Mahalaya is a significant day in Hindu traditions, especially among Bengali communities of West Bengal, as it marks the beginning of Devi Paksha, two weeks dedicated to the worship of the goddess Durga.
- The word 'Mahalaya' is a combination of two Sanskrit words 'Maha' and 'Alaya' which together mean, the 'great abode of the goddess'.
- Hindus believe that it is on this day, that Goddess Durga leaves her home in Kailash (also the abode of her husband Lord Shiva) and descends on the mortal realm, which is her father’s home.
- This story is derived from the ‘Devi Mahatmya’ chapter of the epic ‘Markandeya Purana’. It narrates the story of how Goddess Durga was created by the gods to defeat the demon king Mahishashura.
- Mahalaya is an important day as it is dedicated to honouring the living and the dead. It is a time to reflect on our relationship with our ancestors and seek their blessings. It also marks the beginning of Durga Puja, a festival that celebrates the power and strength of Goddess Durga.
- It falls on the new moon(Amavsya), occurring a week before Durga Puja, and in 2023, it will be celebrated on October 14th.
- The day is known for its formal start of preparations and festivities for Durga Puja, which includes grand processions, elaborate decorations, cultural programs, and traditional rituals.
- Mahalaya marks the end of Pitru Paksha on Amavasya, 16 days when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. Devi Paksha is nine days of Navratri dedicated to the worship of Goddess Durga.
Activities on Mahalaya
- On Mahalaya, a popular tradition in eastern India is to perform tarpan rituals in the Ganges River. Tarpan involves offering water and other items to deceased ancestors. Hindus believe performing tarpan on Mahalaya helps their ancestors cross to the afterlife.
- One of the most popular traditions of Mahalaya is the radio broadcast of "Mahishasura Mardini," where verses from the Devi Mahatmya, a sacred text, are set to music. This particular broadcast has been a tradition since 1931 and is eagerly awaited by millions.
- The recital is narrated and sung by Birendra Krishna Bhadra and is listened to by Bengalis worldwide. It marks the beginning of the festive season, and millions of people wake up in the early morning hours to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra's poetic invocation.