Mahalaya marks the start of the ‘Devipaksha’ and the end of the ‘Pitri-paksha‘. The traditional six day countdown to Mahasaptami starts from Mahalaya. It is an auspicious occasion observed seven days before the Durga Puja, and heralds the advent of Durga, the goddess of supreme power. It’s a kind of invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth – “Jago Tumi Jago“. This is done through the chanting of mantras and singing devotional songs.
Legend behind Mahalaya
Pitri-Paksha is a 16 day period during which Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. When Karna died in the epic Mahabharata, his soul transcended to heaven. There he was offered jewelry as food. Bemused, Karna asked Indra for the reason of this bizarre happening. Indra told him that because of the fact that he has never donated food to his ancestors in shraadhs, during his lifetime, he was getting such treatment. Karna said that he was unaware of his ancestors and hence, he had no chance of donating food to them. He was granted a chance then to make amends. He returned to earth for a 16 day period and performed shraadh and donated food in memory of his ancestors. This period is henceforth known as Pitri-Paksha. Goddess Durga starts her journey towards earth on the day of Mahalaya, i.e. on the first day of the Devi-Paksha.
Since the early 1930s, a program called Mahisasura Mardini or The Annihilation of the Demon is broadcasted on All India Radio (AIR) for a pan-Indian audience. It is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of Chandi Kavya, Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.