Debi Pokkho is ushered in by Mahalaya and Bengalis in Kolkata, India and the world over try to tune in to the live audiocast / telecast or the recording of the Birendra Krishna Bhadra version of Chandi Path and the narration of the story of Durga slaying Asura.
Over 4 decades ago, Bani Kumar the producer of the B.K. Bhadra version attempted to make this much more contemporary and roped in some of the biggest names from the world of Bengali cinema & music to do a newer version. A good part of the narration was done by the superstar Uttam Kumar and the music direction was by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay.
Uttam Kumar together with the musical stars of that era like Shyamal Mitra, Manabendra Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee , Arati Mukherjee etc, did this version. Personally I think the Uttam Kumar version was far less stylised and didn’t have the high-jatra overtones of the B.K. Bhadra version. Uttam Kumar of course agreed with the popular opinion that the B.K. Bhadra version was possibly far more suitable for a religious occasion like Mahalaya rather than his underplayed, matter-of-fact style and apparently also suggested that it be reinstated if that’s what most people wanted.
Bani Kumar was the producer for this one also. AIR played this for many years on ‘Shashthi Day’ morning after restoring the B.K. Bhadra version on Mahalaya as per popular demand.
If you are a die hard Bengali it means a lot today. It happens to be the auspicious occasion today being Mahalaya. It is celebrated the world over today as the day when Maa Durga is invited back to her mothers house with vedic chanting and devotional songs. It is the starting point of a week long celebrations in the City of Joy-Kolkata. Traditionally celebrated as the victory of good over evil, this festival is the culmination of the victory of Maa Durga over the demonic asura Mahishasura.
My childhood was spent in Kolkata and I thought I will bring back to life my memories of this day. Its that time of the year in Kolkata when the monsoon is just about receding, there is a subtle chilliness in the air. There is that layer of mist that would envelop the city and bring about that festive atmosphere the city so loves to immerse itself in. I recall that this was the day when my examinations would get over and I would await the celebrations to begin.
Coming back to Mahalaya, my mother would await this day with much expectation and bated breath much like any Bengali would. The Transistor was the most prized possession in those days. My dad would ensure that the Radio was in perfect working condition, batteries replaced, all set and tuned to Akashwani. For me as a child it meant joy and happiness all round. Come Mahalaya and the radio would chug back to life at 4 am in the morning through the inimitable voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Essentially the story of Maa Durga retold through voice and devotional chanting. The entire atmosphere is surcharged with an unbelievable level of vibrations. Its as early as four and then you have this golden voice offering salutations to the Divine Mother. There is not as much as a crow on the roads, not a single soul, yet the City of Joy springs to life through the Divine renditions . It remains a brilliant composition to this day in every Bengalis heart.
Even as the chanting is on, people throng to the river Hooghly to take a dip and offer their obeisance. Its that point when dawn gives way to day, there is just silence and Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Absolutely nothing else. To begin with the devotional offering begins on a slow pace and as the story moves forward, the pace and crescendo reaches a new high. You can feel the devotion in his voice as he implores Maa Durga to accept the invitation. There is this light tremble as he chokes up with devotion. If you are a regular listener every year then these are moments of ecstasy and devotion. It is a once in a lifetime experience every year.
You can see Kolkata transform from this day onwards as there is a feverish pace to get the city all decked up. Pandals start getting the act together in eager anticipation of welcoming Maa Durga. For Kids its all fun and gaiety. For the Elders, Family and Friends its a time to come together once again. For me as a child I have experienced this day, cupping my tiny fingers into my own mothers as together we would experience the rich Bengal Heritage and culture. That nip in the air, the foggy atmosphere, a few in between showers, the lip tingling food, the crowds, entire humanity gathered together in celebration irrespective of religion, the buildings all decked up with colourful lights all in anticipation. Welcome Back Home Mother.