Number of people celebrating Chhath in Valley on rise

I originally wrote the news story for Republica.

When he was studying at a college in Kathmandu, Vijay Prasad Keshari, a native of Gaur in Rautahat district, would always feel nostalgic during Chhath festival.

Back then, the government was yet to declare national holiday on the day of Chhath. So Keshari would hardly get a chance to visit his home to celebrate the festival. Keshari, now employed and busy in his work, still finds it difficult to visit Gaur during Chhath festival. But he no longer feels nostalgic.

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“Even this year I could not go home,” said he. “But I do not miss the celebration as much as I used to during my college years.” Keshari explained that now Madheshi people residing in the capital enjoy Chhath festival here with as much joy and excitement as in their villages in the Terai. Like Keshari, thousands of devotees observed Chhath, known as the festival of the sun god, on the banks of rivers and ponds in Kathmandu on Wednesday evening. Rani Pokhari, which attracts large number of devotees, was aglow with colorful and bright lights and stalls. Rani Pokhari was opened for Chhath celebration eight years ago with significant efforts of the then local development minister Rajendra Pandey, according to members of Chhath celebration committee, 2071 BS. On Wednesday and Thursday, among four-day Chhath celebration that started from Monday, devotees, especially colorfully dressed women, offer argha and prasad to the setting and the rising sun standing knee-deep in the water. This year, the number of devotees celebrating Chhath festival in Kathmandu has remarkably increased and the trend continues, claimed Suman Jayaswal, vice-coordinator of the committee. According to him, around 300 families have registered with the committee for the ghats, or river banks where devotees erect their prayer stalls. But additional families observing Chhath also came to Rani Pokhari. Kashinath Rauniyar, a local businessman from Parsa, migrated to Kathmandu some two decades ago. “I have been celebrating the festival in the Valley since a long time. However, I decided to join the celebration at the Rani Pokhari recently after it was opened for the festival.” However, for Durga Nand Mandal and his family, who hail from Mahadeva VDC of Saptari, it is the second year that they have been observing the festival in the Valley. The family, who is running a business here, says the one-day government holiday makes the celebrations quite hectic for them. “My family celebrates Dashain and Tihar in my hometown. But we have been celebrating the festival here for the last four years,” Santosh Shah, president of Today´s Youth Asia, told Republica. Although his families have been living in the capital city for the last decade, until recently they traveled to Barhathwa of Sarlahi district to celebrate Chhath. “Due to just one day holiday, we always faced a lot of hassles,” Shah added. Shambhu Prasad Jayaswal, a vegetable vendor in Kalimati, shared the same compulsion. “My children are enrolled in schools in the Valley. Visiting our hometown would hamper their education,” said Jayaswal, who comes from Rautahat district. Chhath festival is also celebrated by people from Pahadi community residing in Tarai. Among them is Jyoti Baidya belonging to Newar Community, who had been celebrating Chhath in Parsa district. But this year the Baidya family is celebrating the festival in Kathmandu for the first time. “As all my families and relatives are here in Kathmandu, we have started celebrating here,” Jyoti said. “All I had to do was to bring my mother to Kathmandu from Birgunj.” Chhath is equally popular in neighboring India. Chandra Dev Sah, an Indian national from Muzaffarpur of the Indian State of Bihar, has been celebrating the festival in Kathmandu since the time his ancestors established a business here five decades ago. “Visiting my village for the festival would not only be costlier but also hectic,” said Chandra.

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Chhath now and then

Chhath, also known as the festival of Sun God, which used to be celebrated only in the Tarai until a decade ago, is now fast evolving as a national festival, bringing joy and excitement to people living across the country.

Spurt in the rural-urban migration as a result of various political movements over the last decade has led to expansion of Chhath celebrations beyond Terai, say cultural experts and Madhes-based social activists.

Photo: Republica Online
Photo: Republica Online

As a result of the Tarai movement, Madheshi communities living outside Tarai have also started celebrating the Chhath festival. According to social activists, the recent celebration of Chhath festival outside their region has emboldened the Madhesi community.

I originally wrote the news story for and published in Republica.

“Previously, Chhath was just a Madhesi festival; but it has now become national,” said Dipendra Jha, an advocate at the Supreme Court. 1. Dipendra Jha

For the Madhesi people, Chhath is their most important festival. During this festival, most of them tend to visit their homes from wherever they are working or studying. Even those who cannot go home celebrate the festival in the place they are living.

Of late, people from Tarai region have been observing Chhath festival in Rani Pokhari of Kathmandu. Since Rani Pokhari became the center of Chhath celebration for the Madheshi people living in the capital, the festival has gained more prominence.

However, the way people celebrate Chhath festival is fast changing now.

