Mail News Service
Jamshedpur, Sept 15: The Kash flowers have started swaying in the morning breeze, Sheulis are dotting trees to signify the special flavor of the season. The world awaits the Divine Mother’s annual arrival amidst Her mortal children to bring that glow of joy which otherwise remains obliterated through torrid times of daily living.
The Durga Puja spirit is revved with the 4 am radio broadcast of Mahishasur Mardini or Mahalaya in common parlance. ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu…’ recites the crisp, incomparable voiced Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose legendary rendition of the shlokas has withstood the tests of changing times. Add to that Pankaj Kumar Mallick’s music rendered by immortals like Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Manabendra Mukherjee, Sandhya Mukherjee, Arati Mukherjee and other inimitable vocalists and the thumping story of rejoicing in preparation of Ma Durga’s arrival gets a head start.
The radios were the only source of infotainment those days. Be it news or musical programmes or speeches and cricket commentary, one resorted to the radio. Women had their special, ‘Mohila Mahal’ programme while musical broadcasts attracted all generations. Later, the transistor sets gradually came into vogue but whatever be one’s listening mode, the All India Radio or Akashvani served the needs of all preferences. Mahishasur Mardini was one annual rendezvous which Bengalis and later people of other regions did not miss out on even for that enticing sleep of predawn.
The women of the household woke up much earlier and the clatter and clangs in the kitchen was enough to wake up even the deepest sleepers. Hot, piping tea and biscuits were grabbed from under light covers as at that time, the environment was immaculately clean, there were more trees and there was pleasant touch of cool in the air. The Calcutta station of AIR had been set the previous night and at the stroke of 4 am, the station came to life and the entire family was awake and all ears as the prelude music of Mahishasur Mardini, produced and directed by Bani Kumar started the initial flow of festive adrenalin.
Ratikanta Mitra of Bhalubasa recounted, “With the conclusion of Mahishasur Mardini, the festive fever gripped us children. We started preparing lists of new clothes, new shoes, the women made out charts of culinary delights to be prepared over the four-five days. The father was in a more patronizing mood and kept aside a budget for puja expenses by depriving himself and perhaps the family of additional expenses and saving up for the big time. In those times, wants were few and choices less challenging.”
Today there are multiple choices for one demand, the money flow has trickled down and the prices have soared. Yet, it is puja time and all wants cannot be stifled. Asutosh Mishra of South Park in Bistupur took a look back and observed, “There were just a few puja pandals one could go to. They were Farm Area, Contractors’ Area, Ramkrishna Mission and Ghasi Club that held attractions. May be a few others that evade my memory. We children used to get Rs 2 to spend and that was a mighty sum. Some from richer backgrounds used to get, may be, Rs 5. We used to walk around town, enjoying rides, eating chops and pakoras and buying toys. We could not be lost because the elders knew one another well and were aware which child belonged to whose home. We enjoyed the freedom we were spared to us by our elders but never misused it.”
Jatras were one of the biggest attractions of the period. They used to be performed by big, professional teams form Calcutta (Kolkata) on a raised platform surrounded by house full audience. Historical plays were the in things. Khokada of Sakchi recollects, “We used to go with our mothers. The Jatra performances used to commence at around 11 pm and continue beyond dawn. There was no gimmickry of light and sound. They used to be performed from the centre of the pandal and the voices of the actors and singers as also the music could be heard through to the last person. At puja venues, Jatra performances used to be organized over four nights beginning shasthi day. The warmth inside the crowded pandals was soothing against the cool of early morning.”
Stalwarts like Panchu Sen, Chhoto and Bado Phoni, Makhan Dastidar, Ketaki Dutta and later Swapan Kumar were huge attractions for the sheer brilliance of their performances. Later, much later, even film stars seeing the popularity of Jatras joined the band. Even Bollywood badman Shakti Kapoor had a stint in this genre of performance but that was much later when the grammar of jatra performances started to merge with the theatre format. But, in the process, the romance of jatra was lost.
There are scores of old timers who rejoice at the very mention of Mahalaya. They invariably take a sojourn down fond memory lane and cherish those moments never perhaps to be lived again. But the spirit of it all can never be beaten down no matter how much water flows down the bridge of time. Birendra Krishna Bhadra and Mahishasur Mardini will live down through generations as youth become old and relieve this mystic, romantic rendezvous of, ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu…’