Today is the sought after day of Mahalaya. Every Bengalee wherever they are, they wait year round for this day because this signals that Durga puja has ultimately arrived, countdown has started. Mahalaya marks the beginning of the ‘ Devipaksha’, and the end of ‘Pitripaksha’. The traditional six day countdown to Mahasaptami starts from Mahalaya when Goddess starts her journey from Kailash, the abode of her husband, for the earth, her parental home where she will stay for next four days—sasthi, saptami, astami, Navami; and on dasami she lives us for her husband’s abode.
Pitri paksha is a 16 day period during which Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. As per legend, when Karna died in the epic Mahabharata his soul reached heaven, there he was offered jewellery as food. Baffled, Karna asked Indra for the reason of this treatment. Indra told him that because of the fact that he never donated food to his ancestors in shraddhas during his life time, he was getting such treatment. Karna said that he was unaware of his ancestors and hence he had no chance of offering food to them. At this, he was given a chance to make amends. He returned to earth for a 16 day period and performed Shraddha, and donated food to his ancestors. This period henceforth is known as pitri-paksh. Goddess Durga begins her journey towards earth on the day of Mahalaya, the last day of pitri-paksha i.e. on the first day of Devi-paksha.
The ritual of Tarpan—On this day men throng to the banks of river Ganga, clad in dhotis to offer prayer to their dead relatives and fore-fathers. People in the pre-dawn hours pray for their demised relatives and take holy dips in the Ganges. This ritual is known as Tarpan. By performing tarpan, the deceased ancestors’ souls not only get satisfied and leave us, but they also bestow long life, radiance, superior intellect ,wealth, success on the host performing the tarpan and satisfies him too.
Method of performing Tarpan— ‘Tarpan’ should be performed at the riverside. While performing Tarpan at the riverside, one should stand in the river so that the water level touches the belly button or one should perform tarpan by sitting on the banks of the river. A dried grass twig is necessary for performing tarpan, tarpan for deceased ancestors’ souls should be performed from the tip and root of the two grass twigs.
Offering of water (tarpan) to deities should be done using the finger tips, while offering of water to Sages should be done from the base of the little finger and the third finger, and that to the deceased ancestors’ souls should be done through the mid of the thumb and the first finger of the hand.
Tarpan should be performed taking one handful (anjali) of water for each deity, two handful of water for Sages and three handful of water for deceased ancestors’ souls. In case of matrutrayi (mother, grandmother and great grandmother) three handful of water should be used and for other female ancestors’ souls one handful of water should be used for tarpan.
The foods which are usually offered to the ancestors are cooked in silver or copper vessels and are served on banana leaves. The foods may vary but it must include rice, dal, kheer, and certain vegetables. The performer of Shraddha should wear a dhoti. The pinda-daan are made bare-chested. Then a cow and a dog are also fed. After this Brahmins are offered food. After all these are done, the family members dine.
Chandi path by Birendra Krishna Bhadra ( 1905—1991)—Apart from rituals, without chandi-path Mahalaya is not complete for a Bengalee. Birendra krishna Bhadra reads from chandi, describing how Durga killed Asura, who as per mythological story were disturbing Gods in heaven, even Gods were not able to defeat him. Ultimately Goddess Durga defeated the demons, restored heaven to Gods. Durga puja is a remembrance to that.
Mahalaya was first broadcast in 1930 over radio when AIR came into being for the first time. The programme was organised by Premankur Atorthi, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Nipendra Krishna Mukhopadpadhya and Raichand Boral. It was broadcast live then. His all important voice, manner of rendition and devotion is favourite to Bengalees. I will go to the extent to say that you can’t find a Bengalee who has not heard him or do not like his rendition of chandi-path. He died in 1991, but his voice is eternal. He has produced a rare masterpiece.
In this field he was, and is, the ultimate, no alternative exists. Once it was tried by the AIR to replace him—perhaps to break his monopoly by the AIR authority, but all Bengalees summarily rejected. It was a misadventure of the AIR authority. In the new rendition, Bengal’s popular cinema star, Uttam Kumar, was got to recite Mahalaya and Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhya was the music director. Lata Mangeshkar also had a little contribution. Here Uttam kumar, otherwise a favourite hero, was not accepted. People of Bengal became furious and there was a stream of phone calls complaining to the AIR authority because of this uncalled for change. AIR got frightened, hugely apologised, immediately made the amends, then Birendra krishna’s recorded rendition was played more than once. After this AIR authority did not repeat the mistake, and perhaps won’t do it ever.Voice of Birendra Kishna Bhadra, enthralls the listeners in the pre-dawn hours of Mahalaya even today.
The script was written by Bani Kumar, music was directed by Pankaj Kumar Mallik while Dijen Mukhopadhya, Manobendra Mukhopadhya (Tabo Achinta….), Sandhya Mukhopadhya, Arati Mukhopadhya, Utpala Sen, Shyamal Mitra and Supriti Ghosh lent their voice. Mahalaya’s chandi-path and Birendra Krishna Bhadra, are synonymous, the two can never be separated in the psyche of Bengalees.