October 14 marks the completion of Pitru Paksha and the onset of the Devi Paksha according to the Hindu calendar. The nights praising the Goddess start with the Mahalaya, the no-moon day (Amavasya) falling in the lunar month of Ashwin.
Mahalaya marks the change from the Shradh period to the Navaratri festivities, while also signifying the conclusion of the Pitru Paksha on October 14, Saturday. It matks the beginning of the celebratory occasion dedicated to Goddess Durga. Navaratri will commence on October 15 and extend up to Dusshera on October 24.
In West Bengal and among the Bengali community, Mahalaya is observed with prayers to Goddess Durga and Mahishasura Mardini. In Southern India, she is known as Lalitambika. Noting that the earlier period of Shradh involves men’s participation in most rituals, the period after Mahalaya puts women in the forefront performing puja at the forefront. Special prayers are recited and dedicated to the Delhi during this occasion to have a blessed festival.
Women fast (according to their capacities) on the occasion while chanting the ‘Mahalaya Mahishasura Mardini’ in the early morning hours. Some also extend the fast until sunset and break it with the evening aarti to Devi.
Devotees also recite the 108 names of Lord Vishnu, Mahadev, and Mahalakshmi on the Mahalaya day to seek their mercy and well wishes. Mahalaya also signifies the arrival of Maa Durga on Earth to fight off all evil and the victory of righteousness.