Mahalaya marks the last day of Pitru Paksha and the first day of Matru Paksha which heralds the homecoming of goddess Durga — the beginning of Durga Puja and Navratri. It’s also the day when Hindus offer homage to their deceased ancestors.

Here are five things you must know about the occasion:

What’s Pitrupaksha?

The 16-day gap between the full moon on the day of Ganesh festival and the new moon on Mahalaya is known as Pitru Paksha. A legend says when Karna died and went to heaven, Indra gave him gold to eat. This was because Karna always donated gold, not food, to his ancestors. Then, Karna was permitted to return to earth for 15 days to offer food as homage to his ancestors.

What’s Shardiya Navratra?

According to Puranas, goddess Durga was mostly worshipped during the spring season. But Lord Ram worshipped Durga in autumn before embarking on his battle with Ravana to rescue his wife Sita from Lanka. From then, Durga Puja is being celebrated during Autumn, though it’s known as Akal-bodhon (Untimely worship).

Mahalaya is homecoming

Mahalaya marks the day roughly seven days before Durga Puja starts. It is believed that goddess Durga starts the journey from her heavenly abode of Mount Kailash along with her children — Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik, Ganesha. Navratri begins from the day after Mahalaya.

Mahishashura Mardini and Birendra Krishna Bhadra

Since 1932, Mahalaya has become synonymous with Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s soulful recitation of Mahishashura Mardini — an invocation to Goddess Durga — on All India Radio. For Bengalis, it is a ritual to tune in to the radio to get set in the mood for Durga Puja.

Eye of Durga idol

The preparation for Durga Puja is a grand affair. Making of idols and setting up of pandals begin months ago, but Mahalaya is traditionally the day to paint the eye of the idol of Goddess Durga.

Shubho Mahalaya!