It was four in the morning when I was woken up with a phone call today. The screen said ‘Ma’, my mother.
“Shunchish toh?” (Are you listening?)
I tuned into All India Radio channel (Akashvani), and the familiar long-drawn sound of the sacred conch shell filled the apartment.
Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shakti rupena sansthita। Namastashyai Namastashyai Namastashyai namo namaha।।
Most Bengalis would know these lines by heart as they constitute our earliest recollections of Durga puja.
From bleary memories, these lines surface from the time of tape recorders and radios. Early morning would see most of us awake, strains of Mahisasura Mardini floating in from nearby apartments. So successful have been our mothers and grandmothers in inculcating this timeless tradition into our very Bengali souls, that even those staying away from their Kolkata hometown resort to searching out Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s rendering of Mahisasura Mardini on the internet and listening to it as the day’s wake-up call.
Earlier, the day called for night-long feasting ending with the pre-dawn radio programme. A lot of the excitement has dwindled over the ages, but hints of nostalgia continue to grip us.
Mahalaya marks the end of the Pitri Pakhha (a 15-day tradition in which people pay their offerings and respect for their ancestors in river banks, in a ritual called ‘tarpan’) and the beginning of the first day of the fortnight long Devi Paksha.
Traditionally, artisans designing the numerous Durga idols add the final touches to the Goddess on this day– her eyes. After her ‘Chakkhudaan’ (donation of the eyes), the devi is asked to awake: “Jaago! Tumi Jaago!” as goes one of the timeless pieces in the Mahisasura Mardini programme.
Bhadra’s reverberating chants serve to remind Bengalis world wide of their roots and no matter where they are located, Mahalaya brings into fore the excitement that pulses inside every Bengali before Durga Puja.
“Ma asche” (Mother is coming), everyone whispers excitedly, and starts the countdown to the major four days of festivity even though Durga Puja itself is broadly a 10-day festival.
Mahalaya was first broadcast in 1931 over the Akashvani (AIR) radio station. The enchanting hour-and-a-half audio programme is a spirited recitation of Vedic verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ interspersed with Bengali devotional songs and classical music. The MahisasuramardiniStrota was written by Guru Adi Sankaracharya.
Organised by Premankur Aatorthi, Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Nripendra Krishna Mukhopadhya and Raichand Boral, the program, tells the story of Devi Durga’s origin and descent on the earth and her eventual vanquishing of the demon king Mahisasura. It was broadcast live till 1958, after which, a pre-recorded version was played. The programme has also been translated into Hindi for the Indian Diaspora.
In 1976, Bengal superstar Uttam Kumar had once recited the Mahalaya under the music direction of Hemanta Kumar. However, it didn’t resonate with the masses the same way and Akashvani went back to Bhadra’s voice.
Bani Kumar wrote the script while the eternal Pankaj Kumar Mallik gave the music. Bengali music stalwarts such as Dijen Mukhopadhay, Sandhya Mukhopadhay, Arati Mukhopadhay and Shyamal Mitra have lent their melodious voices towards Mahisasura Mardini.
In recent times, Doordarshan along with several other TV channels broadcast a visual rendering of the Mahisashura Mardini myth, usually carried out through dance, drama and music.
The story of Mahisashura Mardini speaks of the tyranny of the demon king Mahisasura against the gods and men. Unable to take his atrocities, the gods prayed to Vishnu for salvation from this evil. The trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva) use their powers to create a powerful female form- Durga, or ‘Mahamaya’– the source of universal power.
They bestow her with their blessings and the gods give her the weapons she holds in her ten arms. She rides into battle on the back of a lion and vanquishes Mahisasura, earning the name ‘Mahisasuramardini’– the destroyer of Mahisasura.
Mahisaura Mardini is now available in CDs and for download online.
You can listen to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s version here.
Sindoor Khela: It is an age old ritual that on the last day of Durga puja “Vijayadashami”, women apply sindoor/sindur on the goddess’s feet or forehead and then start smearing it to all the married women around. However, unmarried women or widows are not allowed to celebrate Sindoor Khela.
Sindoor Khela celebrates the pride that Bengali wives take in having a husband and to wish a long happy life of her better half.
The customary “Sindoor Khela” marks the end of the biggest festival of the Bengalis. It is the time when all the actresses in Kolkata get together and splash each other with the vermilion.
