Updated: September 28, 2019 8:02:27 am
It’s that time of the year, yet again, to welcome Ma Durga; when the heart-piercing and oh-so-familiar strains of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ will emanate from every Bengali house across India and, possibly, the world. Eight decades after it was first recorded, there is still no comparison with the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra that still rules the heart of every Bengali. But who is this man whose reverberating voice even the great Uttam Kumar could not replace?
In 1905, Bhadra was born in Ahiritola, North Kolkata to Kali Krishna Bhadra, a well-known linguist, who had been awarded the title ‘Roy Bahadur’ in the year 1927, and Sarala Bala Devi, daughter of the then police court lawyer Kalicharan Ghosh.
After graduating from Scottish Church College in 1928, Bhadra joined All India Radio, Kolkata, and became the lead vocal of Pankaj Kumar Mallik’s ‘Mahishasura Mardini’. Apart from a legendary radio voice, Bhadra was an amazing play writer and director, whose oeuvre includes ‘Mess No. 49’ and directed a theater production ‘Saheb Bibi Golam’, authored by Bimal Mitra. In 1952, he dramatised Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Subarna Golak’, and even acted in plays such as ‘Blackout’ and ‘Sat Tulsi’. An accomplished author too, his bibliography includes ‘Hitopadesa’, ‘Bisvarupa-darsana’, ‘Rana-berana’, ‘Bratakatha samagra’, ‘Srimadbahagabata’, and he even has a film script ‘Nishiddha Phal’ (1955) to his name.
“One of the great stalwarts of radio drama production at AIR Kolkata, Birendra Krishna Bhadra was himself a good actor. Bhadra and Bani Kumar had mastered the art of editing scripts to perfection. Bhadra was a celebrated playwright as well,” Dr Manas Pratim Das writes in ‘Radio Play: The Kolkata story’. “One particular play that upheld the acting and production faculty of Bhadra was Proloy. Written by Sachindra Nath Sengupta this was declared by Bhadra as the first two-hour play for radio. It was first drama at AIR Kolkata to be preserved,” Das wrote.
Mahishasura Mardini, the famous 90-minute musical piece was first composed in 1931 under the direction of Pankaj Kumar Mullick. The script by Bani Kumar is a combination of a narration, hymns and Bengali devotional songs on the creation of goddess Durga to kill the demon king Mahishasura. For several years, Mahishasura Mardini was played live with well-known artistes including Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay, Supriti Ghosh, Bimal Bhusan, Utpala Sen, Tarun Banerjee, Krishna Dasgupta, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Banerjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Sumitra Sen, Ashima Bhattacharya, Shipra Bose and Pankaj Mallik. It was only recorded in 1966, after which the recorded version was played everywhere.
All India Radio, Kolkata, has tried several times with different voices, one of it was by noted actor Uttam Kumar in 1976, but none of it managed to create the magic woven by Bhadra. The legend passed away on November 3, 1991, at the age of 86, leaving us the legacy of his unmatched, haunting voice that continues to mark the beginning of Pujo in Bengali households on the day of Mahalaya.
And though many gawk at the thought of having to wake up at around 4 am to tune in to AIR, it’s also available on YouTube, as well as on an app called ‘Mahalaya’ for Android and IOS users. It also broadcast in Hindi for the pan-India audience. This year, the Durga Puja starts on September 28 (Mahalaya) and will end on October 8 (Bijoya Dashami).
Come Saturday, September 28 we will be setting our radios to the frequency of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s Mahishasur Mardini, will you?
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