Every year during the festive season, the east-Indian state of West Bengal travels eight decades back to seek the nostalgia associated with a voice; the voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra.
Mahishasura Mardini is quintessentially a 90-minute musical drama that marks the arrival of Mother Goddess Durga to earth. Colloquially known as Mahalaya, or the day when the mother starts her journey from Kailasha (her in-law’s place) to her father’s abode. This 90-minute piece has now become synonymous to a voice that once added versatility and depth in the All India Radio studios in Kolkata.
Resonating with the heart of every Bengali and all those who have been associated with this extravagant festive fervour in eastern India, Birendra Krishna Bhadra first recorded this musical drama way back in 1931 under the direction of Pankaj Kumar Mullick. Until 1966, the All India Radio used to broadcast a live show of the play with Bhadra as the lead voice and a group of artists. Bani Kumar who penned this script made it in a form of a narration that combined devotional songs, hymns, and the story of Goddess Durga killing the demon Mahishasura.
The wee-hours (read 4 am) of the Mahalaya is still observed as the exact time when this timeless musical drama is played in every household to welcome the Goddess. As the river banks of the Ganges get slowly crowded with people offering prayers to their ancestors, the music and Bhadra’s voice plays in the backdrop – a moment that every Bengali has compulsively surrendered to a goose-bump; at least once in his lifetime.
— Media India Group (@mediaindiagroup) September 22, 2017
Recorded in 1966
As Bhadra was ageing and he has almost mastered the play like no one has over the last three decades, the All India Radio decided to record the entire Mahishasura Mardini in 1966. What we hear now is still the same and is often considered as one of the irreplaceable parts of being a Bengali. One can easily consider it as one of the intangible heritage of the Bengali community as a whole.
Bhadra was born to a family where his father Kali Krishna Bhadra was conferred with the ‘Roy Bahadur’ title by the British Government. A graduate of the Scottish Church College in 1928 his inclination for theatre and arts got him in the team of Pankaj Kumar Mullick, in All India Radio, Calcutta (now known as Kolkata). He soon became a legendary radio voice. He lent his voice to many sound-dramas and being an actor himself added a flair was could hardly get replaced.
Allegedly, the then star and heartthrob of Bengali cinema, Uttam Kumar also recorded the Mahalaya piece in the mid-seventies. However, the charm and charisma that got the Bengalis hooked to Bhadra’s voice were somehow missed.
Even today, almost 86 years after the Mahishasura Mardini was conceived, composed and broadcasted – the timbre of Bhadras voice reverberates an element of nostalgia and homecoming that every Bengali can relate to.
Quite certainly, an undying voice…