History of Sindoor Khela:
Sindoor Khela dates back to around 400 years. It was the time when people had just started celebrating Durga Puja. According to a famous legend, every year Maa Durga during Durga Puja, comes back to her parents place (father Giriraj and mother Menoka). She also brings her daughters (Saraswati and Lakshmi), two sons (Ganesh and Kartik) and 2 companions (Bijoya and Jaya) along with her. Maa Durga stays along with her parents for only 4 days and on Vijayadashami, she has to return to Shiva (her husband) in the far Himalayas. Before bidding the final goodbye to the Goddess, women apply sindoor on Durga’s feet and forehead and then they play with vermilion or sindoor with each other. They also pray to the Goddess for their happy and long married lives.
On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent
Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.
Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.
Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!
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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.
As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.
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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.
The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.
Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.
Indian Television was not always dominated by saans-bahu serials which have the most popularity today. During a time when Doordarshan had the monopoly on Indian TV, several shows were aired which helped to educate the masses in some way or the other, bringing into the forefront Indian history and culture in a way that enriched minds and made us think.
1. MALGUDI DAYS
This age-old series based on R K Narayan’s works premiered on Doordarshan in 1986 and still boasts of a huge fan-following, even in the current generation.
Kannada actor and director Shankar Nag skillfully adapted to the small screen Narayan’s works from his books ‘A Horse and Two Goats,’ ‘Malgudi Days,’ ‘Swami and Friends’ and ‘The Vendor of Sweets.’
Set in a small South-Indian village in pre-independence India, the series portrays the typical Indian society in all its glory and shame. It shows the mundane listless facets of life and appeals to every common man in its simplicity. It is a down-to-earth rendering of life and childhood and uses little dramatization.
Carnatic musician L Vaidyanathan set the nostalgic score for the series, while Narayan’s brother, acclaimed Indian cartoonist R K Laxman, was the sketch artist. Most of the actors in the series hailed from the Kannada film industry.
The 39 episodes of Malgudi Days had reruns on Doordarshan, Sony Entertainment Television channel, and MAA Television in Telugu.
This brilliant satirical series written and directed by Jaspal Bhatti made him one of the lead names in the Indian comic scene when it was aired on Doordarshan in 1989.
The sitcom took up the socio-economic problems faced by the common man at a time when the public sector heavily regulated the state and license-raj was still going strong. The series used humor via skits to take potshots at various aspects of Indian politics and society—ranging from government clerks to telephone operators and traders.
Each of the 10 episodes started with a dedication to whoever is made fun of in that episode and went on to play the title sequence which surprisingly mocks the show itself. The show had the same cast playing different characters in each episode. Jaspal Bhatti played himself in the sitcom, while his wife, Savita Bhatti, who is also the producer of the show, played the role of his wife in each episode. Moreover, the end of every episode featured a satirical reworded version of a popular Hindi film song.
Taking into account the current socio-political scenario of the country, the show still has reruns on various Doordarshan channels.
3. BHARAT EK KHOJ
Jawaharlal Nehru’s celebrated book, ‘The Discovery of India’ was taken up by Shyam Benegal in 1988 to create this series, which explores the dramatic 5000 year Indian history till the 1947 independence.
The series, which aired on Doordarshan, uses both drama and documentary techniques to explore the political, historical, and cultural scenarios in India’s history. It tracks the significant landmarks in the steady evolution of the great Indian civilization comprising multiple cultures, religions and ethnic communities.
Roshan Seth, playing the role of Nehru, anchors the episodes, while the narration is done by Om Puri.
This political documentary series is a real life ‘Game of Thrones’ and is a must-watch for every Indian interested in understanding the political history of the nation that we see today. The show, which premiered on Hindi news channel ABP News in July 2013, presents the changes that took place in the post-independence India during the tenures of the 13 prime ministers till date.
With the thought provoking anchoring by Shekhar Kapoor and Puneet Sharma’s direction, the series uses re-enactments of news pieces from the past, interviews with important personalities, and original addresses to bring forth the history of Indian politics in a spectacular manner. Every episode focuses on a particular political vista and extensively gathers the “story of today’s India” from 1947 to the present day in 26 episodes.
The series has been adapted in Bengali and Marathi and are hosted by Bengali actor Dhritiman Chatterjee and by Marathi actor Vikram Gokhale on the respective channels.
It has garnered praise from the likes of senior BJP leader L K Advani, retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Kiran Bedi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s son Sunil Shashtri.
