Learning About Our Heritage: A Task For The First Generation

by Amitava Sen

DurgaA few years ago at the annual Durga Puja, the organizing club published a booklet for the benefit of the generation born and raised here, explaining the significance and meaning of the festival and its various events on different days. Rightly so, the narration started with Mahalaya, the new moon day preceding the Puja. Mahalaya is actually a day when Hindus, typically Bengali Hindus pay homage to the ancestors, culminating in Sharodiya Durga Puja six days later. Indeed, it is a Hindu practice to invoke the blessings of the ancestors before any solemn occasion, be it a wedding or an Annaprasan. But that was not what the author of the little booklet wrote in his explanation of Durga Puja for our children. Mahalaya, according to his narrative was the day on which Calcutta radio broadcast an audio musical, Mahishasurmardini. And that was all, what Mahalaya meant! Continue reading

Durga Puja 2010 : New Jersey Style

The time of the year is here again. The sky is blue with patches of white clouds floating lazily and the weather is cooling down. Durga Puja is here again in New Jersey. The local Bengali associations are gearing up to welcome Ma Durga with the usual pomp and cultural extravaganza, and let me share with you some information about the festivities that has come to my notice.

Like previous years, Durga Puja festival in New Jersey will be heralded in by the live Mahishashura Mardini (Mahalaya) performance¬† at the Ananda Mandir on October 10th at 5.00am in the morning. I have been a regular attendee at this event, and I can promise you that if you can take that bold step of getting up from bed that early and drive down to Ananda Mandir, you’ll have an experience that you will never regret. Continue reading

Mahalaya in New Jersey – A Tradition of Our Own

Mahalaya in Bengal is synonymous to the seventy year old radio musical “Mahisashur Mardini” written by Bani Kumar and composed by Pankaj Mallik. Over the years this has become a Bengali tradition to wake up at 4.30am on Majalaya day and listen to this wonderful program that has not lost its charm till date. In fact, in Bengal the demand for new radios spike during this period. The inspiring narration and “Chandi Path” by Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the wonderful songs by the great musicians like Supriti Ghosh, Manabendra Mukherjee, and many others cast a spell on the listeners and put them into the Puja mood. Once there was an attempt to change the program and make it more contemporary using stars like Uttam Kumar, but severe protests from the listeners forced All India Radio to scrap it and go back to the traditional format.
In New Jersey, we have developed a tradition of our own. At the Anandamandir, at 4.30pm local musicians gather in front of a packed audience and perform the famous “Mahishashur Mardini” under the guidance of Arun Bhowmik. The musicians, most of whom are accomplished in their own right, devote their time to usher in the Durga Puja festival in front of the idols of Goddess Durga and Kali and create a magical moment for the audience some of whom travel all the way from Philadelphia, Long Island, and other distant cities.
I have attached two clips of this event (recorded on my cell phone) for you to get a glimpse of this event. The audio quality is not too good, but you’ll still feel the electrifying atmosphere that charges us up for the upcoming festivals.