Mahalaya in Durga Puja
The Mahalaya can be marked as the auspicious beginning of Durga Puja, the greatest of the festivals in Bengal. Nevertheless, the countdown for festival begins from the Rathayatra when the construction of the Durga idol first begins. From the day of 'Janmastami', everyone eagerly awaits Mahalaya. Mahalaya only marks that the preparations for the Durga Puja has reached the final level and everyone starts counting hours for the ceremony to inaugurate. Meaning of Mahalaya is homecoming. According to the Hindu mythology, Goddess Durga who was married to Lord Siva returns to her paternal residence during the Puja, and this is the preparation for the welcome of the diving homecoming.
Mahalaya in Bengal
Mahalaya in Bengal is very special due to three reasons. It is on the dawn of Mahalaya only that the artists, the makers of the Durga idols, paint the eyes of the Goddess. This is known as Chakshudanam, literally, giving eyes. In the settlement of idol makers in Kolkata, Kumartuli or Kumortuli, workers remain very busy with this all the day.
Tarpan or Tarpana on Mahalaya
Tarpan in Mahalaya also makes the day special. Tarpan or Tarpana means remembrance and as the day dawns people offer their homage as Tarpan for the memory of their deceased ancestors. Hence they gather on the banks of the river Ganges (or any other local river in places far from the Ganges) while priests perform the rite on behalf of the group of devotees. 'Tarpan' is performed in empty stomach while foods and sweats are offered to souls of the ancestors. After the rite is complete, people take their meals at the same place of the performance of Tarpan.
Mahalaya Mahishasuramardini Birendra Krishna Bhadra
Listening to the Mahishasuramardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra in the All India Radio, before the advent of the television, came to be a customary start for Bengal to herald the auspicious occasion. Mahishasuramardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra was an oratorio of chants and Bengali Agamani Songs. to invoke and welcome Goddess Durga by praying, "Jago, tumi jago" – "Arise, O thou arise!" Later, television channels (beginning with Doordarshan) and other radio and FM stations began their own oratorio programmes but nothing could decrease nor challenge the popularity of Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishsuramardini. Still today many people want to hear Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishsuramardini online and there are many websites that offer Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahalaya Songs.