Mahalaya marks the beginning of Navratri and Durga Puja. It is the end of Pitra Paksha and the beginning of the Devi Paksha. Devi Paksha is the waxing phase of the moon which comes in the month of Ashwin as per the Hindu lunar calendar. It is believed that Goddess Durga starts Her journey to earth with her family on the day of Mahalaya.
Mahalaya is the last day of the Pitra Paksha or the period when Hindus offer homage to their deceased ancestors. It is the day of remembrance for the deceased forefathers. The ritual of 'Tarpan' is performed on this auspicious day. People offer prayers and sweets to ancestors to seek their blessings.
Apart from the end of Pitra Paksha, the auspicious day of Mahalaya holds a special significance for the Bengalis. It is the beginning of Durga Puja festival which is the major festival of Bengal. Let us have a look as to why Mahalaya is celebrated with such vigour.
Myths Regarding Mahalaya
According to the Puranas, a king named Suratha started worshipping Goddess Durga during the spring time. But when Lord Rama went to Lanka in search of His wife, Sita, he worshipped the Goddess during autumn. Since the puja was performed untimely, it is known as the 'Akal Bodhon' or untimely worship.
According to the legends, Goddess Durga came to earth to destroy the demon Mahishasura. Since only a woman was capable of killing the demon king, Shakti or female power took the form of Goddess Durga to kill him. The Goddess was empowered with different weapons of the Gods and after a fierce battle, the Goddess killed the demon. Thus, She came to be known as 'Mahishasuramardini' or the slayer of Mahishasura.
This legend is recited on the day of Mahalaya early in the morning. Through the recitation of the verses and mantras, the Goddess is invoked. It is believed that She comes to the earth to destroy all evil. Mahalaya is the day to invoke and invite the Goddess to earth. She comes down from her abode along with her family to bless humans and other creatures on earth with her divine blessings.
Since the 1930s, Mahalaya has become synonymous with the All India Radio program 'Mahishasura Mardini'. It is a beautiful recitation of the scriptural verses of the 'Chandi Kavya' along with various devotional songs. The whole of Bengal, gets up in the pre dawn hours to listen to the tune of the Mahishasura Mardini broadcast.
Hence, Mahalaya holds a very special significance in Hinduism. It marks the Goddess' arrival on earth to destroy the evil.