RAJBIRAJ, Oct 24: It's been over a month since Rajkumar Marik of Koiladi Rural Municipality has been extremely busy. Everyone in the six-member family assist him with equal dedication. However, all their combined effort is still falling short to meet the market demands, Marik shares.
“We have to give finishing touch to all the merchandise as Chhat is already here,” he said in a hurry while still knitting a basket of bamboo adding that all his family members were putting their best in putting together all products.
Chhat is just two days away. And locals say the month long preparation does not seem to be enough. The festival is one of the major festivals in entire Madhes.
“We had been working for so many weeks to procure and prepare all types of bamboo baskets that people will buy to perform the Chhat pooja. Yet, it seems our preparations are falling short,” noted Mangali, Rajkumar's mother. “Everyone is equally busy in preparing for the festival. On Thursday, we need to have everything perfectly ready for sale,” she added.
By everything, Mangali meant various types of clay utensils and bamboo items, apart from other things needed to follow the ritual of the festival. And the necessity of those items is a boon for families like that of Marik. They do brisk business during the festival.
“For the poor people like us, it is a huge opportunity. So, we work our heart out in order to meet the demand. And yet, demand for the items is so high that we cannot meet it,” Rajkumar said.
Dozens of Dhakiya, Koniya, Nanglo (bamboo baskets) are spread all over the compound of the Marik family. Until and unless all the bamboo strings are bent properly and knitted, the baskets don't come along, Rajkumar said. “The work looks easy, but it is not. You have to weave them meticulously and that requires a lot of time,” he explained.
By Wednesday morning, Rajkumar has to start selling the merchandise to costumers. “Hopefully we will be able to finish all the requested quantity through the night as in the early morning we will have to deliver them to the customers' doorsteps,” he said.
According to Mangali, she has not been able to fully rest since the family started making the products. She wakes up at 2 am and starts knitting. “How to sleep, everyone wakes up and gets ready for work. It's not only me who gets up so early, even our children do that,” the elderly shared. “Last week, we purchased 25 bamboo trunks and much more than that before it. All of that has been used in preparing the baskets,” she added.
Mangali belongs to the Dom community. And the work pressure at every Dom household in the district is almost the same. Chhat means not only a colorful festival for them but also a wonderful employment opportunity, they say.
“This is the time we feel very glad. On one hand, it is our favorite festival and on the other hand this is the time when our skills are high in demand,” said Asarfi Marik of Tilathi-8. “This is the best employment season for us,” he added.
According to Asarfi, average income of a Dom family during Chhat is five to Rs 25,000. Interestingly, some are so skilled that they can make up to one lakh, he claims. “Ten or twenty thousand is simply normal. Each family makes around five to 25,000. But some make around Rs 100,000 as they make and sell huge quantity of these items,” he said.
Dom, Chamar and other marginalized groups are often into the making of the bamboo articles. Similarly, Kumale and Mali come up with clay utensils which are in equal demand during Chhat.
Retired Professor Meena Thakur remarked that Chhat means a cheerful festival for rich while it is a great employment opportunity for the poor. “For some, it is only related to faith and merriment. For others, who are poor, it is a job platform,” she said.
Pundit of a popular Baishnav Kali Temple of Rajbiraj termed the festival as a great messenger of equality and social harmony. A society which strongly believes in the inferiority and superiority of caste gets confused during such celebrations, he noted. “The caste division is not scientific. But still people believe in it. But during Chhat, such kind of division gets blurred as the mass perform puja in the same way, at the same place. It promotes harmony in the society,” he said.