Listening to Mahisasur Mardini
Mahalaya, marks the end of Pitru Paksha, the day when Hindus offer Tarpon or prayer to their ancestors and the beginning of Devi Paksha, the day when Goddess Durga descends to earth.
In Bengal, where Durga Pujo is one of most celebrated festivals, the day begins as early as 4 am with the sound of the Mahalaya Mahisasur Mardini being played on TV Sets and Radios in almost every Bengali household.
“Ya devi sarva bhuteshu, shanti rupena sangsthita...
Namastasyai - Namastasyai - Namastasyai – Namo Namo”
Of the many traditions of Durga Pujo, waking up at 4 am and listening to Mahisasur Mardini is a must for most Bengalis on Mahalaya morning. From the young to the old, all soak in the magical voice of Late Sri Birendra Krishna Bhadra, early Mahalaya morning on All India Radio – a tradition that has been prevalent since the 1930s.
Doordarshan and many private Bengali channels also organize dance dramas on the slaying of Asura by Goddess Durga which have become largely popular these days, with eminent Indian actors playing the role of Durga. Later in the day, songs like Bajlo Tomar Alor Benu, Jago Tumi Jago and other Agomoni songs in praise of the Goddess are played popularly.
Mahalaya is an official holiday in most Government institutions, and is also the start of the Puja Vacations at schools and colleges across West Bengal.
Getting hold of your Pujo Barshiki (Pujo Annuals with stories and literary articles)
By Mahalaya most Bengalis would also have their copy of Pujo Barshiki in hand. The Pujo Barshiki are annual magazines taken out by publications with various articles, poems and stories for a pleasant reading experience.
If you are a book lover or love to read, you would definitely be looking forward to the Pujo Barshiki or annual periodicals that come out a couple of months or weeks prior to Durga Pujo.
Anandamela published by popular Bengali Publishing house Ananda Bazaar Patrika (ABP Limited) happens to be one of the most popular Pujo Barshiki available. This periodical is more inclined towards children and has short stories, poems and comics that children would love to read. Many eminent Bengali authors like Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay also contribute to this periodical which was first published in 1975.
In addition to Anandamela, some of the other popular Pujo Barshiki include Desh, Sananda and Anandalok. Readers wait for the release of the special Pujo editions of these periodicals, which is why they are mostly all sold out within a week of their launch.
Sending out Mahalaya Greetings
Bengalis across the world these days also begin sending their Puja greetings to friends and near and dear ones from this day.
Rounding off your Pujo Shopping
Being a holiday for most, Mahalaya is also traditionally the day to complete all your Pujo shopping before the festival kicks off.
Begin Pandal Hopping
Sashthi – The very first day of the Durga Pujo and the sixth day of Devi Paksha, is a much awaited day. Though nowadays people begin celebrating Durga Pujo right from Chaturthi, as the pandals are inaugurated in advance, Sashthi still remains to be the first day of Durga Pujo officially.
Wear new clothes and shoes
Of the many traditions followed on Sashthi, wearing new clothes and shoes tops the list. Children especially look forward to this day to begin sporting their new clothes and shoes.
As the sound of Dhaak fills up the air, an important tradition of the day by the ladies of households where Durga Puja is performed is setting up the Ghot (holy pot), which signifies the formal welcome of the Goddess to her home on earth with her children.
Many women also follow the tradition of fasting on this day for the welfare of their children and non-vegetarian food and rice based food is mostly avoided. Women break their fast after prayers with vegetarian food.
Pandal Hopping and Bhog
Maha Saptami or the Seventh Day of Durga Pujo has a very interesting legend. It is believed that Lord Ram prayed to Goddess Durga on Saptami for her blessings before the battle against Ravan to bring back Sita. Goddess Durga was happy with the devotion of Lord Ram’s prayers and blessed him to emerge victorious in the battle against the demon king. Saptami thus also marks the first day of Lord Ram’s battle with Ravana. It is also the day when Kola Bou snan and Nabapatrika rituals are performed.
Traditionally, people visit pandals to offer Anjali to the Goddess from Saptami. Savouring bhog and visiting pandals, are some of the many common traditions followed through the day. Sumptuous Bengali dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, are cooked on this day.
On Ashtami, the eighth and most important day of Durga Pujo, the traditions of the day mingle with the rituals to make it all the more significant and special.
