Thousands tune in to their radios every Mahalaya to listen to the baritone voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra chanting hymns announcing the arrival of Durga and her entourage. Generations have grown up listening to the voice, mesmerised by it. The broadcast of the now epochal Mahisasuramardini programme continued even during the turbulent days of World War II, the Bengal Famine and the Great Calcutta Killing. It was aired live till the late 1960s with the artistes waking up at wee hours and arriving at the All India Radio (AIR) studio in Kolkata.
Some of the best singers and musicians like Pankaj Kumar Mallick, Banikumar and Raichand Boral, were once part of the show. None of them are alive today. But Durga Puja, to Bengalis around the world, is incomplete with the near-customary tuning in to Mahisasuramardini at daybreak on Mahalaya.
Birendra Krishna had raised the bar of radio programming to a new high. Born in 1905, when the first Partition of Bengal was negated following widespread protests, Bhadra joined AIR—the then Indian Broadcasting Corporation—in 1930. Two years later Mahisasuramardini was first aired. Though not an instant hit, the show assumed cult status as the years rolled by. Little did Birendra Krishna know that the programme he conceived will stand the test of time even when many other age-old ideologies and established orders collapsed. Besides forging peace during troubled times, generations drew hope and succour from the show. So much was its popularity that even when the matinee idol Uttam Kumar was once roped in to replace Birendra Krishna in 1975, he was promptly rejected by the audience. Uttam Kumar’s rendition of the Chandi was no match to that of Bhadra.
It’s a pity that other works of Birendra Krishna have been overshadowed by his own Mahisasuramardini. He is perhaps remembered only on Mahalaya. His statute at Ramdhan Mitra Lane at Shyambazar is tribute to this multifaceted genius.