Shubho Mahalaya, everybody!
The festive season is just around the corner; Goddess Durga has begun her descent after having vanquished the evil demon Mahishasura. And to remind us of this victory, we have the auspicious day of ‘Mahalaya’. Not only does this annual event hold a religious and spiritual significance, it also reminds us of the power of truth, of courage and of the universal fact that in the end, good will always triumph over evil.
So what actually is Mahalaya, and why does the Bengali community celebrate it?
To begin with, the day of Mahalaya marks the beginning of Devi Paksha and the end of the Pitri Paksha, the latter of which, is a period of mourning. Hindus consider Pitri Paksha to be inauspicious, because shradhh or death rites are performed during this period. It is a 16-day lunar period during which people remember and pay homage to their ancestors using food and water offerings.
But Mahalaya is a happy occasion. While there are many stories and/or folklore associated with the day, largely, people believe that on this day, Goddess Durga officially begins her journey from Mount Kailash — where she resides with her husband Lord Shiva — to her maternal home on Earth. Bengalis celebrate it with much fervour and remark intermittently, about the festive autumn weather and the ‘pujo-pujo‘ feel.
It is believed Goddess Durga undertakes this week-long journey with her children — Ganesha, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati — on a vehicle of her choice. It could be a palanquin or a boat, an elephant or a horse.
Mahalaya is celebrated roughly seven days before Durga Puja. Every Bengali household wakes up early in the morning — even before the sun — to customarily listen to a collection of songs and mantras called ‘Mahishasura Mardini’, in the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. These mantras invoke the Goddess; the most famous one being Jago Tumi Jago (meaning, ‘awaken, oh Goddess!’)
Some Hindu households also perform the ritual of pitritarpan on this day, wherein they offer prayers to the deceased in the form of ‘pind-daan‘ on the banks of River Ganga.
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