The Ghadiarwa Pokhari in Birgunj is fully decorated and prepared for receiving devotees on Friday. The pond will be thronged by devotees for performing Chhath puja on Sunday evening and Monday morning. Photo Courtesy: Ritesh Tripathi/Republica
Festival of harmony and coexistence
BIRGUNJ, Nov 4: “Nine years ago my mother was critically ill. People suggested me to make a vow and observe fast during the Chhath festival wishing for her recovery. My mother recovered from the illness, indeed. Since then, I begun to fast and worship during Chhath,” Laxmi Kharel, a local of Birgunj - 15 said while narrating the chain of events that led to her devotion to the festival. She further adds that the over the years she has understood the various dimensions of the festival.
One of these is that the festival fosters harmony and coexistence between various elements of the environment, of which human is a part. Since rare plants are needed to perform Chhath puja, this promotes biodiversity, she states. “The plants required for Chhath puja are rarely used in our day-to-day life. But as they are needed for performing Chhath puja, we protect these plants,” she said adding that it is a well thought way of promoting diversity. “Chhath brings various communities together in different ways. Over the years I have been quite impressed with the varied dimensions of this festival.”
The beauty of Chhath is to deepen harmony at home and in the society. It is a colorful, lively festival that brings all classes of people together.
-- Dr Bishwombhar Sharma, assistant professor at the Thakuram Multiple Campus
Noticeable thing about Kharel observing Chhath is that she does not belong to Madhesi community. Her surname is enough to denote that. Of late, many like Kharel have been increasingly partaking in Chhath. The reason behind their attraction to Chhath is simply what Kharel explained. The women of Hill community loving Chhath in this way is indeed bringing Madhesis and Hill people in the plains closer. Locals say that the festival is no more a festival of only the Madhesis. It has been embraced almost by everyone in Madhes, they say.
Grand preparations for Chhath are underway in every nook and corner of Birgunj and beyond and these are testimony to the Chhath fervor. The market looks busy like never before. Commodities required for performing puja during the festival have flooded the market.
Police personnel spruce up a pond in Rautahat on Friday for the Chhath festiva. Photo Courtesy: Madan Thakur/Republica
According to Dr Bishwombhar Sharma, assistant professor at the Thakuram Multiple Campus and an expert on Tarai culture and traditions, the main role of Chhath has been to deepen communal harmony. “The beauty of Chhath is to deepen harmony at home and in the society. It is a colorful, lively festival that brings all classes of people together,” he said.
Sharma observes that Chhath is getting popular even in Kathmandu and other parts of the country. From its preparation till the end, all the four days fully engage the believers, he said. “Nepalis are very much fond of observing fast during different occasions. Depending on geographical and communal identity, we follow different festivals but the more we accept and enjoy each other's culture, the more will we thrive and the more will we be united,” said Sharma. “If we talk about Tarai, Chhath is the greatest festival here.”
Chhath begins right after Tihar festival. On the first day, on Friday this year, Chhath observers followed certain rituals while taking bath and then ate only one meal for day.
This day is commonly called as the 'Nahay khay din' (bath and eating day) in Bhojpur language.
Next day, Saturday this year, they eat a little in the morning and then starts 36 - hour - long fast of Chhath. On the third day, on Sunday this year, the Chhath observers will go to riverbank and other water sources for worshipping the evening sun in groups. Here they will offer puja to the setting sun and wait until Monday morning to break their fast after offering puja to the rising sun.
“It is a very engaging festival. It is followed with deep devotion and passion,” said Sharma.
“Chhath also helps overcome caste and other kind of social discrimination among people.
Women from all class and caste perform Chhath puja in groups,” he added.
Further explaining how Chhath blurs the feeling of superiority and inferiority on the basis of class, Sharma cited a common case where a daughter-in-law of a rich family happily accepts Prasad from another women belonging to a poor family, without considering the economic divide in between them.
Elaborating further on deeper meanings of the festival, he said that Chhath envisages philosophy of life where both good and bad times have equal essence. “Both the setting sun and the rising sun, which symbolizes darkness and brightness, are important in Chhath. This is philosophic. Both highs and lows in life have their own importance and should be accepted,” he explained.
While it is basically women who observe fast during the fesitval, men too participate in it in a certain way, Sharma said. “At least during the few days of Chhath women power is more evident and 'the male domination' in the society takes the backseat,” he said. He added that men carry the puja materials on their head from house to Chhath worship spot and carry them back home after the puja. “This is a special duty accorded to the males during Chhath.”