The day begins with the young and old keeping a fast till Ashtami-r Anjali is offered to the Goddess. It is a tradition to go for the Ashtami-r Anjali in customary Bengali attire. Ladies choose the typical red bordered white sarees, gold ornaments and a red Bindi, Sindoor and Alta being a must for the married. Men prefer white or golden kurta-pajama in cotton or Tussar material paired with a stole, wearing Dhoti is a must for most.
Watching Kumari Pujo
The Kumari Pujo ritual involving the worship of a Kumari (girl child) as a form of the Goddess is also done on this auspicious day. It is a tradition to watch the Kumari Pujo with your family and offer gifts to the goddess in human form. Most people visit Belur Math as a tradition to watch the famous Kumari Pujo rituals that are held there on Maha Ashtami.
Another important Ashtami tradition is having the Ashtamir Bhog. The Maha Ashtamir Bhog comprising of Khichudi (a staple made from lentils and rice), chorchori (mixed vegetables), Beguni (fried brinjal fritters), Chutney (sweet made of tomato paste), Rosogolla (sweet made with hung curd). The Bhog is cooked and distributed mostly for free at almost all Puja pandals. Those who prefer home cooked food go for Pulao, (sweet rice), Phulkopir Torkari (Cauliflower and potato curry), Aludum, (Potato in gravy, Vegetable Chop (Vegetable cutlet), Chutney (Sweet tomato gravy), Papad and Mishti Doi (curd). Amongst culinary traditions of the day, having vegetarian food is a must.
Wearing your best outfit
Wearing your best traditional clothes and stepping out with friends and family, ensuring that you look your best is a must on Maha Ashtami.
Sandhya Aarti and Dhunuchi Naach
Another tradition followed down the ages on Maha Ashtami is the traditional Sandhya Aarti and Dhunuchi Naach. Sandhya Puja is one of the most important aspects of Durga Puja. Multiple priests perform the ritual. Dhunuchi Naach which involves dancing with a Dhunuchi along with Sandhya Puja is a tradition that no one wants to miss. As the sound of Dhaak fill the air, the celebrations of this special day reaches its peak, reminding us that this is after all the most awaited day of Durga Pujo.
More Pandal Hopping and eating out
Nabami is the 9th day of Durga Puja and is also widely celebrated as Navratri across the country. It is also Ram Navami for North Indians.
As Maha Nabami sets in, our heart becomes heavy reminding us that the Durga Pujas are coming to an end. While there are no set traditions that govern this day, eating Bhog at pandal and going out with your friends and family are some of the things that are a must on the last day of Durga Pujo.
Many Bengali homes cook a Mutton dish as a tradition on this day. Kosha Mangsho and Polao is the most loved combination.
Bolo Durga Mai Ki – Jai! Aschhe Bochhor Abaar Hobe
Bijoya Dasami – The day when we bid a teary goodbye to the goddess… With a heavy heart and hopes for a year full of goodness ahead with Maa Durga’s blessings, we ensure that her departure is as memorable an occasion as her arrival. Bishorjon begins with ‘Durga Baron’. It is an age old tradition amongst Bengali’s to visit the Goddess and bid her farewell by feeding her and her children Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesha with sweets. Pan or beetle leaf is used to wipe the face of the Goddess just like one wipes a daughters tears as she leaves after a visit to her maternal home to return to her husband, and or vermillion is applied on her forehead.
Sindoor Khela and Bishorjon
The married women engage in Sindoor Khela which involves smearing Sindoor on the foreheads of each other, feeding each other with sweets and hugging each other as an indication of a blissful and happy married life. The loha, shakha and pola worn by married women is also touched with the sindoor. Many men and women take part in the Bishorjon– or immersion procession of the Goddess which follows as the last sounds of dhaak fill the air, to drive away the gloom of Maa’s departure.
Like Ashtami, Bijoya Dasami is another day when women adorn themselves in the colour red. Wearing red white sarees with red border or red sarees with bindi and jewellery as you bid farewell to Maa Durga, is a must follow tradition of the day.
Wishing Subho Bijoya
With the immersion of the Goddess it is a tradition amongst Bengali’s to touch the feet of elders in the family and wish them a “Shubho Bijoya”. Neighbours, friends and loved ones engage in “kolakuli” or hugging each other. With progress in technology social media also plays an important part during Dasami with people sharing Bijoya Greetings over Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram! It is also customary to visit the homes of your friends and relatives with a box of sweets and hug each other to welcome many sweet new beginnings into everyone’s life.
The older generation bless the younger ones as we all wait for another year and another Durga Puja. In North India, Bijoya Dasami also happens to be Dussehra, the day when Lord Ram slayed Ravana, a triumph of good over evil.