The fervour of Chhath held the Bihar capital in its thrall on Saturday when lakhs of devotees thronged the numerous ghats along the Ganges here to pay obeisance to the setting sun, a ritual that is said to have no parallels in any other festival.
All roads in the city appeared to be leading to the Ganges as the young and the old, men and women, marched barefoot for miles to reach the ghats, battling the exhaustion caused by fasting and carrying of wicker baskets heavy with “Prasad” materials like bunches of bananas, sugarcane, winnows and “Thekuas” a must-have sweet prepared on the occasion.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar kept up with his practice of greeting the Chhath “vratees” (devotees) on the ghats from atop a steamer that commenced its journey at Danapur the citys western extreme.
Before embarking on the journey, Kumar duly celebrated Chhath at his official residence 1, Anney Marg along with close members of family, offering “Arghya” to the sun god standing in knee-deep water.
On the steamer, bedecked with floral patterns, the chief minister was joined by Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who is also the local MP, Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi besides many senior members of the state cabinet and Prashant Kishor poll strategist-turned-politician, who is the national vice president of the JD(U) headed by Kumar.
The dignitaries waved at the throng of devotees who chanted slogans in praise of “Chhathi Maiya” upon spotting the steamer.
Those who could not bear the strain of walking all the way to the ghats, chose parks with water bodies. The elderly preferred to perform the rituals with their feet in vessels full of water kept on rooftops.
The entire landscape seem to reverberate with the bhajans sung on the occasion, passed on from generation to generation. While devotees especially women hummed the tunes themselves, renditions of the same by well-known singers like Sharda Sinha and Manoj Tiwari kept blaring from huge sound boxes.
Many Bhojpuri singers have come up with parodies in which songs in praise of the festival are sung to the tunes of their hit film numbers. These are being relished or frowned upon depending upon the tastes of listeners.
Celebrated on the sixth day after Deepawali, which explains the etymology of “Chhath” a corrupted form of the Sanskrit word “Shashthi” the festival is unique in terms of requiring no priestly interventions, the intense religious overtones notwithstanding, and even the lowliest of castes and non-Hindus known to be observing the austerities.
Touching stories of muslim women becoming Chhath vratees and encouraged in their venture by their hindu neighbors are a common feature.
One such instance that has come to light is that of Jamila Khatun resident of a village from Chhaudahi block in Begusarai district – who has been a “Chhath Vratee” for the past 12 years.
Dressed in a yellow sari and wearing vermilion in the parting of her head, Khatun looked every inch a Chhath devout as she narrated the story of her having begun observing the austerities seeking solace in her life beset with poverty and health problems of family members.