Its 2 days away from “Mahalaya” and a week apart from Durgotsav / Durga Puja… and I can actually smell bhorer sheuli r mishti gondho (fragrant sweet smell of the morning bloom) with the gentle breeze blowing in my backyard. And then I wake up to realise it is not Sheuli (the fragrant white flower of Bengal) but the fragrant native bloom I planted last week. Perhaps, it is the exuberance my soul carries around this festive season and I find myself so close to my Bengal, my people, my family and my fond memories of childhood.
“Maa ashchen baaper baari” – (It is the home coming of Durga Devi from her inlaws’ to her parents’)
Yes, indeed, the homecoming is celebrated in the awakening of the conch shell and the deity is invited with the rhythm of dhaak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhak_%28instrument%29). And as the days get closer, the nature hymns “Aagomoni” in the backdrop of the golden sun.
Come “Mahalaya” and Bengalis get busy to complete the final preparations for their greatest festival - Durga Puja. It's a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth - "Jago Tumi Jago". This is done through the chanting of mantras and singing devotional songs.
Since the early 1930s, Mahalaya has come to associate itself with a radio program called “Mahisasura Mardini” or “The Annihilation of the Demon” – which is played at pre-dawn, around 4 am in the morning. For nearly six decades now, every house in Bengal wakes up in the pre-dawn hours, 4 am to be precise, on the Mahalaya day to tune in to “Mahisasura Mardini” broadcast.
This All India Radio (AIR) program is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of “Chandi Kavya”, Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama. As the recital begins, the serene morning air resonates with the long drawn sound of the sacred conch shell, immediately followed by a chorus of invocation, melodiously setting the stage for the recitation of the Chandi Mantra (sacred chants).
And as we listen, we remember the man, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, whose legendary voice narrates the story of the descent of Durga to earth through Mahalaya Chandi Paath (sacred chants of Devi Chandi).