Chaṭh: A Living Tradition and Cultural Homecoming
We owe a lot to our mothers and grandmothers, who carry forth traditions year after year diligently. In the case of Chath, it involves fasting for more than thirty six hours and standing in cold water, all for the wellbeing of their family. Even amidst apathy towards culture by many, Chaṭh gives me hope.

This year Chaṭh fell on Oct 30th. I made sure I booked my tickets to Delhi from Hyderabad well in advance. I can miss celebrating Diwali at home but not Chaṭh. Not many outside Bihar Jharkhand region know of this festival. It is very close to my heart as it brings not just my extended family but also the whole community together. Chaṭh is a very colourful and arduous vrata. It is not just songs and celebration, there is rigorous fasting of not even sipping water before the feasting, and it is performed in the early morning hours of winter, standing waist deep in water throughout the day. Chaṭh brings back all the childhood memories of my village. The anticipation of Chaṭh starts by the end of Deepavali, and I am flooded with memories on how all of us used to save crackers from Diwali for Chaṭh!

Entire eastern Gangetic plains experience this euphoria of one their biggest festivals. All natives of this region living outside their hometown grow homesick if they are not able to travel back to their villages at this time. Everyone waits for the mahāpābain (the biggest festival) gleefully in anticipation. Sharda Sinha songs and Chaṭh videos start circulating among family and friends and nowadays on social media too, weeks in advance, indicating the festival’s onset.

Days before the pūjā, all the young ones are given the duty to prepare the ghāṭs (the banks) of the pond in the village. Each extended family in the village then secures a spot by the pond(ghāṭ chekna) where they perform the rituals, and this in itself is a fun exercise, as everybody is vying for the best spot. We arrange for shovels, trowels and other tools. Each one of us is assigned a task by our older cousins. Younger ones are asked to remove the grass from the banks of the pond and clean the area. Older cousins then prepare the steps of the ponds. As the big day approaches, everyone in the village starts decorating the ghāṭs with banana tree trunks around the pond. There is always a fun competition among kids on whose ghāṭ is best decorated.

Women folks meanwhile prepare several delicacies at home such as bhusabā, pirikiyā, peḍā, khīra, khājā but the one which is famous all around is ṭhekuā. It is prepared from wheat flour mixed with jaggery, clarified butter and dry fruits. When dough is ready after kneading, small balls are made and rolled against a wooden mould called sāṁcā. Each sāṁcā has a distinct design which gives different patterns to ṭhekuā. These balls are then deep fried, giving us a most delicious sweetmeat.

Chaṭh is celebrated on śukla pakṣa ṣaṣṭhī of the Kārtik month. It is also a matter of pride for us that Chaṭh is one of the festivals which has continued since Vedic times as per the elders in our families. It is one of the few living traditions of Sun worship in India. This pūjā can be performed by anyone. This is one of the few rituals which is performed without a purohit. All the communities of the village gather to celebrate this parva. Generally, Chaṭh pūjā is done in the family to fulfill a wish (Kobla). It is passed down from one generation to the next. Mother-in-law passes it down to her daughter-in-law but it can be passed down to daughter too if the daughter-in-law is not able to take it up for any reason. Many men also take up this sankalpa (oath) to fulfill their wish. Before taking on this vrata, sankalpa is made by devotees that they will do this pūjā every year from that year onwards if their wish is fulfilled. They also specify what bhog they will offer every year. They promise to light dīpa on kalaśa and many place the kalaśa on the top of hāthī made up of earthen clay. They offer bhog using different ḍālās (containers) like bamboo trays and baskets, as promised to Chaṭhī Maiyā, also known as Rāṇā Māī in Mithila.

The festival itself starts with Nahāya Khāya. On this day sātvika bhojana is prepared and it is compulsory for the vrati to eat lauki (Bottle Gourd) and mūṃg dāl. Devotees sleep on mats and avoid any type of cotton mattresses and pillows. Cleanliness and sanctity is maintained throughout the festival with utmost care. Anything with white colour is avoided and is considered inauspicious for Chaṭh according to folklore.

Next day on Kharnā, devotees fast during the day and in the evening khīr is prepared with jaggery and is offered as bhog in the name of Chaṭhī Maiyā.

The following day, the very tough nirjalā upavās starts, which lasts for thirty six hours! Devotees remain without drinking water for so long!! Early in the evening, all the offerings of fruits, especially banana and sugarcane, sweets, and all kinds of vegetables are arranged in different ḍālās. Each ḍālā is sanctified with kumkum and rice paste (piṭhāra). Men carry the ḍālās from their home to the ghāṭ. All the married women apply sindūr till their nose tips. On the ghāṭ, all the offerings are placed facing west and the devotees also stand in the water waist down facing west. Womenfolk then sing Chaṭh folk songs. As the Sun sets, sandhyā arghya is offered to Sūrya Bhagavān with each of the offerings. After the sun sets, devotees come out of the water and gather together after changing their wet clothes. Everyone touches the feet of devotees to receive the blessings. One of the eldest devotees will then narrate the stories of Śravaṇa Kumāra and other such ideal heroes and heroines from folklore, ending with praising the glory of Chaṭhī Maiyā to all other devotees.

