What do you prefer — watching Mahalaya on television or listening to the radio recital?


Sudipta Dey

The day that marks the beginning of Durga Puja, Mahalaya, is here. It is also the day Birendra Kishore Bhadra has been made an integral part of the Bengali psyche.
Bhadra’s recital of Mahisashur Mardini played by every radio channel, private and government, is more of a ritual ahead of puja celebrations. Right after this local television channels telecast their adaptations of Mahisashur Mardini.
The show was first aired by All India Radio (AIR) in 1937. AIR later sold the rights of the show to HMV which went on to release an album. For the last 50 years, Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s album is one of the highest selling Durga Puja albums. With the advent of television, it was turned into a television show by Delhi Doordarshan approximately two decades ago.
They took the evergreen radio show Mahisashur Mardini and added visuals to it, with Hema Malini playing the role of Maa Durga. “Since it already has chantings and songs, the television show was designed in the form of a dance drama. It was telecast nationally two decades ago,” says a source at Delhi Door­darshan.
With the evolution of technology and graphics each year, visuals of the show get better. The number of local channels telecasting their versions of this mythological journey has increased. But the popularity of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s recital is still a nationwide rage, both among masses and classes.
Indrani Chakraborty, programming controller of Radio Mirchi, has been playing the CD of Mahisashur Mardini on FM for the last six years. “This is the 77th year of Mahisashur Mardini. It is popular not only in Kolkata  but also across the globe. This has been playing since 1937 by AIR, except in 1976 when it was replaced by some other show. The reaction was huge and it garnered negative response from listeners that year. We are intrigued by the loyalty of the audience towards this show in particular,” says Indrani.
Every television channel in town is ready with their version  of Mahisashur Mardini this year. They will be on air at 6 am in the morning. Star Jalsha has gone a step forward and experimented with the treatment of show. Their show has a fictional rendition to the story. “We at Star Jalsha believe in providing our audiences with something different each year. And we work persistently towards it. It is not an experiment, it is our urge to provide the best to our audiences,” says Suvonkar Banerjee, associate creative director of the channel.
But will Bengalis, most of whom are in awe of Bhadra’s recital, warm up to the idea of a different versions of Mahisasur Mardini? Says Indrani,“Once a private radio channel in Kolkata aired advertisements in between. It completely ruined the show. Later they realised their error and understood the kind of importance our listeners attach to it. We have tried not to disturb the sanctity of the show and treat it with utmost respect.”
Star Jalsha, on the other hand, is confident about the concept. “One cannot compare both forms of media. Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s recitation isn’t entertainment. We believe the radio recital will still be popular as that is part of the glorious Bengali nostalgia. It has risen to a level where it has become a part of the Bengali faith. We do not want to contest that faith but enhance it with our audio-visual presentations,” adds Suvonkar.
Mahalaya, which is a tithi (a particular position of the stars and planets), has now become synonymous to Mahisashur Mardini. Even the intransigent atheist feels the need to go back to his roots when Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice fills the autumn morning, welcoming the goddess in the same fashion year after year.