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Maestoso Mahalaya

Maestoso Mahalaya

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collage of Mahalaya showcase Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Pankaj Mullick, Tarpan , Maa Durga idol and Kash Phool

This story is of the nostalgia which revolves around the day of Mahalaya. It talks about Mohishashur Mordini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra and also talks about Tarpan.

By Somashis Gupta

The plane dropped at a height of 300 meters exposing the plain landscape beneath the clouds. I could see the entire terrain filled with Kash phool. Purely for the sake of a global understanding I am writing this in English, a language with which we colonial folks have a bitter sweet relationship. But if this would have been in Bangla, I would say ‘Akash theke Ah! Kash’. The closest translation to this would be ‘The beauty of Kashphool from the sky’. But can one really translate emotions? I guess not.

I was coming home and so was Ma Durga.

Tomorrow is Mahalaya, a day when nostalgia for a grand old communication device – the radio is rekindled. In this digital age not many people care for the good old radio, but Mahalaya is an occasion when the rendition of Mohishasura Mardini on the radio is a must. The young generation may not relate to it, but for us the ‘in betweens’ no YouTube or Spotify can replace the Radio on the wee hours of this day.

I remember Baba used to bring home Khasta Kachuri and Laddu and check the performance of the radio the day before. This is a tradition which is practiced even today in my family. There is a sense of yearning nostalgia about Mohishashura Mardini which no words can express. In fact it is one of the oldest All India Radio broadcast relayed all the way back since 1931.

This early dawn special program was conceived by Bani Kumar and narrated by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The music was composed by Pankaj Mullick. The program was rerecorded in 1966. It is a one-and-a-half-hour audio montage of Chaṇḍipāaṭh dedicated to Goddess Durga and her conquering of Mahishasur, the bull-demon, along with Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.

But sometime in the year 1976, Akashvani decided to try something new. They perceived that the listeners will be pleased to hear a new voice. They employed Uttam Kumar and Hemanta Mukherjee to do the program and renamed it Devi Durgatiharini. But the perception turned out to be preciously incorrect as the audience refuted it outright. Millions of letters reached the Akashvani Bhawan every day. They soon realized disrupting the status quo was a terrible idea and went back to the original version. Since then millions of Bengalis wakes up at the breezily pre dawn hours, to the virile voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra in Akashvani Calcutta.

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Though in general, Mahalaya marks the homecoming of Maa Durga when she begins her journey from Mount Kailash to Earth, but for some Mahalaya is not a happy occasion, but a period of mourning. It is the last day of Pitru Paksha/Pitri Pokkho (a 16–lunar day period in Hindu calendar) where Shraddh (death rites) are performed for forefathers. I remember last year when I wished a friend ‘Shubho Mahalaya’, she narrated the other version and said “Mahalaya is not Shubho. It is Shradh where people remember their forefathers by offering Tarpan.”

In between this duality of Pitri Pokkho and Devi Pokkho, this 16th day of lunar period remains most alluring as it is just another 7 days for us Bengalis to celebrate Pujo with much fervour and remark intermittently, about the festive autumn weather and the ‘pujo-pujo‘ feel.

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