Kolkata. The citizens tend to ignore the issues of mad traffic jams for these few days of fun and festivities. We had fun clicking random photos on the streets. The festive spirit of the city was best captured. The large scale pandals (place of worship) go through last minute decorations and the streets are lighted already. People rush for last moment shopping. Religiously everyone in Bengal and every Bengali outside Bengal wears new clothes. The city shines with light and joy from this day.
Mahalaya is definitely symbolic. Besides being a day that marks the beginning of festivities, it is also a reminder of the triumph of good over evil.
A versatile writer and travel freak, discovering the world in her own casual way. Loves to immerse into the core of Mother Nature and extract her inherent beauty.
A banker by profession and a photographer and traveller by passion. In spite of a busy corporate schedule, he makes it sure that his lens doesn’t miss the essence of any place and/or festival in India.