Tomorrow a little before daybreak, at 4 am precisely, Bengalis the world over will come together as they listen to Mahalaya – Ma Durga’s agomoni song (a song welcoming the Goddess). The night before the alarm will be set religiously without fail. If you are however in Calcutta, you probably wouldn’t even need one as Biren Krishna Bhadra’s magical baritone floats out of all homes, spreading joy into the air. Afterall it means Ma Durga is almost here!
Now I have always been a night owl, and since I had an early school, I would not leave any opportunity to sleep till late on holidays or whenever I could. But Mahalaya was probably the only day, when I would ensure the alarm was set without fail. There is impossibly anything else more joyful to a Bengali than to wake upto ‘Ya devi sarba bhutesu…’.
Mahalaya is basically a 2-hour long radio program called Mahishashur Mardini, which is a mix of chants, sankskrit slokas and songs depicting the Goddess’s ten-day battle with the shape shifting demon king Mahishasura. But for the lesser mortals like us…it signifies the beginning of Ma’s journey to her father’s abode from Kailash; her four children – Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik, in tow.
What is most amazing about Mahalaya is that, it’s the same old program that ALL generations of Bengalis have grown up listening to. And old here does not mean 10 years, or 20 years, I am talking 1930s. Yes! the first Mahalaya was a live program which was performed on radio in 1932. It was recorded in 1966 and has since been played on AIR every Mahalaya morning at 4am and yet manages to give you goose bumps every time you listen to Bhadra’s par excellence, soul stirring rendition.
Apparently, many more versions of the Mahalaya were recorded by various artists over the years, with one even recorded by Uttam Kumar, the biggest superstar Bengali Cinema has every seen, however none could match the soulfulness and spirit of the original by Biren Krishna Bhadra.
So, before you go off to sleep tonight, don’t forget to set that alarm for your annual date with the Late Biren Krishna Bhadra’s Mahalaya.
And if you are not a Bengali, do empathise with that sleepy Bengali colleague of yours….
So, rejoice, let the celebrations begin, Ma is almost here! Shubho Mahalaya to all…
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