What is Mahalaya?
Mahalaya falls on the seventh day before Durga Puja. It sets the atmosphere ready for the advent of Mother Durga.
The festive fever catches one from the Mahalaya and preparations for the Durga Puja commences. Mahalaya is also considered the day to invoke Mother Durga's promising presence for the Durga Puja.
Mantras are chanted and bhajans are sung to invoke the grace of Jagan Mayi, Goddess Durga.
On Mahalaya Amavasya, people engage in rituals for their dead ancestors.
The Emergence Of Mother Durga
Goddess Durga is worshipped as Mahishasura Mardini for vanquishing the tyranny of the demon King Mahishasura. Mahisha was born of an asura called Rambha and a she buffalo. Rambha being the son of Danu and brother of Karambha performed severe austerities with his sibling. While he performed penance in the middle of raging flames, Karambha engaged in tapas in neck deep water.
Indra, disturbed by the severe austerities of the brothers, assumed the form of a crocodile and killed Karambha. This added on to the intensity of austerities of Rambha. He acquired several special powers as a result. One day as he roamed about in the garden of Yaksha, he got attracted by a she buffalo and copulated with her assuming a form of a buffalo. However his disguise was figured out by another male buffalo which killed Rambha in a tough fight, who had not sought the boon not to be slayed by an animal . The she buffalo out of remorse joined Rambha in his funeral pyre out of which a fierce demon emerged with a buffalo head and a human body to wreak havoc in all the three worlds.
The devas or the gods unable to bear the tyranny of Mahishasura approached Lord Vishnu and Shiva headed by Lord Brahma. From the flames that poured out from the eyes of the Trimurtis, a mountain was formed out of which Mother Durga took shape with unimaginable wrath. The gods awe inspired by the glorious form of the Mother presented her with their weapons to slay Mahishasura. Shiva gave Her a trident, Vishnu a discus, Varuna-the conch, Agni-the spear, Yama-the cudgel, Vayu-the bow, Surya-the arrows, Indra-the Vajra, Kubera-the mace, Brahma-the water pot, Kala-the sword and Vishwakarma-the axe. King Himavan gave her a mountain lion as Her vehicle to march forth to slay Mahishasura.
Mahishasura at the sight of Durga was attracted by Her brilliance and expressed his desire to marry Her. The Goddess on the other hand proposed a bid that She would marry Him if She loses in the battle with Him. A fierce battle ensued with Durga fighting the ego smitten Mahishasura blinded by lust for nine days. Ultimately, Durga assumed the fierce form of Chandika and pressed the asura down with Her feet. She sunk Her trident into his neck and beheaded him with Her sword. She henceforth came to be hailed as Mahishasura Mardhini.
The story of Mother Durga is retold during Mahalaya and Mahishasura Mardhini stothra is recited with devotional fervor by devotees. It symbolises the preparation of the individual during the days after Mahalaya for the final assault of one's ego (Mahishasura) by the Supreme Self (Mother Durga)
Hence with the Grace of the Mother Durga (Mahishasura Mardini) let us get prepared to receive Her Grace in bounty, worshipping Her on Durga Puja.