Today is Mahalaya. Devi Durga begins her journey from Mount Kailash, where she resides with her husband, Lord Shiva to her maternal home on Earth.
I miss my school days during this merry period of autumn. Mahalaya used to be the start of the festive month of Durga Puja. A month long puja vacation was declared starting from Mahalaya to Bhaiphonta (Bhaidooj in North India). Everything during this time smelled puja to me. The morning dews, the fragrance of the shiuli flowers (shiuli flowers are synonymous with Durga Puja), the pandals, the chill in the climate, the kaash blooms, the katham (the wooden-bamboo structure of Durga idol) everything has a special attachment.
Durga Puja also reminds me of idol making. Kumartuli, a traditional potters’ quarter in North Kolkata is famous worldwide among the art lovers and the photographers. The city is eminent for its sculpting prowess, which manufactures clay idols for various festivals. Wandering through the narrow maze of lanes and by-lanes of Kumartuli is where you witness the gods and goddesses in various states of creation, the place where gods and goddess come alive. I had visited those thin paths and bylanes when my dear friend Santanu Chakraborty was studying in the Government Art College, Kolkata as his hostel was very close to Kumartuli. My frequent visit to his hostel had always taken me to those narrow mazes of lanes during this time of the year and further embedded in me the journey of idol making that I had gotten from the place where I grew up of Siliguri.
When I was in school, there has been an idol maker just 4 houses alongside us and another simply behind our home in Siliguri. All through this time as a kid of 8-10 years of age practically every single day I used to invest a decent energy at their place viewing the craftsman creating magic with their hands. So Durga Puja and Mahalaya meant all these put together.
It is believed Goddess Durga undertakes this weeklong journey with her children — Ganesha, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati on a vehicle of her choice. Mahalaya is celebrated roughly seven days before Durga Puja. We used to wake up with all other Bengali household early in the morning, before the sun to customarily listen to ‘Mahishasura Mardini’, broadcasted from All India Radio. Mahalaya to us is actually the eternal montage of devotional songs, classical music and the recitation of the scriptural verses of Sri Chandi in the sonorous voice of late Birendra Krishna Bhadra, a program that is being broadcasted since 1932. Birendra Krishna Bhadra is now a part of the Bengali existence.
In spite of remaining at a point where the social personality of individuals is sneaking away because of mass westernization and social infighting among natives of a similar nation, Mahalaya stays a resolute consistent that is awfully consoling. Rising above from being a simple audio dramatization to a supplication of-sorts, Mahisasur Mardini stays an essential piece of our way of life which is a gentle reminder that Durga Puja isn't only an spiritual festivity yet rather is reason for a profound stirring, a token of one's underlying foundations and deep solidarity with others.
Today in Delhi we definitely do not tune in to All India Radio at 4 am for “Mahisasura Mardini” but we play on our own on the YouTube.