Supriti Ghosh's Bajlo tomar alor benu was a regular part of our Mahalaya eve. The next morning, at dawn, Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Chandi and the following 90-minute musical filled the air. Like most Bengali Hindu families, waking up before dawn and tuning to Akashvani Ka for the age-old audio montage instilled the essence of Puja at our home.
When I was growing up, technology was changing at a lightning speed. The two-band vintage radio that we owned would be switched on every Mahalaya. For me, this celebration was always more special than the five-day Durga Puja, but things have changed over time.
Our family members are now spread across the globe, and the radio cannot tune to Akashvani Ka anymore – now, we tune into YouTube instead. We have some family conditions, as none of us are allowed to play the audio montage before Mahalaya. But we cheat, as waking up at 4 am is difficult with our long and unpredictable work hours. We listen to it in our own time, but the familial spirit remains the same. My brother and I know the 90-minute Mahisasurmardini or slaying of Mahishasur by Goddess Durga by heart.
Nowadays, the Mahalaya is also a visual treat. I remained a purist for a long time, refusing to replace the audio tradition. However, in recent times, some good programmes and a new rendition of Mahalaya at the Banani Puja Mandap has helped to propagate the tradition to the next generation, and become sarbajanin (all inclusive), in the truest sense.
Mahalaya marks the end of Pitri Paksha Shraddha and prelude of Devi Paksha. The day is also dedicated to remembering our ancestors – during this window of time, the deceased visit earth and bless their kin with prosperity. Usually, my father conducts a small offering during his prayers remembering our ancestors and loved ones whom we have lost. Fruits and sweets are served in the form of prasad. It is also the beginning of Devi Paksha, when goddess Durga is sent an invitation to descend to earth.
Usually, celebrations for Durga Puja begin seven days after Mahalaya. But this year, the wait is longer because of 'mala mash' or a lunar month that has two new moons, which is regarded as inauspicious for festivals and rituals. In the meantime, in the words of Tagore, Amar e poth chawatei anondo - I enjoy the waiting.