Mahalaya signifies the beginning of Durga Puja. Even though the signal for the Durga Puja is given much earlier, that is from the day of ‘Janmashtami’, the actual preparations reaches the final stage only from the day of Mahalaya. Chanting of midnight mantras and hymns of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ marks the beginning of Durga Puja.
The auspicious occasion of Mahalaya, which signifies the arrival of the supreme goddess Durga, is observed seven days prior to Durga Puja. It is a kind of prayer, performed through the chanting of mantras and singing of devotional songs, inviting the mother goddess to descend on earth. It is also the day of remembrance because on this day, people remember their deceased forefathers and offer ‘tarpan’ to them. The banks of River Ganga and many other river banks become flooded with thousands of devotees. Priests guide groups of devotees to perform ‘Tarpan’. The rituals start from the early morning and lasts till the midday. New clothes and sweets are offered to their forefathers. ‘Tarpan’ is a ritual to be performed in empty stomach and the devotees can take food after finishing the ritual.
History of Mahalaya:
The legend behind Mahalaya festival is that Sri Rama worshiped Durga Devi before going to Lanka to save Maa Sita from Ravanasura. Durga puja is celebrated in the spring season. During this period, all the gods and goddesses would wake up to offer their prayers to the goddess Durga. On this great day, Devi Durga begins her journey from heaven to earth. Another legend linked to Karn, who gave all kinds of things in donations, except food. After his death, he had the opportunity for the 14-day period to descend to earth and give so much charity in the form of food, which is why this period of shraddh is also known as the Mahalya period.
Significance of Mahalaya:
Mahalaya marks the start of the durga puja festival and is of great importance in Bengali culture. The celebration of this festival is linked to the radio program broadcasted in 1930. The Bengali’s, to listen to the program linked to the Goddess Durga, in which the whole story of her is mentioned, wake up early in the morning. This program is also known as Mahishasura Mardini. Autumn is the period which signifies the full flowering of the Mahalya period.
Celebration of Mahalaya:
On this special day, the Hindu worshiped Maa Durga, known as the goddess of supremacy, who came down to earth to descend with her four children. They paid homage and prayed to their ancestors, mainly on the banks of the river known as the Tarpan. They were offering food, clothing and candy on this special day.