“During my childhood, cultural events like drama used to be performed in my locality on the occasion of Chhath festival. But, such a practice no longer exists,” said advocate Jha, who hails from Mahottari district and has been living in Kathmandu for a decade now.

2. Chandrakishore copyGone are the days when cultural shows like plays, dances, wrestling competitions and other entertaining events used to be integral parts of the Chhath festival, according to Chandrakishore Jha, a Tarai-based political analyst known for his ring-side view about the issues of Madhes.

“Chhath was earlier nature friendly and people would use locally produced materials like clay pots and bamboo-wares,” Jha said. “But, people are now mostly purchasing items available in the market.”

Dhirendra Premarshi, a socio-cultural expert, shares a similar view. “People used to celebrate Chhath in a simple way but now it has become an occasion to show off,” said he.4. Dhirendra Premarshi

He said that the festival holds a great significance from socio-cultural, agricultural and scientific perspectives. According to him, there used to be local markets of agricultural products such as fruits, sugarcane, carrot, clay pots and bamboo-wares.

Premarshi, a native of Siraha district, shows his concerns over the waning effect of the festival due to modernization and migration of rural people to urban centers and even abroad.

Tula Narayan Shah, another social activist from Saptari district, said, “Electronic media and technology has affected performance of different cultural events such as plays and dances during the Chhath festival.”

3. Tula Narayan Shah

 

 

“After I moved to Kathmandu some two decades ago, the celebration of Chhath festival in Kathmandu was very rare,” recalls Shah, who is also executive director of Nepal Madhes Foundation (NEMAF). “Now it is observed on almost every river and reservoir of Kathmandu.”

 

The fact that Chhath used to be a regional festival in the past is also upheld by Badri Shrestha, a 5. Badri Shresthadevelopment practitioner. “I knew about Chhath only when I went to work in Biratnagar in 1996,” said he. “Until then, I had very little idea about spirituality and aesthetic value of Chhath.”

 

Shrestha said, “Today, Chhath is celebrated almost all over the country and by all social groups.”

 

Celebration of ´Chhath´ dates back to the Vedic age. According to Lunar Calendar, it generally falls on the sixth day of Suklapaksha of Kartik month and is observed for four days with great enjoyment.

On the first day, devotees, mostly women, take a holy dip in rivers, ponds or reservoirs and avoid non-vegetarian food. On the second day, known as ´kharana´ in local language, they fast rigorously without even drinking a single drop of water. On this very day, they make arrangements for the festival, including decoration of ghats (the banks of rivers and reservoirs).

On the third day, homemade special sweets such as Thekuwa and Bhusuwa (sweets made from wheat or rice flour, ghee and sugar) and rice pudding are prepared, while the devotees enter into water to offer those items and seasonal fruits to the setting sun. On the last day, devotees offer prayers to the rising sun.

Chhath celebration in major towns of Tarai districts, including Biratnagar, Rajbiraj, Lahan, Janakpur and Birgunj and even at the Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu is the center of attraction. On the occasion, a great number of people from all communities visit those places to watch and enjoy the celebrations.

Judhshital: Water Festival in Terai

Nepalis across the country revel in various festivities to mark New Year according to Bikram era calendar. The pattern of celebration is the same across the nation.

However, people in Mithila region—mostly the geographical areas stretching from Rautahat to Morang in Tarai—have recently celebrated New Year 2071 for two days. On the first day, they mark Satuwain festival on the first day of Baisakh, by eating satu, the roasted flour made up of assorted beans, cereals and legumes. Most importantly on the second day, they observe WATER FESTIVAL wherein junior people received blessings from their seniors as the latter put water on their forehead.

Here's the link of the article originally published in Republica.

Like southern part of Nepal, other Southeast Asian countries like India, China, Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos also observe the water festival for their New Year celebrations. In Thailand, water festival is called Songkran, a word from Sanskrit language meaning the beginning of a new solar year. Thai people consider it the festival for cleaning and purification as they clean houses and surrounding areas. They regard it as one of the most enjoyable festivals and it is generally celebrated from April 13 to April 15 on the occasion of Thai New Year. On the first day, Buddha statues are gently washed with scented water. Young people in Thailand pour scented water into the hands of their elders as a sign of respect and also seek blessings from them. Songkran is also observed in Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

More or less the reason and manner behind celebrating water festival in the South Asian countries are the same, and so is the occasion of welcoming New Year. It normally falls around from April 13 to 15. People observe the festival at the onset of summer and celebrate it with a view to cool in the scorching heat. Besides, sprinkling water gently at one another during the celebration shows a sign of respect. It is also a show of blessings and good wishes.