5. PARAM VIR CHAKRA
This series, based on the real life winners of Param Vir Chakra, the highest military honour in the country for Defence forces, received great critical acclaim when it was first aired on Doordarashan in 1988.
Chetan Anand, who had previously made war films such as Haqeeqat (1964) and Hindustan Ki Kasam (1973) directed this documentary drama series, which brilliantly portrays the gallant individuals standing in the country’s defense.
The first episode shows Major Som Nath Sharma of Kumaon Regiment, the first recipient of the Param Vir Chakra. Naseeruddin Shah acts in the tenth episode as Abdul Hamid, who destroyed eight Pakistani tanks before laying down his life. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
This partition era drama series first aired on DD National 27 years ago in 1986. The show tells the story of family torn apart by the partition of India and the ensuing trauma and struggles they have to go through.
The show directed by Ramesh Sippy and Jyoti still finds relevance in the Indian audience and has been re-aired a number of times. It introduced famed TV actors such as Alok Nath in the role of Master Haveli Ram and Kanwaljeet Singh as his son, Satbir.
This Hindi TV serial, directed by Kundan Shah and Saeed Akhtar Mirza, aired on the DD National channel in 1986 to garner a tremendous audience response, turning the characters of the beggar, the drunkard, the tea shop owner, and the street thug into household names.
The series was based on the troubles and issues faced by city-dwelling lower income zone people making a living in a harsh economic climate. It featured a group of people hanging out at the local street corner or ‘nukkad,’ where they shared their joys and sorrows with each other.
With a brilliant mix of satire, humour, and drama, each episode dealt with a particular problem faced by a couple of specific characters and ended with either a positive and hopeful resolution, or a rather realistic but saddening conclusion. This simple and realistic treatment made the show one of the top three TV serials on Doordarshan along with Buniyaad and Hum Log.
Producers re launched the Nukkad brand in 1993 as ‘Naya Nukkad’, adding new actors to the original cast. But it wasn’t as successful as the original show.
This show featuring different facets of Indian culture was hosted by Siddharth Kak and Renuka Shahane and ran from 1993 to 2001, thus holding the post for the longest running cultural series in India.
Initially aired on Doordarshan, the show later moved to Sunday morning slots on Star Plus. The series was earlier named Amul Surabhi as the Amul company sponsored it for quite some time.
The show is widely credited to have brought into attention folk dances, tribal traditions, temple sculptures, and even the manner of construction of mosques and churches. It was also dubbed in other Indian languages like Tamil, and went on to garner a good response from non-Hindi speaking Indian states as well.
Viewer participation was one of the major ingredients that went into making the show this popular. The weekly quiz asked for viewer responses and at a time when the internet or mobile phones weren’t prevalent, the people resorted to using 15 paisa postcards of the Indian Post. One such question received over 1.4 million letters in a single week, thus securing the show a place in the Limca Book of Records for the largest measured audience response in the history of Indian Television. This also made the Indian postal department come up with ‘Competition Postcards’ priced at Rs 2 for participating in such contests.
The beautiful title track of the show was composed by famed Indian composer and classical violinist Dr L Subramaniam. Siddharth Kak later went on to establish the Surabhi Foundation and started a cultural artifacts preservation project.
9. ZABAAN SAMBHALKE
Directed by Rajiv Mehra, this Hindi sitcom is the Indian version of the 1977 British sitcom Mind Your Language and first aired in 1993 on the DD Metro Channel.
The series featured actor Pankaj Kapoor as an engineer who is forced to teach Hindi in a language school attended by people from various culture backgrounds hailing from different parts of the country and the world. The show explored culture shock situations, job dissatisfaction and how so much is lost in translation.
Other than Kapoor, the show also featured Viju Khote, Shubha Khote, and Tom Alter. Reruns of the show were aired on SAB TV and later on Bindass channel.
10. TARAK MEHTA KA ULTA CHASHMA
This series, which went on air on SAB TV in 2008, is relatively much newer than the rest in the list.
The show is based on journalist Taarak Mehta’s column ‘Duniya Ne Oondha Chashma’ for the Gujarati weekly magazine Chitralekha.
The series depicts the daily occurrences in the Gokuldham Co-Operative Housing Society in Mumbai, where the residents of different cultures and religions refer to their society as “Mini-India” and spread the message of unity by worshiping every God and celebrating each festival with the same enthusiasm.
Various socially relevant issues are taken up in each episode and dealt with in a humorous manner.