By Abhijit Roy
In the chilly pre-dawn hour of the auspicious Amavasya (a new moon day of Ashwin Krishnapakshya – sixth month according to the Hindu calendar), when most of the Hindu-followers prepares to take holy dip in the river Ganges or other water bodies in their locality, followed by a rituals of Pitru-Tarpan to appease the departed soul of their ancestors’; the sound of a most popular radio programme Mahishasur Mardini comes from the nearby houses of the Bengali community of the locality.
An 85 years old radio programme broadcast on Kolkata station of All India Radio is an audio montage of Chandipath recitation from the scriptural verses of Sri Sri Chandi or Durga Shaptasati Bengali devotional songs, classical music and a dash of acoustic melodrama.
Later the programme has been translated into other Indian vernacular set to similar orchestration and is broadcast at the same time for a pan-Indian audience. This programme is aired every year at day-break on Mahalaya.
The idea behind the concept of the programme was first conceived by Mr. Premankur Aatorthi, the then station director of All India Radio, Kolkata. Later Mr. Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Mr. Nripendra Krishna Mukhopadhyay and Mr. Raichand Boral, a popular music director of his era joined into the foray.
Since the idea demands an exhaustive research work on Hindu mythology, hence Mr. Baidhyanath Bhattacharjee, a professor of Sanskrit in the prestigious Sanskrit College of Kolkata was engaged to write a script. A part-time play artist and script writer in the All India Radio, Mr. Bhattacharjee under his pen name Bani Kumar prepared the script based on Mundak Upanishad.
The responsibility of music direction was given to Mr. Pankaj Kumar Mallick, who was by-then a star composer of New Theatre studio.
The programme that kicked off as a live-performance in 1932, has been broadcast in its pre-recorded format since the late nineteen-sixties. However, its great popularity remains undiminished even today. This programme has become synonymous with Mahalaya.
It is celebrated to usher the Debipaksha lunar fortnight and the Durga Puja. To this day, most of Bengal wakes up in the chilly pre-dawn hours, 4 am to be precise, on the Mahalaya day to tune into the “Mahisasura Mardini” broadcast. The programme is also been remembered for Mr. Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s magical rendition.
The legendary narrator recites the holy verses and tells the story of the descent of Durga to earth. It was on the day of Mahalaya, the beginning of “devipaksha” that the Gods and Goddesses woke up to prepare themselves for Durga Puja.
Though Bhadra died long ago, but his recorded voice still forms the core of the Mahalaya program. In a sonorous, reverberating voice Birendra Bhadra renders the Mahalaya recital for two thrilling hours, mesmerizing every household with the divine aura of his narration, as the Bengalis submerge their souls in quiet moments of prayer.
As the recital begins, the serene morning air resonates with the long drawn sound of the sacred conch shell, followed by a chorus of invocation, melodiously setting the stage for the recitation of the Chandipath.
The success of the programme can be gauged from the incident taken place in 1976 when the authority of Akashvani Kolkata employed the reigning superstar of Bengali cinema Uttam Kumar to voice the script of Deving Durgatiharinim written by Dr. Govind Gopal Mukhopadhyay the then Head of the department of Sanskrit in Vardhaman University of West Bengal.
The authority also signed Hemant Kumar Mukherjee as its music director. But the show did not get favourable response from the audience. Later on public demand, it was shifted back to the original version.