Mahalaya: The Advent of Autumn

DurgaIt’s that time of the year when mother Durga embarks on her annual vacation, family, friends and pets in tow. The hills in autumn seem greener; the streams sparkle a little more. A thousand miles away from home, in a land somewhat alien I can’t smell festivity in the air. The conch shells and the drumbeats reverberate in the nostalgic realm. I yearn for the doe-eyed beauties uneasy in their crisp sarees. My ears search for the strains of songs in the tongue I called my own.

They say this is a big city. It celebrates festivals of all hues. There are more than 10 million souls cramped in here, but at this time of the year I feel alone (okay, I have the Chaiwali for company, that makes us two lonely souls). It’s a time of togetherness of bonding. In my little hill town I knew almost everybody, here in this metropolis all faces seem unfamiliar. With whom shall I share my excitement? To whom shall I narrate my loneliness?

Today is Mahalaya, the day of invocation of goddess Durga in her Mahisasurmardini form (the slayer of the demon Mahisasur). The beginning of the ten days of festivity. My father didn’t wake me up at the crack of dawn to listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s oratorio (set to Pankaj Mallick’s music) on All India Radio. I listened to an MP3 version on my home theatre.

It is of course a religious occasion, but it’s not the gods that I miss, it is the people and the atmosphere. They might celebrate it here, but I don’t feel at home, a home I’ve left a thousand miles behind. Memories that I’ll cherish forever.

The baritone of Birendra Krishna Bhadra reverberating the autumn dawn – Ya devi sarvabhuteshu – courtesy All India Radio (AIR) signals the arrival of autumn. The greens have already started browning, the Sharad Utsav is about to begin.

Vishwakarma Puja, a few days ago, opened the doors of joyous festivity. This dusk when the sun shall set, there will be no moon to take its place. Tomorrow, there’ll be one – a new one, the first of ten days of festivity and when the moon will become full, the East of India will welcome the goddess of wealth – Lakshmi – into their homes, others will wait till the following Amavasya, when Diwali commemorates the triumphal return of Lord Rama to Ayodha. East Indians (read Bengalis), revering the other avatar of Krishna avatar of Vishnu more, revert their religious focus back to Shakti – this time in the form of Kali… and the sequence continues.

For me the morning of Mahalaya marks the beginning of this all. I might miss it in the morning on radio, but I make it a point to listen to the Chandi Paath on that day. Not for religious reasons, but more for nostalgic ones. Father used to wake me and my brother up at the crack of dawn, just to listen to the broadcast on AIR.

My MP3 file of an excerpt from the oratorio invoking the goddess Durga by Birendra Krishna Bhadra (music by Pankaj Mallick), also has a long story. It was originally on an LP record, lying in the backroom of a music store in Bhopal’s New Market. I asked the owner to record that into an audio tape and a few years later I converted it from a magnetic tape to MP3. The feeling is the same, only the technology has changed.

For the next year, I have made to myself a promise (and to the Chaiwali too): I’ll be home when the drums start to beat.

  • Anirban

    Yeah…it’s all about the nostalgia, but in an alien land Pujas are no fun…

  • Pranati

    ­čÖé Felt soo nice to read this!
    BTW which radio channel plays Mahalaya during the morning?