Since the early 1930s, Mahalaya has come to associate itself with an early morning radio program called Mahisasura Mardini or The Annihilation of the Demon. This All India Radio (AIR) program is a beautiful audio montage of recitation from the scriptural verses of Chandi Kavya, Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama. The program has also been translated into Hindi set to similar orchestration and is broadcast at the same time for a pan-Indian audience.
This program has almost become synonymous with Mahalaya. For nearly six decades now, the whole of Bengal rises up in the chilly pre dawn hours, 4 am to be precise, of the Mahalaya day to tune in to the Mahisasura Mardini broadcast.
Mahalaya marks the start of the ‘Devipaksha’ and the end of the ‘Pitri-paksha’. The traditional six day countdown to Mahasaptami starts from Mahalaya. Goddess Durga visits the earth for only four days but seven days prior to the Pujas, starts the Mahalaya. The enchanting voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra fills up the predawn hours of the day thus marking the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the beginning of the count-down to Durga Puja.
Myth regarding Mahalaya: Pitri- Paksha is a 16 day period during which Hindus pay homage to their ancestors. As per legend, when Karna died in the epic Mahabharata, his soul transcended to heaven. There he was offered jewelry as food. Bemused, Karna asked Indra for the reason of this bizarre happening. Indra told him that because of the fact that he has never donated food to his ancestors in Shraddhas, during his lifetime, he was getting such treatment. Karna said that he was unaware of his ancestors and hence he had no chance of donating food to them. He was given a chance then to make amends. He returned to earth for a 16 day period and performed Shraddha and donated food in memory of his ancestors. This period is henceforth known as Pitri-Paksha. Goddess Durga starts her journey towards earth on the day of Mahalaya, i.e. on the first day of the Devi-Paksha.
This day bears immense significance for the Bengalis. According to Puranas, King Suratha used to worship goddess Durga in spring. Thus Durga Puja was also known as Basanti Puja. But Rama preponed the Puja and worshiped Durga in autumn and that is why it is known as ‘Akal Bodhon’ or untimely worship. Actually, Sree Rama hastily performed Durga Puja just before he set for Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana It was considered untimely as it is in the myths that puja was performed when the Gods and Goddesses were awake i.e “Uttarayan” and was not held when the Gods and Goddesses rested ie.”Dakshinayan”.