Mahalaya marks the end of Pitri-Paksha (Shradh) and the beginning of Devi- Paksha and the Durga Puja festival. The word Mahalaya is made from Maha which means great and Alaya which means abode, hence Mahalaya means the beginning of the biggest festival in India – Durga Puja.
Mahalaya occurs on an Amavasya, so it is also called Mahalaya Amavasya and is observed seven days before Durga Puja. The two contrasting periods of Pitri-Paksha and Devi-Paksha juxtapose to create the pious moment of Mahalaya.
On this day sculptures making Durga start painting the eyes of Mother Goddess and the special ritual is called ” Chakkudaan“. After the “Chakkudaan“, the goddess is asked to wake up and open her eyes. It is the day when Goddess Durga descended to Earth, her ‘Paternal home’ every year.
It is a very auspicious day for Bengalis, they traditionally wake up early in the morning on Mahalaya and recite hymns for Devi and chant Mantras. They invite their beloved deity Maa Durga, who symbolizes strength and happiness.
The day of Mahalaya is also the day of remembrance for the Hindus, as it the day to perform Tarpanam. Tarpanam is the act of offering various substance to our ancestors. Therefore it is an act to satisfy these souls and seek their blessings and keep them happy. So Mahalaya is also the day of expressing gratitude to elders and receive their blessings.