It was mid 7os of the last century and I was a primary school going boy. I can recollect that I along with my other members of my family awaited a radio program aired on All India Radio ahead of the Sharadia (Autumnal) Durga Puja festival. In that Autumnal dawn we woke up to Virendra Krishna Bhadra’s magical recitation from the holy Devi Mahamtym and Chandi Kavya telling the story of Devi (Goddess) Durga and we spent about two thrilling hours listening to his inimitable voice. Actually, I am telling about the legendary program named Mahishasurmardini (the slayer of the demon Mahishasura) on the auspicious occasion of the Mahalaya.
The program includes the battle of Devi Durga with the demon king Mahishasura and the ultimate victory of the deity over the demon. The program also marks the end of Pitri Paksha (dark half of the Bengali month, Ashwin particularly dedicated to the performance of oblations) and the beginning of Devi Paksha (light half of the Bengali month, Ashwin when Devi Durga descents to earth) as well as Devi’s journey to her ancestral home on this earth along with her four children Ganesh, Lakshmi, Kartickeya and Swaraswati. So, the songs and the recitation in the Mahalaya program can be said the invocation of Devi Durga. The songs are specially known as Agamani songs.
On the occasion of the Mahalaya many people observe a ritual of offering oblations to their anchestors and take a dive in the Ganges. It is called Pitri Tarpan. This ritual is linked to a story of Karna (an important character of the Mahabharata). In that story Karna was famous for his charitable quality. But he did not perform his duties in memory of his dead ancestors since he was unaware of them. So, Yama sent him back to earth after he had reached the Heaven. Coming back to earth, Karna performed his duties to his dead ancestors for fourteen days. Traditionally, these fourteen days are known as Pitri Paksha. It begins on Ashwin Krishna Pratipada and ends on Ashwin Amavasya (Mahalaya Amavasya). The next fortnight of it is called Devi Paksha. On the auspicious day of Mahalaya Amavasya the famous Mahishasurmardini is broadcast on electronic media and the annual arrangement of the Sharadia Durga Puja formally begins.
The legendary radio program, Mahishasurmardini was first aired in 1930s. Its script was written by Vani Kumar and its music director was Pankaj Kumar Mullick. The Agamani songs of the program were rendered by many renowned Indian artistes. It will not be an exaggeration to say that the program (Mahishasurmardini) is deeply ingrained into Bengali Hindu psyche. After eight and a half decades it is equally important to all of the Sanatan Hindu community. Imitating this program many radio and tv stations of this sub-continent have started to broadcast programs on the occasion of the Mahalaya in the recent years. But Mahishasurmardini aired on AIR is unique and it has really become a legendary program.