Mahalaya is never complete without Birendra Krishna Bhadra's Mahishashura-Mardini. Here are some insights into the history of the show & a link for you to listen to while waiting for the actual radio broadcast.

Mahalaya, signifies the end of Pitri Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha. This is the day that our beloved Durga begins her journey from Kailash to her paternal home for a brief sojourn.

Since 1931 (that’s almost a century!) Mahalaya for every Bengali has begun with the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The All India Radios MAHISASURAMARDINI has been our staple and our Durga Puja is incomplete without the 4 A.M. session of mellifluous CHANDIPATH & Pankaj Mullick’s unforgettable production. So here are a few of factoids about this iconic show & Birendra Krishna Bhadra himself that keeps us hooked after almost a century!

First production

MAHISASURAMARDINI was first produced in 1931 as a Live event but the current version is a recorded playback of the final 1966 version. Pankaj Kumar Mullick, one of the greatest music composers of the 20th century, was the producer & composer behind this epic show. Bani Kumar was the script writer & composer of the Sanskrit sloks & he was responsible for the singers’ Sanskrit diction.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini
Birendra Krishna Bhadra reciting Mahishasuramardini

Crew

It’s curious to note that the stars of the show – Pankaj Mullick, Bani Kumar & Birendra Krishna Bhadra were really young (BaNi Kumar was only 25 when we got on board) when they started the show. Here’s a full list of the giants behind this production –

Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Bani Kumar & Pankaj Mullick
Birendra Krishna Bhadra, Bani Kumar & Pankaj Mullick

Main Artists

Bani Kumar – Script Writing.
Pankaj Mullick – Music Composition.
Birendra Krishna Bhadra – Narration and Recitation of Scriptures.

Singers

Dwijen Mukhopadhyay (Jago Tumi Jago, Jago Durga, Jago Dashoprohoronadharini).
Pratima Bandopadhyay (Amala Kirane).
Shyamal Mitra (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Sandhya Mukhopadhyay (Bimane Bimane Aloker Gaane).
Manabendra Mukhopadhyay (Tabo Achintya).
Arati Mukhopadhyay (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Supriti Ghosh (Bajlo Tomar Alor Benu).
Pankaj Kumar Mullick (Jayanti Mangala Kali & Aham Rudrebhirvasubhischara).
Utpala Sen (Shanti Dile Bhori).
Tarun Bandopadhyay (Hey Chinmoyi).
Krishna Dasgupta (Akhilo Bimane Tabo Jayagaane).
Sumitra Sen (Mago Tabo Bine).
Ashima Bhattacharya (Subhro Sankha Robe).
Shipra Bose (Ogo amar agomoni).
Bimal Bhushan (Namo Chandi Namo Chandi).
Dhananjay Bhattacharya (Rupang Dehi, Jayang Dehi).
Choir group Satarupa- chorister-Minati Mukherjee.

Format & production

The 85 minute masterpiece is a tour de force of radio narration & presentation. It is essentially a perfect combination of narration & melodious songs which tell the story of invocation of Goddess Durga to save the heavens & other Gods from the evil Mahishasur. During the actual performance, the studio would be decorated with flowers & incense sticks to create a spiritual atmosphere befitting the occasion. Every artist was asked to arrive dressed in their finest traditional livery of LAAL-PAR saree & DHUTI-PUNJABI & many of them reminisced later about the absolute divinity of the experience. Three blows from a conch shell would signal the beginning of the event. Pankaj Mullick accorded such importance to this event that being the disciplinarian he was, he deliberately kept Hemanta Mukhopadhyay away from it since he couldn’t accommodate time for rehearsals. It’s a riveting performance of dedicated stalwarts – the music complements the core narrative & builds to the finale that is a brilliant declaration of the beginning of Debi Pokkho – Maa Durga has arrived!

Pankaj Mullick in one his rehearsals
Pankaj Mullick in one his rehearsals

Birendra Krishna Bhadra

Asshiner Sharodo Prate” – 3 words, just 3 words hit the very core of the audience & grips the airwaves with unmatched passion, pace, grace & depth. Birendra Krishna Bhadra, an exceptionally talented linguist (he knew 14 languages) gives a master class in enunciation & storytelling. The way his booming baritone crests & ebbs is a central support to the narrative based on Chandi Path & he takes us on an unforgettable journey. It’s hard to imagine that initially he had to face opposition from some quarters who found a non-Brahmin reciting the Chandi Path appalling.

oung Birendra Krishna Bhadra
Young Birendra Krishna Bhadra

The 1976 Uttam Kumar fiasco

This is an oft quoted incident where Uttam Kumar was roped in for the 1976 version by AIR as an experiment that was a massive failure. The audience reaction was so caustic & the demand for Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s return so loud that AIR had to revert to the original. The biopic “Mahalaya” is based on this incident.

Mahalya movie poster
Mahalya movie poster

We know a lot of Bengalis do not have access to the actual Live broadcast, so here’s a Soundcloud link – play it and feel the SHAROD spirit.

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He is the wizard who ties BONGFeed together. A restless techie, a passionate Bengali with an impish delight in all things new and sparkly. We seek his help whenever we need to buy sasta-n-tikau stuff (he buys our clothes basically!) or when our site crumbles.