We have been discussing the many aspects of Durga Puja. Today we will talk about the starting of Durga Puja for the Bengalis that is the Mahalaya. This year it is on 30th September 2016. When we talk about Mahalaya it means that Durga Puja is around the corner. It is generally celebrated 7 days before the Durga Puja.
Mahalaya 2016: 30 September
On this date mentioned above, Mahalaya will be celebrated by the Bengalis. This day signifies that the Goddess in on her way and will soon come to meet her devotees and bless them. It is an occasion when the Mother Durga is called so that she is reminded that it is time for her to visit earth and her devotees. With Mahalaya the Devi paksha starts and the pitri paksha ends. It is like a countdown to the main Durga Puja.
What is Pitri or Pitru Paksha?
The pitri paksha is the sixteen days during which the Hindus pay homage to their ancestors who are no more. The story goes like this Karna after his death went to heaven but there he was not offered food instead he was given gold to eat, Karna got very upset because he had lived a very pious life and he was always giving away things to people.
When he questioned Indra, he was told that all his life he donated only gold and precious stones. Moreover he never offered food and water to his ancestors. Neither did Karna ever do any shraddhas. This is why he was only offered gold as food. Karna replied that he was not aware of this and he did not even know who the ancestors were.
This is why he never offered food to the ancestors. Indra realised that it was not Karna’s fault so he was sent to earth for 16 days so that he could offer food and water to his ancestors and ensure that he is done away with his sins. He offered the prayers during these 16 days and it was called the pitri paksha. After that he went back to heavens to rest in peace. Since then this tradition is being followed by people all across the country.
On the day the pitri paksha ends Goddess Durga starts her journey towards earth from Kailash which is considered to be her home. Thus the Devi paksha starts. The Bengalis believe that if the Mahalaya is not celebrated then the goddess might as well decide not to come to earth.
Another Story of Mahalaya
There is another story behind Mahalaya celebration. In the olden days there was a king named Suratha. He used to perform the Durga Puja. It was known as the Basanti puja and was performed in Uttarayan. This was around the month of January. This is how Durga puja was held for many years till Lord Rama’s time.
When Sita was abducted Lord Rama decided to attack Lanka. He needed the help of the gods and the goddesses to do this. He also worshipped the goddess Durga. This time was Dakshinayan and during this time the Gods and Goddesses would be resting usually. When Lord Rama decided to wake them up it was untimely and it is called akal bodhon by the Bengalis.
This happened sometime in the month of October like we celebrate the pujas now. This is why he had to make special arrangements to wake up the goddess and he used some mantras to call her. This is why some people also say that Mahalaya is the day when the goddess is woken from her sleep so that she can start her journey towards earth. The mantra of Mahalaya does call to wake up the goddess.
Mantra by BK Bhadra
There is a recording that was done in the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. It was done years back. He basically recited the mantra of mahalaya to wake up the Goddess Durga from her sleep and to invite her to visit earth during the Durga puja. This recording is still very popular and all Bengali families listen to this recording in the early mornings of Mahalaya.
There are many programs that are prepared for this occasion and are shown in TV. Many famous celebrities are a part of this program. It is usually shown early in the morning around five. At the very start of the Devipaksha this program is shown. Most Bengalis ensure that they watch these programs and listen to the mantra of Mahalaya that is recited primarily to invite the goddess.
Some people wear new clothes on this day too. As this day signifies the coming of the Durga Puja delicacies are prepared especially sweets. Till a few years back women would prepare sweets all through the night. This ensured that they do not miss the start of Mahalaya which was considered very auspicious. It would be always in the early hours of the day. As soon as the program will start on the radio the family would sit around it and enjoy these sweets and snacks. This was more popular when joint family traditions were on in India.
With nuclear families these traditions are losing the importance primarily because no one has the time. Nowadays you will get a lot of CDs in the market with the songs and mantras of Mahalaya that are generally bought by those who are not in India and cannot see the program of Mahalaya on TV.
The Traditional Celebrations
In the olden days the celebration of Mahalaya was a little different. Even today many Bengalis still prefer to celebrate the day in the traditional manner.
- The Bengalis take bath dress in dhotis and bare chested.
- As per the Hindu traditions only men are allowed to do shraddha or the torpon.
- The eldest or the youngest son of the family must go to the Ganga River and pray for the ancestors.
- Offer them food and water. This has to be done even before the sun rises. This is called torpon by the Bengalis.
- Mostly the puja is done for the last three generations of the ancestors.
- The food that is offered is rice, dal, lapsi, yellow gourd, vegetables and kheer is a must.
- These are offered in a banana leaf.
- They must be cooked in silver or a copper vessel only. These metals have a special ability to kill all the germs in the food.
- After offering the food to the ancestors even cows and dog are fed. After this the family members can have food. This is called the pindo daan.
- On this day if you visit the banks of Ganga River you will notice that many people are performing these rituals.
- It is a real pleasure to see these people pray for those who are no more. Especially in small town and villages this ceremony is a must.
- If there has been a death in the family then in that year the pindo daan has to be done religiously.
Mahalaya is a very important day even today in Bengal. Durga puja is the biggest festival in this part of the country. Even today schools and offices are closed on this day so that people can celebrate this day with family and friends and make the most of this day. This is the day that signifies the beginning of the festive season.
Many people go shopping on this day for the pujas. The shops do a lot of business this day as people buy not only for themselves but also for gifting to the others in the family. Even today Bengalis whish each other on Mahalya and the greeting used is “subho mahalaya”.
These are some interesting facts about Mahalaya and how it started in Bengal. We hope that this would help the readers get a better insight into the day of Mahalaya. It is mostly celebrated in Bengal and by the Bengalis and we hope that it continues to be celebrated even in the years to come.
A few lines dedicated to the Divine Shakti on this occasion
The Shakti manifests itself in the highest and easily approachable form this time
Even though the same Shakti is present throughout the year but its sublime
So take advantage of this pious occasion and get the blessings immense
It will help you to get rid of the materialistic foggy clouds so dirty and dense
The feminine form of Shiva, the Shakti is at the peak during these holy days
If you can worship Her with all fervor, see how the Blessing stays
She can be the most humble and gentle Mother when in her compassion
She can be the most stylist deity, when it comes to sringar and fashion
Yet she can be the most furious Goddess who can even make Shiva tremble
Then you can see the Kaali form, pure annihilation does she resemble
Bless us o Divine Mother, let our karmas we washed and let us be pure
If we call You with devotion, You will come, this I know for certain sure