Sadly, Nepal’s water festival, according to Mithila culture experts, has failed to receive due attention from Nepali media, largely because of lethargy of media persons from the Tarai. Media across the country widely cover another festival of this region ‘Chhath’, also known as festival of Sun God. As a result of media coverage, celebration of ‘Chhath’ that was once limited in certain areas, has extended to other parts of the country in the recent years. Even in Kathmandu, people of Tarai have been observing the festival at the Rani Pokhari.

Celebrating a festival gives a sense of unity and togetherness. Nepali communities are diverse in terms of their own diverse identity, culture and religion, and also geographical landscape but they stand together when it comes to celebration of national festivals like Dashain, Dipawali, and Holi. For instance, people from all religions in the country celebrate Dipawali and Holi since they take them for the victory of good over evil. The way they observe the festival fosters a sense of unity.

Nepal’s water festival is celebrated by all the people in Mithila region, mostly in Rautahat, Sarlahi, Mahottari, Dhanusha, Siraha, Saptari, Sunsari and Morang districts. They call it Siruwa or Judshital in the local language. The local term ‘Judshital’ consists of two words, ‘jud’ which means blessing and ‘shital’ refers to cool. Hence, this festival, as its literal meaning suggests, is observed by people, offering blessing to their juniors, by putting water on their foreheads.

The Tarai region during this season bakes in scorching heat and with a belief that water brings cool environment, people residing there observe this festival. On this occasion, people maintain cleanliness in their surroundings. They sweep premises of their houses and streets, and sprinkle water on them.

Water festival is linked with nature and agriculture. Even trees and plants are watered and given a new life. As this is the time for harvesting, people cook many varieties of food items, including mango fruits as one of the special items, and they are served to their friends, relatives and neighbors.

Water is lifeline for plants, animals and human beings. At a time, when water resources are drying up due to massive deforestation, climate change and rampant exploitation over natural resources, its values are much important. Water festival teaches community about significance of water. It gives the message of socialization and cleanliness.

Cultural experts argue that compared to the past celebrations, enthusiasm for celebrating the festival of water has diminished each year due to modernization and migration of rural people to urban areas. This festival needs to be promoted and kept alive.

Dashain in Terai: Jhijhiya

Dashain fever has gripped Nepalis and women from the southern parts of the country in particular are busy singing folk songs and dancing during this greatest festival of Hindus. 

With the start of Dashain festival, women from Mithila region—mostly the geographical areas stretching from Rautahat to Morang in Tarai—celebrate their tradition and heritage of folk dance called “Jhijhiya Naach”. This starts on Ghatasthapana, the first day of Dashain and concludes on Vijaya Dashami, the tenth day of the festival.

Here's the link of my article originally published in Republica.

Jhijhiya is more popular among young girls. The celebration of the folk dance is based on the belief that evil spirits including witches are active during Dashain.

Hence, to protect the family members, especially children, from those evils, women in this region dance and pray to Goddess Durga.

People get ready for Dashain from a month in advance, and they plan it in accordance with their budget. They have to factor in delicious food, new clothes and travelling for family gatherings. Likewise, Tarai women performing Jhijhiya also get pots, oil-fed lamps and lids made in advance; and the pots are painted with different colors before the event kicks off.

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Women carry on their heads special clay pots with several holes, and oil-fed lamps (diyos) are kept inside the pots covered with a lid also made of clay. Lights from diyos inside the pots through the holes reflect on beautiful faces of women performing Jhijhiya in the evening. During their dance, the performers sing songs, the lyrics of which scold the witches to get away from their families.

A group of five to 25 women gather at one place in villages and dance. They sing and dance and clap in chorus. The audience, the spectators, surrounds the performing women.

Cultural experts believe that Mithila folks practice this tradition to bring light to their society in order to ward off darkness. This message is reflected in the way they perform Jhijhiya—with sparkling lights during the evening.

As in other parts of the country, people from the southern plains celebrate Dashain, in similar ways. They buy new clothes; and they prepare a variety of food. The entire family comes together for the celebrations. On the occasion, they keep premises of their houses and streets clean with a belief that deities visit their communities.

They worship Goddess Durga from Ghatasthapana to Vijaya Dashami in their homes. To symbolize Durga, they have a pitcher (called kalash) filled with water and covered with red clothes. At its neck are mango leaves; a coconut is placed at the top; while its foundation is a mixture of sand, barely (jau), teel and rice. On the tenth day, they offer the jamara, the plant grown from the kalash to Goddess Durga and conclude the 10-day-long worship. People from the Tarai region have recently started receiving tika from their elders. Jhijhiya, the rich heritage of Mithila culture, is also meant to celebrate this festive national spirit.

Jhijhiya has changed with times. But it is also being felt that there has not been enough effort to preserve such a rich heritage. Perhaps this is also because of modernization and migration of rural people to urban areas. Building on local scholarship on the festival, including how and why it is celebrated, is a must in order to save it from oblivion.