Mahalaya Birendra Krishna Bhadra: Durga Puja is approaching; Here’s why an Age-old Tradition Still Inspires Optimism

Mahalaya Birendra Krishna Bhadra: For festival-loving Bengalis, Durga Puja is almost here, with the land waking up as usual in the dawn of Mahalaya to an age-old tradition – tuned in to the enchanting melody of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice on ‘Mahishasura Mardini,’ a set of Sanskrit recitations on India’s oldest radio show, aired for the first time in the 1930s by the All India Radio Calcutta (now Kolkata).

According to Hindu scriptures, the ‘Pitru Paksha,’ or the 16-day lunar day period when Hindus pay respect to their ancestors (Pitrs), ends on Mahalaya, ushering in the ‘Devi Paksha,’ or “the era of the goddess,” which is heralded by the entry of Goddess Durga and the Durga Puja holiday.

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For millions of Bengalis in India, Bangladesh, and beyond, the advent of Mahalaya has unique meaning. Every year, at 4 a.m., households tune in to their FM radios to hear the Mahishasura Mardini programme, which is carried by the All India Radio (AIR). Despite the fact that the radio has been supplanted by more modern, easily accessible alternatives, the age-old tradition lives on in numerous houses, with its strange blend of nostalgia and hope, as if defying the passage of time. – Mahalaya Birendra Krishna Bhadra

Birendra Krishna Bhadra, the late Kolkata radio broadcaster, playwright, actor, narrator, and theatre actor, is unquestionably the show’s star. His legacy, the Sanskrit ‘Chandi Path’ recital, has been described as “bewitching,” and for many Bengalis, Mahalaya would be incomplete without it. They eagerly await the start of the enthralling chant at the start of the day, as well as the coming of Durga Puja.

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The two-hour programme, Mahishashura Mardini, depicts goddess Durga’s epic battle with the demon king Mahishashura; the show’s narrative was written by Bani Kumar, while the music was directed by Pankaj Kumar Mallik. When Uttam Kumar, the late Bengali actor, was hired to recite the programme in 1976, the rendition recorded by Birendra Krishna Bhadra became so popular that even Uttam Kumar, the late Bengali actor of fame, did not receive a favourable welcome. It was then reverted to Bhadra’s original form of the recitations, and on Mahalaya Day in 2006, his daughter Sujata Bhadra received accreditations from Saregama India Ltd in acknowledgement of the work’s heritage and royalty. – Mahalaya Birendra Krishna Bhadra

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