By S. Sankaranarayanan
‘Mahishasuramardini’, an audio montage, is a landmark musical feature broadcast on the Kolkata station of All India Radio on Mahalaya morning exactly at 4 am, every year. Mahalaya falls on the new moon day before the commencement of the Dusserah celebrations.
Pankaj Mullick composed the enchanting music for this unique musical feature. It was scripted by Bani Kumar and the narration was by poet Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). It comprises recitation of sacred verses and rendition of Bengali devotional and classical songs. In the past, noted musicians like Hemant Kumar and Arti Mukherjee rendered the songs.
‘Mahishasuramardini’ begins with the sound of the sacred conch followed by an invocation rendered in chorus. In this melodious setting, Birendra Bhadra recites verses from ‘Devi Mahatmya’ also known as Chandipaath in Bengal -- telling the story of the descent of Mother Durga to the earth. As the programme proceeds, Pankaj Mullick joins Bhadra and both of them together recite the hymns. Various singers then render devotional songs.
‘Mahishasuramardini’ was first broadcast in 1931. The maiden broadcast was not on Mahaalaya morning though, as it is now, but on Maha Shashti – the sixth day of Dusserah. As pre-recording had not come into vogue, it had to be broadcast live. As a result, the artists had to assemble in the studio in the wee hours of the morning at 2 am -- two hours before the commencement of the programme at 4 am. All the participants would be ready for the recording after a bath and offering pooja.
Listening to ‘Mahishasuramardini’ on the morning of Mahalaya has become an integral part of Durga Pooja festivities in Bengal and elsewhere. It continues to enthrall listeners even today.