THE MAHALAYA ODYSSEY

Come Mahalaya and the reins of my memories are unleashed. In my younger days, me along with all my siblings & friends, eagerly looked forward to that special day as it annunciated the year long awaited Durga Puja. On this very day, Goddess Durga starts her annual sojourn towards the earth, her parental home in Bengal.

In those days, Radio was our only medium of entertainment and we embraced it with all our heart and soul. I remember, on the eve before the onset of Mahalaya, my father set the alarm clock at 4 a.m. No sooner did it ring than he would arouse the whole house. We, the siblings, huddled together in bed, were in no mood to get up. But the moment the radio was switched on and the baritone of ‘Mahisasura Mardini’ (Annihilator of the demon) flowed into the room, we would instantly get out of bed, as if in a trance. Rubbing our eyes, we woke up to the smell of fragrant sheuli flowers drafting in through the open window. This imparted more character to the predawn ritual of listening to the Chants and devotional songs, a two hour audio montage of ‘Chandipath’ recited by the unforgettable Birendra Krishna Bhadra. ‘Jago Tumi jago’: we hummed the tune along with him as an invocation to Goddess Durga, to herald her descent to the earth, showering her blessings. Of course, we could not always keep ourselves awake throughout the entire broadcast and some of us went to bed again.

We listened to the incantations intermittently and, at that time, failed to comprehend the meaning of many of the Slokas, yet they resonated deep inside us and we knew many of them by heart. The end of the chant was intensely soul stirring:

Ya Devi sarbabhuteshu, saktirupini sanksthita,

Namastaswei, namastaswei, namastaswei, Namo namaha.

(Goddess Durga, you are omnipresent,

You are the ultimate power, I salute you).

The nostalgia of these words and Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s booming, and mesmerising voice excite us to this day. That special dawn, with the immortal tunes sung by an evergreen voice, came only once a year. Surprisingly, every year, we, the radio generation, woke up at wee hours to tune into Akashvani to listen to the annual broadcast, the same music, myth and chanting devoid of an iota of boredom. It started the six-day countdown to the magic of the Pujas for the actual festivities to begin. There was enthusiasm, excitement and euphoria in the air and the whole neighbourhood seemed connected and united through the sounds of the radio.

 

Alas, today’s children do not feel the same enthusiasm that we used to. Due to the innumerable YouTube uploads, they can enjoy the narrative at their convenience. Sadly, the aural experience is often diluted by the additional visual sensory input of the enactment of ‘Mahisasura Mardini’ in the form of a dance drama. The charm of waking up to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s soulful rendition is lost forever. Although it wasn’t an overtly festive occasion, the essence of the broadcast, the eager wait for a predawn autumn morning ritual and all the reverence it entailed, will never appeal to another generation again.

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