We all remember being woken up by our parents on the early hours of Mahalaya with the mesmerizing voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting the verses of Mahalaya Chandi Path on All India Radio (AIR). Though he is no more even today, the Mahalaya recordings with his recitals rings in our ears and touches the strings of our heart. Mahalaya, usually observed 7 days ahead of the Durga Pujo is an indication of the end of Pitru Paksha (period of mourning) and the beginning of Debi Paksha (period of happiness, blessed by Debi Durga) and initiating the countdown for the year's Durga Pujo celebrations.Watch Video
Tarpon is a ritual which involves offering prayers to one's forefathers. The ritual done mostly by men involves wearing white dhotis/ garments, taking a dip in the Ganges in the name of ones forefathers and offering pinda - daan. Millions of people are seen to gather on the banks of the river Ganges on this day to offer prayers to their forefathers. It is generally the eldest male member of the family who offers Tarpon and performs shraddh at pre-dawn of Mahalaya. Usually Tarpon is offered to forefathers from 1-3 generations. Vegetarian food is offered to the forefathers on this auspicious day which includes rice, lentils, a vegetable and some sweet dish. The Shraadh is performed, followed by pind-daan and a holy dip in the Ganges. A cow is offered food. Many also offer food to Brahmins as a mark of respect. At the end of the Pujo, the man offering Tarpon and his family members take their food to end the ritual.
Like every other tradition associated with Durga Puja, the roots of Tarpon lie in the Puranas. It is said that after the death of Karna in the Mahabharat, when his soul reached heaven, he was only offered jewels to eat as he had never offered food to his ancestors. A bewildered Karna apologized and was permitted to return to earth for a 16 day period to offer his prayers and food to his ancestors. This led to the establishment of the ritual of Tarpon. Even today one can offer Shraadh and prayers to his ancestors 16 days prior to Mahalaya during Pitru Paksha.
Durga Pujo in Autumn is also known as Akal Bodhon, or untimely invocation of the Goddess Durga. Songs like ‘Jago Maa Durga’ are said to be sung to awaken the Goddess from her sleep.
The tale of the untimely awakening of the Goddess dates back to the Ramayana's. It is said that before his war with Ravana, at the suggestion of hermits, Lord Rama offered prayers to Goddess Durga awakening her from her sleep to seek her blessings. The Goddess pleased with his prayers had blessed him and thus began the tradition of celebrating Durga Pujo in Autumn.
Mahalaya marks the beginning of the decent of Goddess Durga to earth. As she opens her eyes to bestow divine blessings on life on earth, the artists paint the eyes of Goddess as a symbol of her awakening on this day. The entire idol is painted, except for the eyes, the eyes of the Goddess is painted by all idol makers on Mahalaya completes her and prepares her for a decent to earth.
Listening to Bengali Mahalaya live or Mahalaya recordings of Mahisashur Mardini at 4 am on Mahalaya morning is a must for all Bengali families who love and worship the goddess. In the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting the verses that describe the decent of the Goddess to earth mesmerizes one and all. Elders of the house ensure that the alarm is set for 4am on Mahalaya Morning so that they do not miss the Mahalaya programme on radio or television. With time beginning with Doordarshan, numerous channels telecast the story of Maa Durga's conquest of Asura through dance dramas that are watched by one and all. Many eminent Bengali actresses have played the role of Maa Durga depicting her power and beauty through these dance dramas that are telecast early on Mahalaya morning. It is believed that Maa Durga destroyed Asura and his accomplices during the period of Mahalaya, which is why Mahisasur Mardini is recited and shown during this time.