Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mahalaya - the traditions and what it means to me

Disclaimer: I am a probashi bangali, I have spent all my life out of WB. My mother, a Calcutta girl, has tried very hard to keep me close to my roots, but my knowledge of it all is not 100 per cent correct. What I am about to write below might be disputed by someone learned, I do not claim authenticity. I am writing this blog post based on my own knowledge and more importantly, my emotions.

Pitru Paksha, the inauspicious period for Hindus, ends tomorrow. But for Bengalis, the last few days were auspicious - days filled with shopping and planning for Durga Pujas which officially begin tomorrow at dawn, with Mahalaya.

Now, while the entire country will celebrate different forms of Durga over the next ten days, Bengalis will worship and rejoice an altogether different form. For us, she is our daughter and she is coming her mayka. She, along with her four children, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh (and his wife, the kolabou or the banana tree bride) and Kartik come visiting us and on Dusehra or as well call it, Doshomi, she goes back to her husband. Doshomi is a teary eyed affair and that evening, every Bengali goes home with a heavy heart. Durga, our daughter, has gone back to her own home and we won't see her for another year. Lakshmi stays back. She is worshiped a few days later (Kojagiri, as is commonly known) and then she too leaves us. Sad times. 

But, for now, every Bengali heart is only humming the happy tune. Because!! Pujo esho gelo je!! (Pujo is almost here!)

Tomorrow is Mahalaya, the beginning of Devipaksha. A day when all Bengalis world over will wake up by dawn, and listen to the radio broadcast of the one and a half hour long chandipath. Of late, television channels have come up with their own versions teaming the vocals with dance drama. These dance dramas are spectacular, no doubt, but the original, in the voice of Birendra Kishore Bhadra, beats everything else in the world. It's called Mahisasuramardini and began as a radio programme, which first began in the 1930s.

For me, Mahalaya is about memories. I can sleep through the early morning now, if I want to. Now my life is a mix of Navratri and Durga Puja. But I ensure I wake up and continue the ritual. When I was a kid, my father would be the first to wake up, brush his teeth, pick me up from my room, make me lie next to maa in their bed (yes, I'd been sleeping in my own room since I was 4 - my father's European influences), turn the radio on and go make tea for himself. Later, we would snuggle under the sheets and listen to the chandi path. For years, it made no sense to me, and at times I would dose off. But it was family time. A ritual. A ritual which was last lived in 1996 and stopped for a few years. It's back on. Maa is in a different city now, but we talk over the phone and connect. 

The year I was born, Sept 19 was Mahalaya and I was brought home that day. Co-incidence, but since then, my maa considers my birthday as the beginning of devipaksha for her. Sigh, that's a mother. She always wanted a girl, and she brought her own daughter home on Mahalaya. Big significance for her. Alongside, there are childhood memories of the three of us waking up at wee hours to listen to Birendra Kishore Bhadra on radio. My parents would tell me stories of their own childhood and how they spent the next 11 days of their lives. I think I will write individual posts about Mahashahti - Doshomi, yes, I will. 

If it interests you, you can listen to it here: 

Now, the link above is not just some song. It's a story. 

The Story of Mahisasura Mardini (this bit is taken from Wikipedia)

The story element 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.

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 Mahisasura. After a fierce combat the 'Durgatinashini' is able to slay the 'Asura' king with her trident. Heaven and earth rejoice at her victory. Finally, the mantra narration ends with the refrain of mankind's supplication before this Supreme Power:

"Ya devi sarbabhuteshshu, sakti rupena sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha."
Mahishasura Mardini Stotram or Mahishasur Maridhini Sloka is a very popular devotional stotra of Goddess Durga written by Guru Adi Sankaracharya (Sri Sri Sri Shankara Bhagavatpadacharya). This devotional verse is addressed to Goddess Mahisasura Mardini, the Goddess who killed Demon Mahishasura. Mahisasura Mardini is the fierce form of Goddess Durga Maa (an incarnation of Goddess Parvathi), where Durga Maa is depicted with 10 arms who rides in a lion or tiger and carrying weapons and assumes symbolic hand gestures or mudras.


I need to write down more these memories. 
I should.
Since my biggest fear is that one day I will forget everything.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post as I could easily relate to them. In the last 4 years of living away from Kolkata, in my own way I have clung on to my traditions and roots lest I forget. Its Mahalaya tomorrow and already I donot feel like working at all. Where on one hand chores pile up, workload needs to be dealt with, packing is yet to be done; mind runs away home and how it will be to go back after almost 8 months.

    As a kid, Mahalaya meant starting of puja holidays. It meant waking up early in the morning to Birendra Kishore Bhadra voice on the rodio. Ma would not insist we wake up, but my sis and me would happily wake up and witness day break while watching Mahishasur Mardini.

    Thank you for this lovely post, brought back so many memories. :)


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