Today is Mahalaya. Mahalaya marks the end of the Pitra Paksha, which in Hinduism signifies the waning phase of the moon in a particular month of the Hindu calendar (the Bhadrapada month), which is considered the right time to perform rites for the departed ancestors, and marks the advent of Devi Paksha, which is the waxing phase of the Ashwin month in the Hindu calendar. The Hindu calendar being a lunar calendar, the months are aligned to the waxing and waning phases of the moon, with special significance to the new moon and full moon nights. Theres some nice information about this here.
Having defined the significance of Mahalaya in such complex terms, let me also say that Mahalaya signifies, to a lot of people the arrival of the Navratras, the 9 nights of special religious significance. This period is celebrated in most parts of India, and is dedicated to the Mother Goddess. There is multifarious significance to this part of the year as well. In Gujarat, this is celebrated with the Dandiya, a celebration of the Mother Goddess, while in Bengal it is celebrated as the Durga Puja.
According to mythology, the Mother Durga is worshipped during the month of Baisakh, sometime in the spring. However, at this time of year, as Lord Rama was preparing to go to Lanka to rescue Sita, he worshipped the Mother Durga by offering Her 100 blue lotuses. He could find only 99, so he decided to offer his eye, which were like blue lotuses, to the Mother, for Her blessings in the coming war. At this, Mother Durga came to Him to bless Him. Since this is, in this way, an untimely worship, this is also called “Okaal Bodhun” among Bengalis. In the war that ensued, Lord Rama’s army defeated the army of Lanka, and Ravana was slain, which is celebrated as the festival of Dussehra. In this way, the celebration of Durga Puja and Dussehra are closely interlinked.
Durga Puja has another significance to it. Mother Durga is also called Mahishasur Mardini, the slayer of the demon Mahishasur. Mahishasur could only be killed by a woman, and so, the Shakti (power) of all Gods took the feminine form of Goddess Durga, and she fought and slew the demon Mahishasur Mardini.
This is also the time when the Mother Durga comes to Her parents’ house with Her children. This is why, during Durga Puja, there are idols of the Mother, and Her children, Ganesh, Kartikeya, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Her husband, the Lord Shiva, stays back, though.
For anyone connected to Bengal, Mahalaya is the beginning of the festivities of Durga Puja, of shopping, and of eating, and lots of eating.
And for those getting a bit nostalgic, heres what you could listen to.
And once again, wishing you Shubho Mahalaya!