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Mahishasurmardini: Six lesser-known facts of Mahalaya

Soumik Sen’s 2019 film Mahalaya captures the socio-cultural implications of replacing Birendrakrishna Bhadra’s Mahishasurmardini with Uttam Kumar’s Durga Durgatiharini by All India Radio

Mahishasurmardini: Six lesser-known facts of Mahalaya
Subhashish Mukhopadhyay and Jisshu U Sengupta in Mahalaya
  • Shamayita Chakraborty

Last Updated: 02.51 PM, Sep 25, 2022


Durga Puja is upon us. With Mahalaya tarpan on September 25 and the end of Pitripaksha, Devipaksha has begun. UNESCO inscribed Durga Puja in Kolkata on the list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The beginning of the festival practically starts on Mahalaya, when All India Radio broadcasts Mahishasurmardini on the radio early in the morning.

Mahishasurmardini – a collage and collection of Chandipath, songs, and recitation to welcome Goddess Durga – is a widely popular radio programme that has been broadcasting since 1931. Penned and directed by Bani Kumar. The music was composed by Pankaj Mallick and the Chandipath was famously rendered by Birendra Krishna Bhadra. In 1976, in an effort to revamp the old programme, All India Radio replaced Mahishasurmardini with Durga Durgatiharinim. It was composed by Hemanta Mukhopadhyay with Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Manna Dey, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay, and several others lending their voice to it. Essentially, Birendrakrishna Bhadra’s recitation was replaced by legendary actor Uttam Kumar’s voice. However, the musical was a huge flop and All India Radio faced backlash from the audience, so much so that it broadcasted Mahishasurmardini on Shashthi – the day of Akal Bodhon and the beginning of Puja.

Soumik Sen’s 2019 film Mahalaya captures the socio-cultural implication of this replacement with Jisshu U Sengupta playing the character of Uttam Kumar and Subhashish Mukherjee playing Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The film is available to watch on Zee5.

Here are some lesser-known facts on Mahalaya and Mahishasurmardini:

Mahishasurmardini has become synonymous with Mahalaya: While Mahalaya marks the beginning of Devi Paksha and the end of Pitripaksha, Mahishasurmardini is a musical collage with songs, Chandi Path, and recitation. Because of the huge popularity of the musical performance, a cultural piece became synonymous with Mahalaya – a day from the Bengali calendar. It was penned and choreographed by Banu Kumar with Pankaj Mallick as the music composer.

Mahishasurmardini used to be a live show for three decades: Ever since its inception, the one-hour-30-minute-long show used to be a live performance of musicians and orators. Loosely based on the same script and additions and improvisations, the artists used to rehearse the music, songs, and reading pieces for a complete month before performing live on the day of Mahalaya. This practice went on till 1962. Soon after the Puja, the Indo-China war started ever since, and the programme used to be recorded beforehand. Since it was a live performance, each of those more than 30 shows is unique. Interestingly, this year AIR broadcasted a version from 1962.

No live show in 1946: In these more than three decades of Mahishasurmnardini, there was one exception. In 1946, there The Calcutta Riots took place. As a result, artistes recorded the show beforehand so that they could avoid

Mahishasurmardini was played on Shashthi for the first two years: After its inception in 1931, AIR used to broadcast Mahishasurmardini on Shashthi instead of Mahalaya for a couple of years before it made its permanent position on Mahalaya. In fact, in 1976 after the Durga Durgatiharini fiasco, Mahishasurmardini was broadcasted on Shashthi.

Durga Durgatiharinim is still aired on Shashthi: Despite the backlash, AIR curated Durga Durgatiharini and it is aired on Shashthi every year at 5 am. Many cultural commentators said that the musical show is of very good quality. It was only because it went against people’s sentiment that the show had to face the backlash.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra bade adieu to Akashbani Bhavan after the 1976 broadcast. While Bani Kumar, Pankaj Mallik, and Birendra Krishna Bhadra, along with others, earlier suggested revamping Mahishasurmardini, the Durga Durgatiharinim was conceptualised, created, and aired without any consultation with the trio. A hurt Birendra Krishna Bhadra did not return to Akashbani Bhavan after that.