Chhath Festivities in Bihar-I
Today is an auspicious day in the life of a large part of people living in eastern part of India especially in Bihar and some parts of Uttar Pradesh. Chhath Puja is also celebrated in a big way in neighbouring Nepal and various places around the globe wherever people from this region have migrated and settled. It is one of the most important and sacred festival involving rigid but simple rituals emphasizing the abstaining qualities of Indians.
This festival has an ancient tradition which goes back to few thousand years even predating Vedic period.Nonetheless, some rituals of worshipping Sun god are mentioned in Rig Veda. Another mythological fact links the history of Chhath Puja with Ramayan where Sita worshipped Sun after returning from exile.
But, I am not sure about why this festival is the most celebrated festival in Bihar.
One of the reason may be that this festival is a self-inspired and managed festival . Official priests or other holy persons has no role to play in Chhath. All able-bodied women/men can perform Chhath Puja as it only demands distance from one’s worldly possession including pleasure food.
Second reason may be that this is one of the most eco-friendly festival which emphasizes the godly and life-giving qualities of Sun and water sources around us. Main ingredients which are offered to Sun are locally available fruits/vegetables some of which have become exotic due to environmental degradation around us. River/Pond cleaning and preparing step-wise mud slopes for keeping fruits/vegetable is a major part of festivities.
Moreover, it is also a little-bit different from other Hindu festivals as idol-worship in the sense of physical statues and places of worship are not involved. All natural/man-made sources of water becomes the place of worship during Chhath. It also highlights the supremacy of nature over mankind and people from all economic classes offer the obeisance to the Sun on the banks of river/ponds in the same way.
No VIP queues are allowed before Sun.
Chhath is called so because it is celebrated on the sixth day of Kartik month of Vikram Samvat(Hindu Calendar) which normally falls in the month of October-November as per Gregorian Calendar. There is another Chhath named Chaiti Chhath which is celebrated on sixth day of Chaitra month which normally comes few days after Holi during the month of March-April. So, there are 02 types of Chhath, 01 on the onset of Winter and another one at the onset of Summer. Therefore, it seems that Chhath is strategically situated at the gates of 02 major seasons in India. But, the winter Chhath is more popular as it falls in midst of long festival season in India. Here, I will talk mainly about today’s Chhath.
Main festivities of Chhath lasts for 04 days.It is an arduous festival for devotees .
It starts with Nahay Khay (eating after bathing). People take bath in holy river and eat a single meal of rice, pulses mixed with pumpkin and Pumpkin dish prepared in ghee(clarified butter). For younger generations ghee can basically be termed as grandfather of refined oil which tastes like heaven if obtained in pure form. Nowadays, people get afraid if you talk about food prepared in such a rich aroma as modern doctors believe in ignoring benefits of traditional food. So, in a sense, Nahay Khay promotes cleanliness of outer and inner body including vital organs of stomach.
2nd day is meant for Kharna or Kheer-Roti (rice prepared with sweetened milk and bread). People observe dawn to dusk fasting and eat just after sunset after offering it to Sun and Usha (Goddess). Thereafter , the most arduous task begins which includes nearly 36 -hours of fasting even without a sip of water. On 3rd and 4th day, fruits,vegetable,milk and home-made sweets are offered by devotees to setting and rising sun respectively while standing in knee/waist-deep water.
There are strict rules for preparing sweets for this purpose as even cooks are not supposed to eat anything and observe fasting. Thekua (a traditional sweet made of refined flour, sugar,etc.) is a must for Chhath festival and it is consumed in large quantities.These items are normally made on earthen stoves by using clean wooden sticks as fuel. But, nowadays LPG has replaced it in prosperous households.
So, Chhath Puja primarily encompasses abandoning food and other material comfort like soft beds for few days. It promotes austerity and is healthy for human body. Some people also offer to undertake journey from home to river banks in supine manner by prostrations. It is called Dandvat Pranam which means instead of walking on 02 legs , you cover the whole distance on your stomach and chest. Mathemetically, it means if your height is 1.80 metres(nearly 06 feet) and distance from home to river bank is 180 metres then you have to lie on road and get up immediately 100 times. Multiply this several times if you are smaller and journey to river bank is longer. It is pretty strenuous and performing it on empty stomach is a herculean task. But, it is good for your health and continuing it for longer period will make you fighting fit.
But, the story of Chhath has many more shades. So, it will take another episode to complete it. Till then , we shall try to eat less and live a frugal life as rich food or life has disastrous consequences and believe me no one has been able to survive longer on a deadly cocktail of rich life and food.
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