Having been born to Bengali parents, I was lucky to have been told a nice story every year, on 'Mahalaya' (today) as it is known as in Bengal. Mahalaya, is the story of the creation and empowerment of Goddess Durga and the day ushers in the mood of Durga Puja.
For my parents'generation, Mahalaya meant waking up in the pre-dawn hours (4 am, to be precise) and tuning in to the radio to listen to a remarkable recitation from the scriptures called 'Mahisasura mardini' (meaning destruction of the demon). The broadcast itself, I am told, used to submerge them into divinity as well as festivity. As I grew up, the same was taken over by television, where I could also visualise the characters of the story. Non-resident Bengalis could also catch up on the telecast in an evening show later. It's a no-brainer that today Youtube, which has it all.
Irrespective of the mode, the story clearly stays with you even if you had a chance to hear it a couple of times in your childhood. For me, that's the only story I call my own, as far as my understanding of the God/Goddess is considered.
Here are few facts from the story which you could tell your child:
1. Mahalaya invokes Goddess Durga. The story goes like this – Mahisasura (the demon, was the son of a buffalo and a beautiful lady) had powers (as an outcome of some meditation) such that he could not be killed in air, water or, on land by any man. Arrogance got to him and he began to pose a threat for the gods in heaven.
2. Unable to tolerate his tyranny, the gods plead with Vishnu to annihilate the demon. The Trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (one who maintains) and Maheswara (one who destroys) then come together to create a powerful female form with ten arms - Goddess Durga or 'Mahamaya', the Mother of the Universe who embodies the primeval source of all power.
3. The gods then bestow upon this Supreme creation their individual blessings and weapons. Armed like a warrior, the goddess rides a lion to battle with the Mahisasura. After a fierce combat, the 'Durgatinashini' is able to slay the 'Asura' king with her trident, laying his neck on her leg. Heaven and earth rejoice her victory.
The air turns mystic as they chant - 'Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shakti rupen sanksthita Namasteshwai Namasteshwai Namasteshwai namo namaha.'
What I learnt from this story -
1. Courage and strength is not synonymous to men. If a woman is righteous, she can gather all her might to end the unfair and evil.
2. When Mahisasura was confronted with Durga, he was scornful of the idea that a woman is placed against him. Clearly says that we must never underestimate our opponents in arrogance or over-confidence.
3. The characters of gods, goddesses and demon are an image of human society, and is only a matter of understanding how faith is placed in them. Belief is a personal decision.
Do watch a rendition of Mahalaya this year, with your kids, if you get a chance! Believe me, it resonates in your ears for a fairly long time.
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