Shubho Mahalaya, everybody! Durga Puja starts a day afterwards. Goddess Durga descended on the Earth this day to vanquish the evil demon Mahishasura. Mahalaya and Durga Puja remind us of this victory of good over evil.
We have this auspicious day of ‘Mahalaya’ to mark the end of the last day of Pitrupaksha.
What Actually Is Mahalaya?
The day of Mahalaya marks the beginning of Devi Paksha and the end of the Pitri Paksha. Pitri Paksha is a period of mourning and considered inauspicious by Hindus.
In this month of Pitri Paksha, Shradhh or death rites are performed. It is a 16-day lunar period. People pay obeisance by remembering and paying homage to their ancestors. They give food and water offerings and donate things in charity.
But Mahalaya is a happy ceremony and occasion. On this day, Goddess Durga officially begins her journey from Mount Kailash. It is her native residence with her husband Lord Shiva. Goddess Durga’s maternal home is the Earth.
Bengalis celebrate it with much fervour. The festive autumn weather gives a ‘pujo-pujo‘ feel.
It is believed Goddess Durga undertakes this week-long journey with her children — Ganesha, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati — on a vehicle of her choice. It could be a palanquin or a boat, an elephant or a horse.
What Is Done During The Mahalaya?
There are a set of rituals to be done during the Mahalaya –
- Mahalaya is celebrated roughly seven days before Durga Puja.
- Every Bengali household wakes up early in the morning, before the sunrise and customarily listens to a collection of mantras called ‘Mahishasura Mardini’(in the melodious voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra.)
- These mantras invoke the Goddess; the most famous one being Jago Tumi Jago (meaning, ‘awaken, oh Goddess!’)
- Some Hindu households also perform the ritual of pitritarpan on this day
- They offer prayers to the deceased in the form of ‘pind-daan‘ on the banks of River Ganga.