Chhath for Unity

Until one and half decades ago, the Chhath festival was mainly celebrated in certain Tarai districts, but recently the celebration of the festival has expanded across the country, including in Kathmandu. The Chhath festival took a national shape when in 2006 it began to be celebrated at the historical Rani Pokhari situated in the heart of Kathmandu. Last year, people celebrated the festival by decorating and cleaning Kamal Pokhari which was left unattended to for years. The locals made this a possibility, and it signals the growing importance of the festival.
Traditionally, the Chhath festive mood comes into play exactly the day after Bhaitika. The four-day rituals this year began on November 17. But the main part of festival begins with worshipping the setting sun on November 19 and ends with worshipping the rising sun the next morning.


Chhath is the only Vedic and ancient Hindu festival dedicated to the sun, the god of energy. Chhath is also known as Chhathi, Shashthi or Surya Shasthi. We pray to the sun and its female images like Gaurishankar, Sitaram and Radhakrishna.


It is an arduous task for the abstinent during Chhath, as it includes holy bathing, 36-hour fasting and standing in water to pray to the sun god. The worshipper offers Prashad and aragh to the setting and rising sun. Although it is also celebrated in the summer as Chaiti Chhath after Holi, the winter Chhath is more popular because it takes place during the festive season.


The way in which the festival’s importance is growing shows the deepening love and affection among the Himal, Tarai and Pahad. In fact, these days it is performed in the Kathmandu valley with the complete support of all communities. In the Valley, it is celebrated everywhere where there is a river or pond. The worshippers and spectators are increasing annually at the banks of Ranipokhari, Thapathali, Gusingal, Manhara, Kuleshwor, Lagankhel, Kirtipur and Kalimati.


“The Pahade community has equal faith in this festival as the Madhesi population,” says Liladevi Das of Lalitpur. “They also have a keen interest in the folk songs which are sung,” She adds. Due to the great interest some youngsters of the Pahade community have as much knowledge about the festival as their Tarai counterparts. Some reasons for the growing interest are the result of inter-caste marriage between the Pahadi and Madhesi community, the emotional ties between them and the growing media attention for the cultural importance of Chhath.
According to Krishnakishore Tripathi, a cultural expert, Chhath slowly established and identified itself after the restoration of democracy in 1990. The migration of people from the Tarai to the Valley for jobs, education and business played an important role, he says. “There is now no difference between the ways Chhath is celebrated in the Tarai and in the Valley,” he adds.


The media publicity surrounding the religious, cultural and social aspects of this festival and the open and inclusive nature of the Tarai people made it widely acceptable. Also, the attraction of Chhath has grown because the sun god is honourable in almost every religion and civilisation.


“It is cultural rather than a religious festival,” advocate Satish Jha says. “The country has accepted it with an open heart and mind so it will never lose its identity and charm.” According to Jha, even the Newar community has developed an affinity with Chhath.


On Chhath the river and pond banks light up like on Diwali. The banks are decorated with banana trees, garlands of lamps and different types of electric bulbs. The environment echoes with folk songs, dance, drama, art competitions and firecrackers.  From the Tarai to the Valley, melodious and emotional folk songs are sung and heard.
The female devotees (called Parvaitins) of the Pahade and Madhesi communities dress up like brides. On the eve and morning of the Chhath Puja, whole households go to the banks of the water (ghat) in the leadership of the chief worshipper. They sing folk songs describing the importance of the festival from home to the ghat.
It is the only festival which has no participation of priests. It is a community-based festival performed under the leadership of the elder, capable and healthy female member of the family, symbolising the importance and respect for women. They pray to the Sun God for light and life on earth and make individual wishes.


The sun is also worshipped as the Chhathi maiya which is known as Usha in the Vedas. According to mythology, the sun fulfilled a devotee’s wish as an incarnation of Bhagwati (Durga Mata).So, it is said that people admire the Sun as Chhathi mai too. It is believed that the sun is a creator, saver and destroyer, and that the cycle of day and night is possible because of his balance.


 
Source :

Jitendra Sah

The Kathmandu Post (18 Nov. 2012)


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