Following the end of Shradh or Pitru Paksha, a 16-day period when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors, Mahalaya or Shubho Mahalaya is celebrated. Mahalaya is an auspicious occasion when Goddess Durga along with her children is believed to have descended to her maternal home on Earth from Mount Kailash.
It is a famous day among every Bengali who religiously wakes up at 4 am to listen to the radio recital of mantras called Mahisasura Mardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The mantras are assumed to invoke the Goddess and the religious hymns are picked up from the Hindu religious scripture Devi Mahatmyam or “Glory of the Goddess”. Jago Tumi Jago (meaning, ‘awaken, oh Goddess!’) is one of the most common hymns. The occasion also marks the beginning of another popular festival called Durga Pujo.
Mahalaya is a seven-day celebration of Goddess Durga’s win over the demon Mahishasura. The picturesque lanes of the potters in Kolkata are thronged with the youths who observe the potters painting the eyes of Durga. A religious practice called ‘tarpan’ is performed to offer prayers to the departed souls of their ancestors.
The Brahmins are given ‘bhog’ and the poor are provided with food materials. The banks of the rivers are also occupied by the worshippers to perform the ritual of ‘tarpan’. The festivity vibe of Navaratri and Durga Puja begin with Mahalaya. Besides the spiritual connotations associated with the day, it is also a reminder of celebrating truth and courage over evil.
This year Mahalaya will begin from 17th September.