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What is Mahalaya
It's a kind of invocation or invitation to the mother goddess to descend on earth. This is done through the chanting of mantras. The day is being observed as Mahalaya, the day of invocation. In the dark night of amavasya (new moon), people pray to Goddess Durga to arrive in the earth to ward off all evils.
On this auspicious day, people pray for the deceased relatives and take holy dip in the river Ganga - the act being called Tarpan. On the dawn of Mahalaya, homes in Bengal resonate with the immortal verses of the Chandipath (chanting from "Chandi"). Chanting of the hymns from the holy book of "Chandi" in the recorded voice of late Birendra Krishna Bhadra over radio has become synonymous to the real Chandipath.
The Chandipath is aired by All India Radio in the programme Mahisasura Mardini, narrating the incarnation of Goddess Durga and her fight with Mahishasura. Since the early 1930s, Mahalaya has come to associate itself with an early morning radio program called "Mahishasura Mardini" (the annihilator of the demon Mahishasura).
This All India Radio (AIR) program is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of "Chandi", Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama. The program has also been translated into Hindi set to similar orchestration and is broadcast at the same time for a pan-Indian audience.
For nearly six decades now, the whole of Bengal rises up in the chilly pre dawn hours, 4 am to be precise, of the Mahalaya day to tune in to the "M Chandipath narrates that She is the primeval source of power, all qualities reside in her. She is one and yet known by many names. She is Narayani, Brahmani, Maheshwari, Shivaduti and She is the fierceful Chamunda, decked with a garland of skulls. The Goddess Chandika is eternal. She has no birth, no definite physical form. She assumes a manifestation of majestic might only to restore the process of Creation from the terrible Asuras or evil incarnates. Mahisasura, the terrible king of the Asuras had defeated the gods and driven them out of Heaven. The gods, dejected and humiliated went to Brahma, the god of creation Vishnu, the God of preservation and Mahadeva, the God of destruction, to report their defeat. These three Gods projected their energy and evoked a new form of energy. This energy then crystallised into the heavenly form of a Goddess. She was Mahamaya, the Mother of the Universe. The emergence of the goddess was an auspicious moment. The Goddess then emerged in full battle array to combat Mahisasura. The Himalayas gifted Her the lion to act as her carrier, Vishnu gave her the Chakra , Mahadeva gave her the trident, Yama gave her the danda, Brahma gave her the rosary and the container of sacred water. Armed with weapons of all kinds, the Mother Goddess defeated the Asuras, thus ending the rule of evil forces. The occasion of Mahalaya, thus, always goes on reminding mankind of the divine scheme of things that the Evil may have had its say, but it is ultimately the Good that has the last laughahishasura Mardini" broadcast.
Amavasya Mahalaya :
Amavasya, or the day of the conjunction of the sun and the moon, occurs once every month and it is a day considered by the Hindus to be specially set apart for the offering of oblations and the performance of religious ceremonies to the pitris or the spirits of the departed ancestors. Such being the general beliefs, what is the reason for the Hindus paying greater attention to the Mahalaya Amavasya, or the new moon day of the month of Kanya when the sun is in the sign Virgo ?
The Itihasa, a great authority on the religious rites of the Hindus, says that the moment the sun enters the sign Virgo (Kanya) the departed spirits, leaving their abode in the world of Yama, the Destroyer, come down to the world of man and occupy the houses of their descendants in this world or as it is said in Sanskrit, Kanya yate surye pitaras tishtanti sve grihe .
Therefore the fortnight preceding the new moon of the month of Kanya is considered as the fortnight which is specially sacred to the propitiation of the Manes or departed spirits. Dine dine gaya tulyam - The ceremonies in honour of the Manes performed during each day of this fortnight are considered to be equal to the ceremonies performed in the sacred city of Gaya . But instead of performing these rites on each of the days of the fortnight, most Hindus do so only on one of the days. Orthodox Hindus, however, perform ceremonies on every one of the days of this fortnight. These ceremonies terminate on the Mahalaya Amavasya day, which is therefore observed with greater sanctity than other new moon days. If, through unavoidable causes, any Hindu is not able to perform his Mahalaya rites during the course of the fortnight preceding the Mahalaya Amavasya, he is allowed as a concession to perform the same in the fortnight succeeding this new moon, because it is said that the Manes continue to linger in his house, expecting him to perform the ceremonies, till the sun enters the sign Scorpio (Vrishchika), i.e. till about the next full moon day. If even by that time a Hindu has not performed these ceremonies to the Manes they are said to become disgusted with him and return to the world of Yama after cursing their descendants in this world. Vrishchika darshanat yanti nirasa pitaro gatah . Such is the belief about the Mahalaya Amavasya and the two lunar fortnights which precede and succeed it. The month of Kanya is thus reserved for the worship of departed spirits and the most propitious portion of the month for such worship is the fortnight preceding the Mahalaya Amavasya. Generally speaking, every Hindu strictly observes his Mahalaya. If he is careless about it, he will find it difficult to have a peaceful time with the old ladies in his house.
The process of drawing the image of eyes on the day of Mahalaya which is the last moon before puja. Mahalaya brings the news that durgapuja is coming very soon.
Mahalaya precedes Durga Puja when all the members of the family remember their ancestors. This ritual is called Tarpan. Various shlokas are chanted early in the morning in almost every home as well as in the puja mandaps. The week that follows the Mahalaya is called Debi-pokhsha. The puja actually starts on the day of saptami or the seventh day from the full moon, and goes on till dashami or the tenth day. All mothers keep a fast on sashthi, the day preceding saptami, to pray for the well being of their children. The eighth day or ashtami is a day for vegetarian diet. Sandhi-pujo is also held on that day. Finally, the day of navami arrives which is the last night for the Mother Goddess to stay in her father's home. The next day, the day of dashami, she goes back to her husband's house. People bid a tearful farewell to her and present great barans with candles, fruits and garments.