Mahalaya essentially heralds the homecoming of the goddess and is celebrated a week before the beginning of Bengal’s biggest festival — the Durga Puja.
The day signifies the end of ‘Pitri Paksha’, or a period when Hindus offer homage to their deceased ancestors.
It is believed that goddess Durga starts her journey to earth with her family on Mahalaya.
Devotees thronged the Hooghly river banks since dawn to perform special rituals called ‘tarpan’. According to tradition, sons offer food and prayers in the belief that the souls of their departed kin smoothly transition to heaven.
Mahalaya is culturally synonymous with the iconic early morning broadcast of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ (annihilation of the demon) invocation on All India Radio in the sonorous voice of Indian playwright and broadcaster Birendra Krishna Bhadra.
Following an over eight decade-old ritual, Bengalis and even many non-Bengalis tuned in to recordings of Bhadra’s haunting voice, narrating the arrival of the goddess and the fierce combat between Durga and the ‘Asura’ (demon) resulting in the latter’s slaying by the goddess with a trident.
People walked around crowded market places with enthusiasm to wrap up last-minute shopping as only a week is left for the mega carnival to begin. Most enjoyed their day off with food binges, both traditional home-cooked food and gourmet spreads at restaurants.
With attractive discounts, online shopping sites remained the top draw for the people.
Wrapped in plastic sheets at potters’ enclave in north Kolkata Kumartuli, artisans worked frenetically to give finishing touches to the idols of goddess Durga while puja organisers hurried to put up marquees (pandals) for the inaugurals.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurated a number of heavyweight community ‘pujas’, including north Kolkata’s famous Baghbazar Sarbojonin and south Kolkata’s Naktala Udayan Sangha, Jodhpur Park and 95 Pally.
She urged people of all communities and religions to participate in the coming Durga Puja.
“Durga Puja is my favourite time of the year. The entire city gets a new lease of life during the festivities. Thousands of people from the city and districts hit the streets to celebrate the homecoming of Maa Durga. All the festivals are close to our heart but among them Durga Puja is regarded as the national festival. It is celebrated across India and even abroad,” Banerjee said.
Goddess Durga, it is believed, stays for five days to eradicate evil from earth before returning to her husband, Lord Shiva, at Kailash on Dashami (10th day). Durga, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur, astride a lion wields an array of weapons in her 10 hands.