Mahalaya is observed a week prior to Durga Puja celebrations and this year it falls on Saturday (September 28) according to the Hindu calendar. With Mahalaya begins the countdown of Durga Puja.
This year, Maha Shashti falls on October 4 and the festivities continue till October 8, which is Maha Dashami or Vijaya Dashami.
Mahalaya began at 2:50 am on Saturday and will continue till 12:24 am on Sunday. The day marks the end of Pitru Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha with people remembering the departed souls by offering 'tarpan.'
Mahalaya also plays host to a cultural event of some significance with the All India Radio program 'Mahishasura Mardini'. It is a beautiful recitation of the scriptural verses of the 'Chandi Kavya' along with various devotional songs. People get up in the pre-dawn hours to listen to the tune of the Mahishasura Mardini broadcast.
The Mahisasurmardini is a popular early Bengali radio programme that has been broadcast since 1931 on All India Radio (AIR).
A one and half-hour audio montage of Chandipath along with Bengali devotional songs, classical music and acoustics, the programme is aired every year at day-break on Mahalaya. The programme, which started off as a live-performance, has been broadcast in its pre-recorded format since 1966 but has never seen its popularity waning.
On Mahalaya, Bengalis wake up at 4am in dawn and tune into Birendra krishna Bhadra's timeless voice reciting the holy verses of 'Mahisasura Mardini', which narrates the story of the descent of Goddess Durga on earth.
The Chandipath that Birendra Krishna Bhadra has immortalised in his voice narrates that Durga, the primeval source of power — Goddess Chandika, the eternal. Sans birth or physical form, she assumes a majestic manifestation only to restore the process of Creation from the terrible Asuras or evil incarnates and restore Dharma to the world.
The Chandipath goes on to recount how, when Mahisasura, the terrible king of the Asuras defeated the gods and drove them out of heaven, they went to Brahma to seek help, who in turn took them to Vishnu, the God of preservation and Mahadeva, the God of destruction, to report their defeat.
The gods then projected their energy from their bodies and evoked a new form of energy. This energy then created the ten-armed-goddess.
The recitation then goes on to recount that the Himalayas gave Her the lion to act as her mount, Vishnu gave her the Chakra, Mahadeva gave her the trident, Yama gave her the Kaal Danda, Kalbhairav (or Veerbhadra) gave the Khadga, Chandra gave the ashtachandra shield, Surya gave bow and arrows, Vishwakarma a protective armour called as kawach, Brahma gave her the rosary and the Kamandalu (container of sacred water), and Kuber gave her ornaments and necklaces.
Thus, properly attired for war, the Goddess and her mount went to war with the Demon king, ultimately defeating and slaying him.
The mythical text is interspersed with script by Bani Kumar, that is narrated by Birendra Krishna Bhadra while Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay, Utpala Sen, Shyamal Mitra and Supriti Ghosh render some enchanting songs that have been composed by Pankaj Mullick.