When I was young, my grandmother used to tell me stories of Mahalaya. On this day Maa Durga, along with her children, starts her journey from Kailash to come back to her paternal house. Not so sure about that, but I do know that Mahalaya marks the beginning of puja season for the Bengalis.
For me, the day began with waking up early in the morning to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting the praises of the goddess (Chandi). Now, I am not an early morning person. So, it used to be a challenge for me to wake up that early in the morning (it still is). The bigger challenge was to stay awake throughout the entire telecast. Growing up, I asked myself, "Why do they play that same recording every year? They could have asked someone else to do it." But while listening to it last year (yes, I did manage to wake up and I was awake throughout the show), a new thought came to my mind which changed the whole perspective towards that telecast. It was a mark that Birendra Krishna Bhadra made in the hearts of countless Bengalis; how he put everything he had and created a masterpiece. This masterpiece has now become a part of our culture. It was then, I realised that Mahisashurmordini (or as the radio telecast was called) is not just any other show on radio, it reminds us that we are Bengalis and we should take pride in our culture and heritage. That show unites us above classes and castes as a collective consciousness, as Bengalis. In trying times like these, when people are mocked for being Bengali, when Bengali women are branded as witches, Mahishasurmordini is more important than ever. At the end of the day, I had more respect for the man who was behind the microphone all those years back.
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Later that morning, I used to watch Mahishasurmordini on TV. But now a days it doesn't happen. The reason for that is if I do not study in the morning, my mom will be furious. Although my mom watches them herself.
Every morning my father went to Kalighat for Tarpana. For those who don't know Tarpana, it is a ritual through which a person pays homage to his deceased ancestors. It usually takes place in the ghats of the Ganges. I once accompanied my father there. There is not much I remember as I was quite young. All I can remember is that wherever I looked I saw men, wearing dhotis roaming around. The ghat was exceptionally crowded as most of the ritual is performed in the river waters. As a matter of fact a part of the ritual is to dip yourself in the river water. Thinking today I do admire the courage of the people who used to perform the ritual in Kalighat (the Adi Ganga waters are not exactly fit for bathing courtesy of water pollution). Fortunately my father was not so brave, he would just take a few drops of river water and pour them on his head. When I was young my father would leave for Tarpana early in the morning around four in the morning. As years passed, I saw him getting older and his departure time getting shifted more and more. Last year, it was around 7:30am. But the one thing that has not changed is the kachoris for breakfast. For Tarpana my father had to fast. So while returning home he made sure to buy kachoris and rasgullas for all of us. We would all wait for him to return home and then we would have a family breakfast. Safe to say it is a ritual that my family has been performing for years.
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A few years back, my brother and I went to Kumartuli on Mahalaya. Our goal was to witness the artisans painting the eyes of the goddess. Although the idol making begins nearly forty days before puja, it is customary that the eyes of the goddess are drawn on the Mahalaya (Chaksudaan). The eyes are painted in such a way that viewed from anywhere in the puja pandal, it should appear that Maa Durga’s eyes are looking at you. So it takes a lot of practice, patience and fortitude. Among the artisans, this skill is passed on to the family.
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Moreover, in all these years a lot of things have changed. But one thing still remains the same. On the night of Mahalaya, when I go to bed, there is a voice in my mind telling me that puja is right around the corner. Suddenly my heart is filled with joy and I start counting days.