Mahalaya amavasya, also known as Pitra (ancestral) Moksha (liberation), Amavasya or Pitru Amavasya is a Hindu tradition dedicated to the ‘pitrs,’ or the ancestors of our lineage observed on amavasya (new moon day), by Indians throughout the world.
In North India, Mahalaya Amavasya also known as the ‘fortnight of the ancestors,’ is the last day of the 15-day long Shraddha (mourning) rituals. This is considered to be the most auspicious as the shraddha ritual of any deceased person can be performed on this day, irrespective of the tithi (the time-duration between sun and moon). On this day, Mahalaya Amavasya tarpan (offering made to divine entities), and rituals are performed to invoke and to seek the blessings of the ancestors for a peaceful and prosperous life.
In Bengal however, ‘Mahalaya,’ marks the beginning of the grand Durga puja (prayer), celebrations – the biggest celebration in the whole of Bengal. This day symbolizes the descent of Goddess Durga on Earth, celebrated with the objective of giving honour and paying respects to the ancestors with immense devotion and fervour.
As a Bengali, I find that this is one of the most poignant celebrations that I look forward to every year and one that leaves me with a hankering, almost like an eternal hangover, intoxicated by Her, that Devi who leaves you spellbound by Her grace and Her love.
RITUALS OF MAHALAYA AMMAVASYA
– Tarpan and shraddha rituals are observed for those deceased family members who died on the ‘chaturdashi,’ (the 14th day of the waxing phase or waning phase of the moon. This is the day prior to new moon or full moon), ‘amavasya,’ (new moon), or ‘purnima,’ (full moon), tithi.
– Ancestors or ‘pitrs,’ are worshipped with dhoop, (incense), diya (ghee lamp), and flowers. A blend of water and barley is also offered to please the forefathers. A sacred thread is worn on the right shoulder and a splint is offered as donation. Special food is prepared for this event and offered to the Brahmins after finishing the puja rituals. Sesame seeds are also sprinkled at the floor where the Brahmins are seated.
– Mantras are recited to invoke the blessings of ancestors. On this day, people thank their ancestors who have contributed for their life. They also ask apology from their forefathers and pray that their souls rest in peace.
MAA DURGA – MAHISHA MARDINI
Mahalaya is a date on the Hindu lunar calendar that stands at the cusp of change—a period of shraadh (mourning rituals) or homage offerings to ancestors changes over to the worship of the Devi. One of the myths illustrate Mahalaya as the day that announces the much-awaited homecoming for Goddess Durga after She slayed buffalo demon Mahishasura. She is known as the Mahisha Mardini which simply means, The Slayer of the demon, Mahisha. Mahalaya comes proclaimed by organic cues like the blossoming of the white kash flowers (a grass native to Indian sub-continent), and the growing rays of the post-monsoon sun.
In Bengal, Maa Durga, the Mashisha Mardini, reigns over Her devotees with the promise that for as long as She presides within the chambers of our hearts, She, will devour our demons and the angsts of our existence and deliver us to the labyrinths of our souls in pure joy and sacred divinity. Her name Durga, means, the ‘unattainable,’ one, reminding us of the power of truth, of courage and of the universal fact that in the end, good will always triumph over evil.
Mahalaya marks the beginning of Devi Paksha (the auspicious period when Durga puja is celebrated), and the end of the Pitri Paksha, the latter of which, is a period of mourning. Hindus consider Pitri Paksha to be inauspicious, because shradhh (mourning rituals) or death rites are performed during this period – a 16-day lunar period during which people remember and pay homage to their ancestors using food and water offerings.
The representation of Mahalaya is both religious and socio-cultural and has over the years, entrenched itself into the life and culture of all things Bengali. From rituals to radio shows to the launching of festal menus at speciality Bengali eateries in Kolkata to the ultimate creative embellishments on community puja pandals, Mahalaya typically presages a period of festivities lasting for over a week.
The new norm has brought about a change in everything ever known to man. Before the pandemic, Mahalaya follows the Pitru Paksha and precedes Navami by a day and Durga Puja by 6 days with celebrations for the latter beginning on Shashti (the sixth day of a Paksha [lunar phase] or fourteen-day phase of the moon). This year however, there is a gap of more than a month between the two dates, as astrologers concur that this year commemorates the occurrence of a phenomenon known as the mala mash or an inauspicious month bookended by two amavasyas or 2 new moons.
What this means is that no pujas or festivities can happen in the interim and so, this year, Durga Puja 2020 falls on the 22nd October – the last recorded instance of such a Mahalaya was in 2001.
OFFERINGS TO THE DEVI
6.45pm – 10.45pm ( Malaysian Time)
– Abhishek or ritual bathing of Durga murthi (statue) with turmeric and sandalwood powders, milk, honey, ghee and rose petals. Start the ritual bathing with plain water and then add the other items into the water and cleanse the idol.
– The offering of 9 ghee lamps made from nav-dhan or 9 grains (or wheat flour), fashioned into lamps and offered as prasad (offerings) to Devi – asking for forgiveness and blessings for yourself and your family members.
– The offering of 9 bilva patra or bel leaf to the Goddess.
– 3 different types of fruits to be cut into cubes and offered as prasad.
– Chant the mantra Mahisha Mardini Strotam while performing the ritual.
– Aarti – the offering of light and hymns to Devi.
– Meditation – chant: 1008x Om Aim Hreem Kleem Chamundaye Vicche.
*Chant the Chandipath if you have been initiated into the path.
The Devi seeks nothing from you – rituals are the discipline or the sadhana that you need to hone and harness your fleeting mind to come to a state of stillness within. When you are not able to offer anything else to all that is divine, offer your Self and find the bliss in that offering.
May you be blessed and be open to receive all that is coming your way!
tvayā etad dhāryate viswam tvayā etat srjyate jagat,
tvayā etat pālyate devi tvam atsy ante ca sarvadā.
By YOU this Universe is borne, by YOU it is created, by YOU it lives and ends with YOU…
SUJATA NANDY WORLD GURUKUL