Next day early in the morning before sunrise everyone gathers around the ghāṭ as in the previous day. On this day all the offerings and devotees face east and wait for Sūrya Bhagavān to rise. Once again the same rituals are performed as the previous day. After bhorka arghya is given with all the offerings to Sūrya Bhagavān by vrati, each family member pours milk on vrati’s palm who then offers it to Sūrya Bhagavān on their behalf. The Chaṭhī Maiyā kathā is narrated once again. Devotees break their fast after this, which is known as Pāraṇa.

This is one festival apart from Durga pūjā where all our family members try to gather together and celebrate. For the last two decades we have been living away from our native place for the sake of jobs and education. We are now known as NRBs (Non Resident Biharis). So for many years now we have celebrated it in Delhi, like millions of Biharis who have immigrated to different parts of the country and the world and celebrate this glorious festival wherever they reside.

Devotees have thus taken Chaṭh around the world. Every family has created a home away from home. They prepare a small pool on their rooftops and perform all the rituals in the best way they can on the rooftops itself. In Delhi there are many municipal grounds in which Chaṭh pūjā is organised. They prepare many pools on its grounds where thousands of devotees gather and offer arghya. Here also the competition for best spot along the pool and decoration continues!

Many of us who have been working in different cities away from our family miss Chaṭh celebrations and carry that heaviness in our hearts. It is also a reminder to self that we must visit our home again, at least for Chaṭh. And Sharda Sinha’s voice just adds to that yearning. Below are a few lines from one of her famous songs, ‘Ho Deenanath’, which is a conversation between a devotee and Sūrya Deva.

सोना सट कुनिया हो दीनानाथ
हे घूमइछा सनसार
हे घूमइछा सनसार
सोना सट कुनिया हो दीनानाथ
हे घूमइछा सनसार
हे घूमइछा सनसार
आन दिन उगइ छा हो दीनानाथ
आहे भोर भिनसार
आहे भोर भिनसार
आजू के दिनवा हो दीनानाथ
हे लागल एती बेर
हे लागल एती बेर

बाट में भेटिए गेल गे अबला
एकटा अन्हरा पुरुख
एकटा अन्हरा पुरुख
अंखिया दिएइते गे अबला
हे लागल एती बेर
हे लागल एती बेर

Sonā saṭa kuniyā ho Dīnānāth
He ghūmaicha sanasāra
He ghūmaicha sanasāra
Sonā saṭa kuniyā ho Dīnānāth
He ghūmaicha sanasāra
He ghūmaicha sanasāra
Āna dina ugai chā ho Dīnānāth
Āhe bhora bhinasāra
Āhe bhora bhinasāra
Ājū ke dinavā ho Dīnānātha
He lāgala etī bera
He lāgala etī bera

Bāṭa meṃ bheṭie gela ge abalā
Ekaṭā anharā purukh
Ekaṭā anharā purukh
Aṃkhiyā dieite ge abalā
He lāgala etī bera
He lāgala etī bera

Riding on the golden chariot , O Sūrya Deva, you move around the world
Riding on the golden chariot , O Sūrya Deva, you move around the world
You rise early on other days, O Sūrya Deva, why are you late today

I stumbled upon a blind person on my way, O Helpless, I blessed him with eyes that is why I am late

Our communities continue to carry on all the age-old traditions, rituals and festivals against all odds, but now they face a growing challenge.The challenge of transferring this beautiful culture to the next generation. The new generation does not have the necessary rootedness and many youngsters do not even know how to introduce themselves when asked where they are originally from. They are outsiders to the places where they have migrated to, and act like guests in their own native places. One of the most visible proof is the loss of traditional accent in the second generation of the migrated community.

There is a phrase which I read on Twitter best expresses this sad situation:

“Ghar se bāhar sapnā pūrā karne nikle the,
nahī patā thā ghar vāpas jānā sapnā ho jāegā”

“We ventured out of our home to fulfill our dreams,
Didn’t realize going back home will become a dream”

We really owe it to our mothers and grandmothers who carry forth these traditions year after year diligently. Fasting for more than thirty six hours and standing in cold water, all for the wellbeing of their family. Even amidst apathy towards the culture by many, Chaṭh gives me hope. Hope to be with my family and kuṭumba again during the festivities. Hope to immerse myself in my tradition again.

On a serious note, what can we do for such unique and essential rituals and rites to continue? Well, we can speak in our mother tongue for starters and celebrate our festivals in all their grandeur!

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