Guwahati: Durga devotees have been a bit surprised ever since they found out that the Mahalaya, considered a precursor to the annual Durga Puja celebration, will be held 35 days prior to the actual festival. This is unusual, to the say the least, and there's a reason behind it.
Mahalaya, which marks the end of Pitru Paksha Shraddha, heralds the beginning of Durga Puja for eastern Indians. This year, Mahalaya Amavasya will be observed on September 17, 2020. Normally, celebrations for Durga Puja begin seven days after Mahalaya. This year, however, the Durga Puja celebrations will be held between October 22 (Shashthi) and October 26 (Vijaya Dashami) -- 35 days after the conclusion of the Mahalaya.
According to Bisuddha Siddhanta and Suryasiddhanta, both schools of almanacs, the unusual gap between Mahalaya and Durga Puja is because of a phenomenon called 'mala mash' or a lunar month that has two new moons. During this month, no auspicious festival or rituals can be observed. The Bengali month of Ashwin is a lunar month, and Durga Puja can only be held after it is over. The last time something like this occurred was in 2001, when the Durga Puja was observed a full 30 days after Mahalaya.
On Mahalaya, the devotees traditionally wake up in the morning to listen to Mahisasuramardni. Then, they make food and water offerings to deceased ancestors. As per belief, the goddess Durga begins her journey from Mount Kailash to her maternal home on Earth after Mahalaya. She goddess is believed to arrive in either a palanquin, boat, elephant or horse.
Mahalaya usually signals at the beginning of the festivities for the Hindus in Eastern India. Right after the observation of Mahalaya, the puja pandals get final touches, people start buying new clothes. This year, however, the Durga Puja is likely to be "low-key" in view of the ongoing crisis situation, as governments have urged people to practice the prescribed norms to prevent COVID.