Mahalaya is widely celebrated as the day when Goddess Durga begins her descend to earth, to grace us with her presence for those five much awaited days of Durga Pujo. As a girl I would wake up in the wee hours of Mahalaya morning to listen to the recital of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The whole family would gather around the radio to listen to him, invoking the Goddess in his sonorous voice.
There was so much excitement around Mahalaya. I would spend an almost sleepless night lest I missed the recitals, what if mom forgot to wake me up. The medium was audio, but the lyrics, the voice, the songs, and our imagination would bring Devi Durga alive. I could almost visualize her stepping out from her heavenly abode to begin her journey to earth.
Mahalaya also marks the end of Pitri Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha (though this year it will be delayed by about a month due to the Adhik Maas (leap month in the Hindu calendar). Like the soft glow of Devi, the golden sun soothes our eyes, the clear blue sky, the cottony white clouds, the cool breeze usher pleasant autumn. The sweet fragrance of Shiuli Phool (a kind of jasmine) and the sound of dhak would add to the magic once, reminding us that Durga Pujo’s round the corner. We could feel the morning dew, the harsh summer giving in to cooler climes. Somehow, though I still feel the season changing, the old excitement is gone. Maybe it’s me growing up, maybe it’s staying away from home so long, sometimes I forget to miss Shiuli flower that would be strewn under the tree in our courtyard. As girl I would string these sweet-smelling flowers into garlands or bracelets. My ears still strain for the sound of dhak, brings back memories, though my heart doesn’t flutter like it used to once.
Mahalaya would also mean rushing to the market to buy new clothes and shoes, badgering mom to finish stitching our dresses soon, planning our outfits for each day, waiting eagerly for four days of pandal hopping and festivities. As a child Durga Pujo also meant holidays and no studies. Now, it’s work as usual, though I make it a point to wear sari and go to the nearby Pujo pandal in the evening. The pandals in Gurgaon do a good job of presenting Devi Durga in all her glory, with dhak and dhunochi dance, yet something’s missing. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe the times have changed!