Sunday, October 5, 2008


Mahalaya marks the beginning of the festive-fortnight leading to Durga Puja. If I remember correctly, it is also the day when the Goddess Durga, accompanied by her four children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh – leaves her mountain-home (alaya) to begin her journey down to her parents’ place on earth. If the rains have ebbed, she comes by elephant, if the monsoon spills over into autumn, she prefers the boat. Whatever the route, it’s a week-long journey, and she always manages to reach her baaper baari (father’s home) by Shasthi (the sixth day of the new moon). She’s a brave lady, making this long journey unaccompanied by her spouse (Lord Shiva – presumably glad to be rid of his militant wife and squabbling brood of children for a while, and enjoying his annual break spaced out on ganja and bhang, his usual intoxicants). Apart from her children, she is accompanied by her faithful vahana (pet), the lion and by her children’s vahanas, the owl, the swan, the peacock and the mouse. She is pestered by the evil demon Mahishasura (Buffalo-headed-demon), but the ten-armed and ten-weapon-ed Goddess is more than a match for him, and, at Shasthi we always see the demon lying vanquished at her feet.

For us Mahalaya was the official beginning of the festive season. Unofficially speaking, it was the sweet smell of the white-petalled-orange-stemmed shiuli which would remind us every morning that Pujo was round-the-corner and we would drink in the happy fragrance with uplifted noses and hearts.

The night-before-Mahalaya was one of anticipation and preparation. The alarm clocks would be set at four o’ clock or some such unearthly pre-dawn hour, and the radios and transistor sets would be set at the precise stations. Autumn chill made us curl tight under our bedclothes(I somehow remember blankets, but everybody else has laughed at the idea of blankets in September/October).

We would wake up to the sonorous, legendary voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra emanating full blast from the radio, retelling the heard-so-many-times tale of Durga and Mahishasura, dramatically taking us to the eternal battlefield of good-vs-evil. He recited in Sanskrit and in Bengali, and as Baba and Jethun (father and uncle), Maa and Barama (mother and aunt), Dadu and Didu (my grandparents), and my older cousins all sipped tea and listened and commented, Bhai and I drifted in and out of sleep on the rise and fall of the narrator’s voice, munching on Britannia Thin Arrowroot biscuits as the dawn broke over the pond-bank.

As the sun rose, Birendra Krishna Bhadra neared the end of his pre-recorded tale. With Durga slaying the demon, his stormy, martial voice calmed down to offer lyrical prayers to the peace-restoring deity. And as we opened our windows to let the sun in, the voice on our radio would mingle with the echoes of a hundred similar voices from other homes, and we would get up at this unaccustomedly early hour with a sense of newness, enjoying Mahalaya for what it was and what it heralded. Maa Durga was on her way and all was right with the world.

P.S: It is customary for all Bengali families to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra on Mahalaya – then on radio, thereafter on cassette, now on CDs, or is it I-pods?



The Weekend Blogger said...

This is the first time in the lasat 15 years that i have been away from home during the Pujas and I really missed the Mahalaya. Infact I am missing everything about the Pujos. It's just not the same here in Delhi.

sukku said...

Very interesting read....thank you

The Scatterbrain said...

And...once again, I am totally impressed with your style of writing! Has the thought of writing a book crossed your mind?

Thanks for the award! Woo hoo! MY very first! But being relatively new to blogging, how do i get it into my blog?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Yes, Mohaloya and the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. But the shiuli flowers are sadly missing these days.


ugich konitari said...

What a wonderful description of a typical family celebrating the advent of the Puja season. And the stuff about the recitation on radio, certainly took me back to my childhood days. We didn't have Durga Puja as such, but Radio always had some really topical and relevant recitations then, on special festive occasions, in Pune......

lopamudra said...

I guess every bengali living in bengal has the same memory of Mahalaya.This year I listened from my laptop ,reminiscing the olden times.I remember it was a ritual to eat 'jilipi & kochuri' after the recital was over.The sweetmeat shops opened early to cater to the mahalaya listeners.

Aleta said...

Memories of festival seasons ~ We would go to a pumpkin patch and find the best one. Oh, it was a gooey mess to pull the insides of the pumpkin out. But it was worth it, because my Mom could make the yummiest homemade pumpkin pie, mixed with cinnamon ~ I can practically smell it as I type this. *happy sigh* Autumn reminds me of leaves crunching on the ground and just enough chill in the air to light the spirit.

Enjoyed your post and reading about the festivals.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi and Thanks everybody for the festival bouquet of memories.

Hi Scatterbrain,

I'm not an expert, but you could try right-clicking on the award-picture and copying it into your "My Pictures" folder. Then you can go to your blog, go to the customize settings options and insert the picture (by browsing and adding from your my pictures folder)at a suitable place in your own blog.