Mahalaya and Durga Puja - Tarpanam and Significance

Mahalaya is a religious ritual performed by the Bengalis on the day of Amavasya. It consists of prayers to invoke the spirits of the ancestors. In Celtic times the year began at Samhain, which was a festival of the dead. They believe deceased relatives, and ancestors came down on earth after the end of summer. Samhain begins the dark half of the year. The Samhain night was a kind of timeless time between the worlds.

The Samhain Feast was also dedicated to the Raven Goddess Morrigan. In Samhain, the division between the worlds became very thin. The past and present united, and the spirits of the ancestors awakened.

The rituals start early. The festivities begin with the people remembering their ancestors through tarpon. At Mahalaya one can observe the large Durga statues in Kumartuli in Kolkata. On this day, sculptors draw the eyes on the figures, in an important ritual called Chokkhu Daan. Some also take a dip in the river Ganges. Devotees buy clothes and sweets to offer their ancestors.




After the tarpon ceremony, people gather to eat in the same place. So, food vendors are also part of this event. The banks of the river Ganga become a sea of people. Charity in the form of food is very important during this ceremony.

This event starts early in the morning. It is the prelude to Sharadiya Durgotsab. It is the most important religious festival of the Bengali community. Sacred hymns and mantras broadcast on the radio across the country are common on the day of Mahalaya. In each household, a recording recites the immortal verses of Chandi Path. It narrates the reincarnation of Durga. From midnight several hymns of Mahishasura Mardini by Birendra Krishna Bhadra is broadcast. It initiates the beginning of Durga Puja. It is only from the day of Mahalaya that preparations for the Durga Puja reach the final stage.

Legend behind the origin of Durga


Mahishasura was a powerful Asura King and warrior of Vedic times. He came into conflict with the Deva Kings. Mahishasura waged war with the Deva warriors. Durga took his life at the end.

Legend has it that Rambha fell in love with Princess Shyamala. After the birth of their offspring, they named him Mahishasura, who was a pious boy. The deva kings and asura kings were often at war and in one of the battles, Rambha gets killed by Indra. Mahishasura grew older and became aware of the fate his parents. He prepared an invincible army and went on to become one of the most dreaded Asura rulers of his times.

He defeated the most powerful Deva King Indra, along with other Deva Kings. Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma gathered to decide how to defeat this invincible Asura. They approached Durga, a young woman of great beauty to take revenge. The description of the struggle between Mahishasura and Durga is in many Vedic texts. Durga got equipped with the main weapons of the Devas.

When Mahishasura learned it he immediately dispatched his army. Thereafter there was a duel between Durga and Mahishasur. Deva Sena fought with the army of Mahishasura for nine days.

On the tenth day, Durga herself headed straight for Mahisasura. It was an intense battle between Mahishasura and Durga, with no side bowing down. Durga, then drank a potion to boost her power and dashed towards Mahisasura. She skewers him with the spear and finally cut off his head with the sword.

It was the day of the waxing moon and after that Durga got known as Mahishasura Mardini. Durga Puja is among Bengalis across the world, especially in Bengal. Dussehra and Navaratri take place in other parts of India.

After the war, Durga taught the Deva Sena the knowledge of jewelry to earn for their livelihood. The name of the southern Indian city of Mysore in Karnataka was from Mahishasura. A modern statue of Mahishasura stands in the Chamundi Hill.