Mahalaya, an auspicious occasion that heralds the advent of Goddess Durga, was celebrated this morning with due religious fervour and gaiety just a week ahead of Durga Puja, the largest festival of the Bangalee Hindu community slated for October 20-24.
Mahalaya marks an invitation of sorts to goddess Durga to begin her journey from Kailash to her paternal home (earth), along with her children, said Jagannath Hall Upasanalaya's chief priest Sadhan Chakrabarty.
This invitation is extended through the chanting of mantras from Sri Sri Chandi and singing of devotional songs as countdown for Durga Puja began with the celebration of Mahalaya, he said.
On the occasion of the day, special programmes of Mahalaya were arranged at different temples across the country, including the capital at the dawn.
Hindu community members remembered and paid homage to their ancestors, who passed away, by performing puja, and offering clothes, food and sweets to Brahmins in their ancestors' names.
Mahanagar Sarbajanin Puja Committee arranged a special one-hour programme at Dhakeshwari National Temple at 6am as Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pranay Verma along with his spouse Manu Verma attended the inaugural ceremony which began with the lighting up of pradip (earthen lamps) on the temple premises.
Manindra Kumar Nath, president of Mahanagar Sarbajanin Puja Committee, said a group of artistes from different disciplines of Dhaka University including music and theater and performance and other cultural organizations performed songs, dances and dance drama signifying the advent of Goddess Durga. Several private televisions broadcast it live.
Later, tarpan, a ritual in which water is offered to the ancestors' souls, was performed at the Beltala on the temple premises at 7.30am.
Gulshan-Banani Sarbajanin Puja Foundation organised a programme welcoming Goddess Durga at 5:30am at Banani playground in the capital.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud attended the event as the chief guest.
Different programmes were arranged at Ramna Kali Mandir as Mangol Pradips (sacred earthen lamp) were lit up at 6 am commencing the one and a half hours long programme.
Awami League organizing secretary Sujit Roy Nandi attended the programme as a huge number of devotees enjoyed the programme and offered tarpan in nearby ponds.
Ramna Kali Mandir managing committee president Utpal Saha said indigenous culture and heritage of this soil of hundreds of years and works of poets like Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Radaraman Dutta and Lalon Shah were portrayed along with the performances of songs and dances welcoming the goddess.
Similar programmes were also arranged in different temples in the capital city and across the country.
In the Indian state of West Bengal, Mahalaya was depicted in a show-tell manner, with songs, enactments and dances on regional television channels.
The television show was also viewed by a lot of people specially children in Bangladesh at dawn.
The most popular rendition of it, however, has been in the sonorous recorded voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra, whose collection of songs and mantras called Mahishasura Mardini were played in a radio programme in All India Radio on the occasion of the Mahalaya in Bangalee household mostly in West Bengal as well as in Bangladesh early in the morning.
'Mahisasuramardini' was broadcast from 4 am to 5:30 am on All India Radio (AIR) this year. The programme features the powerful narration of the story of Goddess Durga's triumph over the demon Mahishasura by Birendra Krishna Bhadra.
Talking to BSS about the Bangalees' enthusiasm and wait for a year for their largest festival Durga Puja, Daily Star special correspondent Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee said: "Mahalaya means Bengali nostalgia."
"Mahalaya means taking out the old radio, the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishasuramardini in the early morning - Ashwiner Saradaprate/Beje Uthechhe Alokomanjari, Dharanir Bahirakashe Antorito Meghomala/ Prakritir Antorakashe Jagorito/ Jyotirmoyi Jogatmatar Agomon Barta...(' In the autumn morning of Ashwin/ The light has rang out/ Clouds hidden in the outer sky of Earth/ Awakened in the inner sky of nature/ The message of the arrival of Jyotirmayi Jagatmata...'
"Or to the tune of legendary Indian Music composer and playback singer Pankaj Kumar Mullick - Jago Durga, Jago Dasapraharanadharini, Abhyashakti Balpradayini Tumi Jago ('Wake up Durga, wake up Dasapraharanadharini, Abhyashakti Balpradayini you wake up).
With the benefit of technology, smart phones are now in hand, the full voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra can be heard on YouTube now but on this special day of a year, when the words are uttered by a special person, these still mesmerize and make the Banglee Hindus nostalgic and it will be, at least until any device to erase nostalgia is invented, he said
"As a child, puja vibe used to start long before Mahalaya. I used to see the idols through the gap of corrugated tin-made fence of my village temple... How many idols are there, how big are the idols - these discussions were going on every day. The same idol, yet to be colored and completed, but how interesting to see!"
Dhaka University's Sanskrit Department Professor Asim Sarkar said television and radio programme of Mahishashuramardini on the occasion of Mahalaya has become an indispensible part of Bangalee's celebration of Durga Puja apart from the rituals of offering tarpan in the dawn.
DU music department's honors student Progga Laboni Sen said Mahalaya is not merely a religious ritual rather it signifies the advent of a new strength in people's usual lifestyle and a happy start to forget all failures and move forward with new enthusiasm.
"Mahalaya heralds the happy beginning of celebration for Durga Puja keeping aside all business of daily life including study, job and other works," she said.
According to Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga was created on the day of Mahalaya by Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheswar to defeat the demon king Mahishasura so that devotees mark this day as the arrival of Goddess Durga to Earth from Kailash Parvat with her divine powers.
On this day, clay artisans only make Goddess Durga's eyes and fill colours in them, said Sadhan.
Mahalaya, which is celebrated six days before Durga Puja, also marks the end of Pitru Paksha, is a 16-lunar day period in the Hindu calendar when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors, especially through food offerings, and beginning of 'Devipaksha'.
Devipaksha commences with Mahalaya Amavasya that marks the last day of 'Krishna Paksha', which is a dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin.
Social media is abuzz with photos and videos shared and posted by Hindu community members welcoming the advent of Goddess Durga. Members of different faiths also greeted Hindus on the occasion of Mahalaya on social media.
On October 20, the five-day Durga Puja will begin with various rituals including Bodhon (incarnation), Abahon and Adhibas on the day of Maha Shashthi while it will come to an end with the immersion of idols on the day of Bijoya Dashami followed by Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami and Maha Nabami puja on October 21, October 22 and October 23 respectively.